Educating for professional dilemmas

Geoff Scott

This is one of the big problems of the sustainability movement, the green movement, is they assume, falsely, that change is achieved by brute logic. Change is not achieved by brute logic. It’s achieved by, in fact, listen, link, leverage and lead.

Tonight’s guest is Emeritus Professor Geoff Scott from Western Sydney University.   He was in Dunedin to help Otago Polytechnic celebrate its 50th Anniversary by presenting a keynote at the Educating Tomorrow’s Workforce Symposium.  Many of the resources Geoff refers to can be found on the FlipCurric website.


Sam: Welcome to Sustainable Lens Resilience on Radio, a weekly show on sustainability topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher and me, Samuel Mann.


Shane’s not here tonight but I am joined by Emeritus Professor Geoff Scott from Western Sydney University. He’s Pro Vice- Chancellor but also runs the Office of Sustainability there. He’s the leader of the UN-endorsed Regional Centre of Education for Sustainable Development. He’s the Executive Director of sustainability at the university. He’s the co-chair of the Sustainable Futures Leadership Academy. In 2010 he undertook a stocktake of sustainability in Australian universities and a long list of other things. But we’ll start with you. Where’d you grow up?


Geoff: Manly, surfing. Born in 1945, first surfboard in 1956 with a man called Midget Farrelly, who just died recently. Actually he was the first world champion. Midget and I started on the same day with a eighteen-foot board in Manly in 1956.


Sam: What did you want to be when you grew up?


Geoff: I have no idea, really. I’m 71 now and I’m still not sure what I’m going to be when I grow up. That’s one of the wonderful paradoxes of life, really. My career has been one of strategic serendipity where, if you’re not completely obnoxious, when someone says, “Can you think of anyone for some job that I never knew about,” they put your name up and you didn’t even know the job was there. This is the myth of intentional career development by six steps, really. I think I just wanted to do outdoor stuff basically and live by the sea, really. The rest of it … I feel lucky, I was a baby boomer. Seemed to come along without a lot of strain actually, in those days.


Sam: Did you get to live by the sea?


Geoff: Yeah, yeah. I lived at Manly and I was a young skipper in the West Indies at one stage. That was in the sea, really, for a couple of years. We now live by the harbour in Sydney and I surf every day.


Sam: Wow. What did you do when you left school?


Geoff: When I left school I went to Sydney University. First in family at university. My mother and dad were so paradoxically perplexed but proud that they came down to Manly Wharf when I caught the ferry out for my first day and waved me off like I was going overseas. My first tutor was Germaine Greer. My first day at university in ’63 was Germaine Greer. That set me up for a life of anarchy.


Sam: What were you studying?


Geoff: English, history and maths. I got into a whole lot of faculties but Dad thought because we’re first in family and didn’t have any money, that if I took a teacher’s college scholarship, that would give a lot. That gave ten quid a week as well as paying your fees whereas if I need medicine, I’d only get the fees paid. I became a teacher of English, history and maths.


Sam: You didn’t have any particular ambition to be a teacher?


Geoff: Not really. In those days it was actually quite a prestigious thing as opposed to now. When I got quite a good result on what was then called the “Leaving Certificate”, I had a choice. I certainly put down teaching as a choice, and engineering. I got interviewed to work in engineering and then I got into medicine, as well. The financial arrangements at home dictated, really, that my choice of the three turned out to be teaching.


Sam: And did you go teaching?


Geoff: Yeah, yeah. After I finished I taught for two and a half years in high schools in Sydney. Then I left and went overland with my girlfriend, Carol. Took us a year to get from Sydney, we hitchhiked from Sydney to London. except for a plane from Bangkok to Dhaka. Took us a year. There was a hippie trail. It was all quite safe in those days. Like Afghanistan was stunningly beautiful and very safe and Iran was good. It was not at all fraught.


Sam: It’s hard for people to get that sort of experience now, isn’t it?


Geoff: It’s just changed completely, in terms of sustainability, social harmony, actually top of the agenda and cycles that have been through life. I drifted into the sustainability area almost because when I was travelling, I was so taken by the multiple cultures, the way in which people lived, the way in which they could sometimes, although they never have labelled it, live sustainably and all. We stayed with people in little [camp-ons 00:04:57] in the middle of nowhere. The way they actually sustainably lived their lives stayed with me. They were decent to people. They were humane. There was a certain social sustainability about them. Their economic, they didn’t have a lot of money but, by goodness, they seemed content. Consumption was not happiness for them.


Yes, travelling, as we know, it’s a cliché. I’ve actually written a little book about it on the two years there. We call it “Travelling with the Princess of Serendip”, which is that wonderful story of happy chance, serendipity.


Sam: You found yourself in London?


Geoff: Yes, naturally.  Lived in a basement flat with rising and falling damp, down actually in SW four or five. I think we were down at Hammersmith or somewhere like that, or maybe Fulham, I can’t remember now. It was the ’60s. Then we went south. That’s how I became a yacht skipper, just through serendipity. I was sitting in a bar in Tanner Reef with my girlfriend and next to me was a bloke from Seattle who’d been made redundant by Boeings. He turned to me at one stage and he said, “Would you be interested in an adventure?” I said, “What do you mean?”  He said, “I’ve got a thirty-two-foot yacht down there. My wife got seasick and has gone back to the states and my friend got claustrophobia, and I need someone to help me sail it over the Atlantic to Antigua in the West Indies.”


I thought, why not? That’s how I came to be in the West Indies. Once I’d sailed, I was automatically, in those days, seen to be a really highly competent mariner, so I got jobs. I was a mate on an eighty-foot yacht, then a skipper. Delivered yachts around the West Indies and did charters with people from New York, just found myself at Galveston and left that and displayed it around the States for a bit. Met a whole lot of sustainability-oriented hippies. The way you end up and what you end up being interested in life is never really articulated. I’m only articulating it to myself now because you asked that question, connected to sustainability. I didn’t have any vision about that. I was too busy drinking beer and [inaudible 00:07:13] and surfing. But you’d experience …


Sam: How long did you manage to pull that off for?


Geoff: I came back to Australia, I taught in Wood Green School in Whitney for a year and for a six-month stand in the Balearic Islands in Spain and then I got back to Australia about ’73, so I left in ’69.  Then I just serendipitously walked into a senior tutor’s job at Macquarie Uni. I was out actually in to academia I didn’t know what to do. I had no idea so I thought maybe I’ll do education administration so I went into Masters course in that and I was walking up the corridor with my board shorts on and some bloke said, “Hey, you. What are you doing?” I put my head around. This bloke called Tony Johnson said, “What are you doing here?” I said, “I’m enrolling in a Masters course.” He said, “You’ve got a degree?” I said, “Yeah.” He says, “Would you like a job?” I became a senior tutor in education and that’s my career, really. I ended up being a Dean of Education and all those sorts of things over the years, and a Pro Vice- Chancellor and it just sort of came out of me going up to the Macquarie Uni, not knowing what was going to happen serendipitously and Tony having to, for some reason, call me back.


Sam: He liked the look of your shorts …


Geoff: Otherwise I would’ve walked off into some other life, really.


Sam: You did a PhD there?


Geoff: No. What I then did is I did the tutoring work there. Then I was enrolled in that Masters and then I thought … My mate Bob went to Canada, to the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education in Toronto and he said, “Mate, do your Masters over there,” so I got a job working at the School’s Commission for a year or two and then Bob came back and said it was great so I just sort of thought that’ll do for me. I went again, serendipitously, and I did my Masters there and then ten years later, my friend Michael Thorne, who I met then in the Masters, he then asked me to come back and got me a big scholarship to do my doctorate so I did both my Masters and my doctorate in Toronto. Met my wife there, go over to Canada every year now.


Sam: What is your PhD on?


Geoff: It was on what do you do on Monday to make change work in the universities and colleges. There’s too much talk about what should happen and nothing happens on Monday so my doctorate was about, what do you do on Monday to engage mad people who don’t want to change.


Sam: Who don’t want to change.


Geoff: And those who do but are overly enthusiastic and how do you work out what we should all try and do that’s digestible as well. We’ve written books about, Michael and myself, wrote a book about if your listeners are interested and are in higher ed. It’s called “Turnaround Leadership for Higher Education” and it’s actually the story of how I then took what I learned in the doctorate and applied it as Pro Vice-Chancellor at Western Sydney Uni to turn it around and it starts off with the quote. The opening quote in the book is, “It’s been said that elementary school teachers love their students, secondary school teachers love their subjects and academics love themselves, and therein resides the problem of change in universities,” so it’s about that. I said it in a caring and nurturing way and I know there’s not a single academic in New Zealand who would fit that profile, of course.


Sam: Of course not. “Turnaround Leadership”, where’d that phrase come from?


Geoff: It came from a book Michael wrote about school days so I’ve worked with Michael, we’ve worked on trying to bring the three sectors together for twenty-five years now because they tend to operate in their own granular empires with their own cultures so Michael wrote a book called “Turnaround Leadership in Schools” and then we were commissioned by Jossey-Bass Wiley to write the “Turnaround Leadership for Higher Ed” book and they liked the idea of it being the same thing because what you’re really trying to do is to turn around a very slowly moving ship with many decks and many people on it. The nature of the leadership, therefore, isn’t a charismatic leader. It’s all of those who are leading on the various decks to actually have some intent about turning the ship.


Local programme leaders in sustainability, for example, in courses are the key arbiters in whether any chance happens. It’s not the Pro Vice- Chancellors and the leaders and the strategic plans, they don’t make any change for it. It’s heady on power. Local heads of programs and their teams to take on, in our context of our [inaudible 00:11:39] and take on the notion of, in a sense, re-framing the curriculum around building sustainability into what people learn in a social, cultural, economic and environment in a way that is powerful and relevant and makes them work-ready plus for tomorrow rather than just work-ready automatons. It’s about …


Sam: What started your academic career was all about empowering leaders or what are the tools that leaders can use.


Geoff: As we know, change is learning. If you haven’t got to learn something new, there’s no change, it’s just window dressing. If you take a university and you want to change something … That’s mine, that’s me. If you want to change something, then what you really got to do with that is you’ve got to actually do four things in this order, always, to get change to work in any institution. First you’ve got to listen to the case for change and some options that have worked for others somewhere so the people can see feasibility built in but also in a social notion that it’s desirable and you listened and you try and work out what those that have to take it on, what they would see as most relevant, feasible and desirable to have a little go at. That’s listen.


Link is to bring together what most people are happy to have a go at and you actually tell them. That’s why when you do stocktakes you’re actually intentionally using, as a change till, to illuminate to people that in a sense a lot of people are already doing bits of it and some [inaudible 00:13:11] are willing to have a go at a bit more. Listen, link and leverage is always the third thing you do. With leverage, what you’re doing there is you’re actually picking some people who are further down the track who are willing to have a go at the cunning plan under controlled conditions with the students helping with co-creation in order to see what would really work in practice.


The motto of leverage is not really aim, aim, aim, aim, get it all done and make everyone do it. It’s ready, fire, aim. Ready, we’ll have a go at it. This group’ll try it for us. Fire, we’ll see what happens. We’ll see whether mister Cockup visits or not. We’ll work out the bits that do work and aim is what works. The final L, listen, link, leverage. The final L, which is lead, is actually to utilize that peer group to help people learn to scale up the change in their own suitable way in their own context. Listen, link, leverage and lead.


The research we did on turnaround leadership for sustainability in higher ed, which was a commissioned national project in, I can’t remember now, 2013 or whatever it was, was actually about finding leaders who have done that in order to let other universities and colleges around the world who wanted to learn from successful travellers further down the path how, basically, they’ve done the listen, link, leverage and lead. That’s all it is. That’s available if anyone’s interested and that’s full of cunning plans from fellow travellers further down the path, is all it is.


Sam: At what point in your career did sustainability become explicit in the work you were doing?


Geoff: Because I was Pro Vice-Chancellor, so I was a provost at this Western Sydney University. Western Sydney University’s got about forty-five thousand students. It’s got the local residents who come to that university are from a hundred and seventy different countries so it’s highly multicultural but not with international students. Sixty-five percent are first in their family. My job was to try and turn it around but at the same time, given their profile, there was all sorts of material that you could use as part of the living laboratory for learning about social, cultural, economic and environmental sustainability so when I was provost, this was all bubbling around. None of this is ever clear. You sort of learn after a while what you’re doing.


When I was provost so I thought rather than … I was provost of the campus. I thought rather than do the usually thing of give students biscuits and cups of tea when they’re going into their exams and having a student sort of community committee sort of thing, clubs and all of that stuff … I thought, could I get a theme? I think I met my friend Daniella Tilbury about that stage and she said, “Why don’t you just sort of look at building it as a living laboratory for sustainability?” What we did, we built one of the campuses of Western Sydney University as a living laboratory for sustainability, but we also built into the curriculum recognition for doing work that was sustainability related to that campus. Then we set up a rolling fund from my friend Leigh Sharpe to Daniella with the turnaround leadership thing so it’s all a messy story that goes together.


Leigh had mentioned they had a rolling fund at Harvard. She’s from Harvard so … Serendipitously the deputy Chancellor at the university was the guy who was a former minister for the environment in New South Wales government, Kim Yaden. When I talked to Kim I said, “Kim, mate, what about we set up a rolling fund where we actually get these people to do, in a sense, blue economy projects which is making money out of waste.”  Staff and students could put out proposals for funding with a return on investment of seven percent to actually make the campus more sustainable with a return on investment so the rolling fund idea is [viable]. We started with five hundred grand and I think it’s up to three million now.


The students were able to do it as a community action subject we invented. They could do with a project report or the community action project that, in this instance, they had done that related to the … We called it “SURF” of course, Sustainable University Rolling Fund, given my background. They would put it up and we had bankers on it and we’ve had very little default. Return investment’s been very good and they did it all sorts of ways that was environmental. That was the standard pipes and pumps and that sort of stuff you’d expect at campus but there was social sustainability stuff. There was a whole lot of stuff related to the establishment of a Muslim relationship society for the university. There’s a whole lot of indigenous projects were invented.


Then with the students and the staff, we then invented a big one which was called the “River Farm”. This is all how you do it in life, really, you just have to notice. Creativity is a sideways glance in life. We noticed there was a hundred acres down on the Hawkesbury River in Sydney and so we thought that was going furlough, what about we make that a living laboratory? I was on the Australian government’s Green Schools Implementation Task Force, which was for VET colleges, right? For training tech colleges. I thought one day, “What about if we got all the trade students from the co-located vocational training college to help us renovate and restore the old original farmhouse, which was the first white farm settlement on the Hawkesbury River, as a sort of living testimony but to do it in a green way?”


We got all of the builders, the applied electricians, you can imagine the landscape gardening people came in. We then got the artist to come in and actually plant a garden of the original indigenous foods that grew on that hundred acres by the river twenty thousand years ago. Then we got the environmental sustainability students from the university to advise the tech students on how to renovate the house in a way that was sensitive but they put all sorts of cunning things in as they did it. When the school kids would come on, we have three thousand school kids a year come onto the living lab here, meeting students from the university who then encourage then to think about doing sustainability subjects. They test the water in the river, they look at the feral plants, they look at the indigenous plants, they look at the cultural history stuff. The VET students put in using the water tank, every time you wash your hands a radio comes on because the radio is hydro-powered so they put all the nice little touches inside the house. That’s the River Farm.


That’s a long story but it’s important because the message I wanted to leave there is that you don’t learn about sustainability in the classroom. You learn about theory has to meet practice and it has to meet it around something that’s real world and there has to be a moral purpose behind it all. The motto is “we’re more likely to act our ways into new ways of thinking than to think our way into new ways of acting.” This is one of the big problems of the sustainability movement, the green movement, is they assume, falsely, that change is achieved by brute logic. Change is not achieved by brute logic. It’s achieved by, in fact, listen, link, leverage and lead. It’s achieved by learning by doing before learning by being told, but you can do it in that order.


Sam: Take a couple of steps back. Why sustainability as badging a whole pile of things that you could have called “Social justice or conservation”? Was “sustainability” a word that coalesced … Where’d that come from?


Geoff: That’s a great question, really. I think, because by that stage then I was in the United Nations University and we’d set up a whole campus then, after the River Farm was a Regional Centre of Expertise in Sustainable Development and I got sucked into this, as you mentioned at the outset, of being co-chair of the sustainable futures leadership academy. It was really, in those days, quite strategically sensible to use the word “sustainability” as a label because it was the Decade of Higher Education for Sustainable Development, 2005 to ’14. This enabled us, when we got the Regional Centre of Expertise in Sustainable Development, which … Basically what the United Nations requires for you to get the endorsement is you actually have to link and leverage all of the groups that are working in the NGO sector in business, in the schools and the VETs and everything, into working together on a common theme rather than working parallel or in competition. That’s how you get judged.


Calling it “the Regional Center of Expertise in Sustainable Development” meant we got to put the United Nations logo on the gate. We also got to get a lot of funding because in those days sustainability was actually still reasonably trendy and there were departments, both state and federal. Remember Kim Yaden, right? We had contacts so we were bringing in about a million a year in grants because we were able to put in grants for social, cultural, economic or environmental sustainability, or in some instances a mix of the four, to both state and federal groups for funding. We also go sponsorship funding from business because they can write it off and it looked good. It was literally chosen. Whether sustainability goes the way of “green”, because green, that’s why we’re using the word “blue economy” now, not green, because green tends to bifurcate. I’m with you or against you. Sustainability’s a bit of a messy term but politically it’s not that bad and it’s got that notion of sustainable development so you still allow development in.


Sam: Don’t you think the people who drive bulldozers just hear the “development” word and …


Geoff: Yeah, it’s an oxymoron, sustainable development, in a sense because if we keep developing we’re going to run out. However, you’ve got to be a bit pragmatic in life and you’ve got to allow the idea that if we’re going to develop, we’ve got to do it in a way that’s not absolutely mad. This links, actually, very much to my current work as a Australia’s national senior teaching fellow where I’m looking at, what should universities and colleges be doing to develop graduates who are not just work ready for their day but work ready plus for the future? The “plus” is actually about four things. First of all, there’s what we’ve established as there are many, many government instrumentalities and businesses who are actually looking for graduates in professions who are sustainability literate. There’s a sustainability edge, not the least of which if you take examples like engineering, there’s alternative technologies, for example. It’s not just there, it’s actually across every profession, accounting and whatever.


The first plus is “sustainability literate”. We continue to use that term until people look at all. The next one is being change-implementation savvy, which relates directly to what we were chatting about earlier. Every undergraduate should actually learn how to manage mad people on Monday when they get out there, not just assume that they’ll learn when they get there. They need to be alerted to it and they need to have the opportunity to realize it’s okay for dilemmas to face you, for things to go wrong. The art is how you manage this sort of thing, is what’s going to make a good professional.


Sustainability literate, change-implementation savvy and thirdly, and I’ve just been to the States now to a whole lot of universities, every undergraduate in my view should have a chance to be inventive. By “inventive” we don’t just mean inventing for inventing money. We really mean ethically entrepreneurial, able to in fact invent solutions that relate to social sustainability because, in a way, if you’re into capitalism, you still need to have a harmonious society to productive in capital. Fractious societies do not have a very good GDP. It’s pragmatic, if you know what I mean.


Sustainability literate, change-implementation savvy, inventive and the final one which is really interesting, I’ve worked with twenty universities in Europe at the moment, they’re very interested in this.  Every graduate from a university have emerged, having come to grips with their own personal value position on the four tested assumptions driving the twenty-first century agenda and those four tested assumptions are, first of all, consumption is happiness. When in doubt buy an iPhone 7. Growth is always good for everyone, as long as the GDP’s growing it must be good. Consumption’s happiness, growth is good, information technology’s always the answer, as distinct from Twitter, seen by some to be online bar full of people passing around random ideas that actually have no voracity but they take it on in trends and people act on it. ICT’s sometimes the answer but sometimes not.


The final one’s globalization’s great. When in doubt, make sure we don’t have any biodiversity in our human relations. Let’s make sure we’re all the same everywhere even though we know that the essence of adaptability for an uncertain future is, in fact, diversity. Growth is good, consumption is happiness, ICT’s the answer and globalization’s great. What I’ve done in that national senior teaching fellowship, if you look at those pluses, it’s not just sustainability literate there. The tested assumptions are actually about the underpinning value proposition we might want graduates, ninety-five percent of the world’s leaders have a degree. I’d kind of like them to come to their own position on those assumptions, even if they don’t agree with me. You can see where I’d be going on those. When they have to make a hard decision politically or when any of us is faced with a dilemma we end up taking, when the fork road situation’s there, the ultimate jump is actually one that’s based upon values, not upon logic.


Sam: You said “Green, not blue” but of those assumptions we’re testing, at least half of politics, probably more, thinks the opposite of what you were saying there.


Geoff: You know, at least half but that’s the point. Why shouldn’t we make that contestable and actually explicit in a university education rather than allow, if you like, the popular culture to actually have it unquestioned? That’s what we’re working on in Europe at the moment in the Copernicus network of universities, the twenty basic ones but this is another fifteen. Whether it’s right or wrong, all it’s saying is we’re not actually about vocational training in colleges and universities at all. If we really want the leaders of tomorrow to actually be able to lead, and I refer you to the first debate that occurred a couple of days ago, that’s the alternative.


Sam: In the second one of those work ready plus things was the change implementation and you mentioned dilemmas there. Maybe that’s one of the challenges that education hasn’t really come to terms with because we don’t actually have the answers for a lot of this stuff. We like to think, even if we’re beyond thinking that we’re the sage on stage, we still like to secretly have this idea that we have the answer that we can tell people even if we’re going through hoops of getting them to think about them themselves or whatever.


Geoff: There’s a difference between having the right answer and being a designer where you set up the mechanisms for people to take your view into account as a reference point along with many others, but I’ve learned a away in which they can test the voracity, in real time, about what they should do. A parallel for that is what we’re now talking about from that successful graduates research we’ll be doing around the world, is setting up, possibly in every single undergraduate professional program, a unit or a paper, as you call it here, called “dilemmas in professional practice“. That’s sort of feasible. Rather than having to say to everyone, “You’ve got to change the whole curriculum and everything,” what you do there is you get the successful early career graduates in the profession concerned.


They identify in the first three to five years when they were most challenged, they tell you when the killer moment was. They then say how they handled it. They then make sense of how well they handled it against the top twelve capabilities for successful graduates in that profession. Then you can use that in the dilemmas of professional practice, you can have a group of three or four can take one killer, one after the other, in two week blocks and look at what they would do, what the person did, how it relates to their capabilities and then the assessment could be a formal exam, an exam room, of an unseen case. At least we’ve alerted people to the fact that the real world is not certain. You’re only tested, really, when things go awry, which is like dilemmas, but you could do it in a slightly feasible way by calling it a subject, “dilemmas of professional practice”, which brings it together. In that, that is where you could alert people to the plus bits.


Sam: How do we get people to see those dilemmas of their professional practice might be at different temporal or spatial scales from they’re used to looking at?


Geoff: The people being the students?


Sam: Yeah.


Geoff: Yeah. What we’ve done, we just finished a study now, which has actually gone to Tertiary Education Commission here yesterday and relates very much to what the Productivity Commission is talking about we should be doing, which is using successful early career graduates three to five years out as your material for validating your program level outcomes as new source, not just what we, the experts, think. Like you were saying earlier, you allow the experts who are the early career graduates to tell you what they found really counted and they came up with the dilemmas.  When you’re teaching the subject called “dilemmas of professional practice”, then what you’re actually doing, it’s not so far removed. It’s for those travellers just down the path, which gives them the scale issue that you mentioned. Actually, it’s not like a person who’s been in it for forty years talking about their dilemmas as a CEO of Wally or something, “This is me, I’m out there, I’m just ahead of you.” That’s what people like.


Sam: Can they talk about what happens if your boss told you to go and do something, which is clearly unsustainable. What do you do about that? You haven’t had to have that discussion much with students anymore. They’re kind of prepared for that.


Geoff: Yeah. I think, what would you do when Mister Cockup visits really should be a substantive design element of the undergraduate curriculum but you’re going to need all the skill and knowledge. We’re not eschewing that … Saying you get rid of it. If you’re going to be in construction engineer you’ve got to understand the structures and you’ve got to understand how materials work together but you’ve also got to be able to work with clients and you’ve also got to be able to manage it when suddenly someone’s done a pour and the pour is actually the wrong one in the wrong spot and it’s setting.


Sam: You said before that you don’t learn sustainability in the classroom but isn’t that kind of the problem that if somebody’s trying to teach accounting, we need to give them something which they can incorporate into what they’re teaching and not be able to teach accounting over here and then some other day, on Monday, go and teach them sustainability and go and walk down a river or something and then we’ll come back to accounting?


Geoff: The idea is that if you have dilemmas of professional practice, for example, you’ll pick up the integrated notion of those various things, number one, number two. It doesn’t stop you alerting students to the options in accounting in terms of where sustainability is already under way in Deloitte Touche where they have three hundred sustainability accountants around the world working with people on carbon credits, for example. One of the other issues is the notion of overgeneralizing or over-specifying but the art is to in fact try to and embed whenever you can but pragmatically that’s not always possible. Look at the expansion in Australia of higher ed. You’ve got sessional teachers. How are you going to get them into the zone on all of this, you know what I mean? You’ve got to work out actual subjects that actually … Develop a baseline, for example where whoever they are, once they know what it is and what the assessment is, they’re actually at least briefed on it because there’s a soft teaching, briefing thing for the students and start on what to do.


I don’t think we’re going to get to restructure universities and colleges away from, really, what is a nineteenth-century model which is a whole lot of disciplines that are unrelated to one another. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try and get little ways forward where people can see that maybe it does work and that’s why the dilemmas of professional practice one is actually trans-disciplinary when you think about it, such that you wouldn’t have to say it. You’d have dilemmas of professional practice in accounting, which we’ve done. We’ve done it in medicine and sports management and journalism and engineering and IT and all sorts of things. Every one of them has a personal and interpersonal hot component, which means you bring in … You don’t call it “STEM”, you call it “STEAM”. You’ve got to have the A into science, technology, engineering and maths.


Sam: We’re exploring the idea of a modern BA. Why do we like the notion of the BA? We like the notion of a BA not because it’s got Latin and art history. Some people want to learn those things, those are wonderful. With the loss of humanities around the world, society recognizes that it’s missing out on something. It’s missing out on that critical creative … able to articulate, all those sorts of things. Can we get that set of capabilities without having to make people learn Latin and political studies or whatever it might be, or art history?


Geoff: As studies of successful early career graduates, what we’ve got is a capability and a competency framework that we’ve developed which, if you look … I’ll explain this very quickly. I’d say you’ve got personal capabilities like being able to remain calm when things go wrong and that’s part of a dimension and that we call “self management, self awareness”. You can learn that. You can’t be trained in them but you can learn it through experience. The interpersonal being able to listen, link, leverage and lead genuinely. This is not [inaudible 00:36:15] and then I’ll try and do to them what I want to do because my ego’s so vulnerable over here on personal. You’ve got personal, interpersonal and cognitive is not actually problem solving but diagnosis; people learning how work out what’s going on here, technically and humanly, when things are going awry or an opportunity’s come up. It can be positive or negative, right? Underpinning that, that’s capability, that’s nuanced and the three things go together. You’ve got to have the right personal to enable the interpersonal to be relaxed enough to do the cognitive, otherwise you’re having a hyopthalmic meltdown. You can’t bloody diagnose anything the competencies are the skills and knowledge and that’s generic skills and knowledge and role-specific skills and knowledge. In engineering or accounting or medicine, of course you need those skills and knowledge but you need the above ones in order to enact them.


If you then look at the arts, what the arts are about, Latin and history and so on, in a way enable you to get access to the personal and the interpersonal but also to moments when people were faced with dilemmas and had to do the cognitive, the diagnosis, and work out which way to go. You can’t do it through osmosis, by saying, “Learn Latin and I hope you get these other things.” My personal view is you start with what successful graduates in the area you’re about to go into have said are key personal, interpersonal and cognitive things and then you bring to there the dilemma-based sort of stuff. Then you make sense of it by, for example, and I’ve done this: if you look at the top rated capabilities for all of the vocations, and we’ve produced a book on this, we are to do with things like being able to remain calm; being able to work constructively with others, including not just your own mates; being able to give negative feedback in a way that ends up being very constructive; being able to set priorities and not just react to everything equally.


Then if you look at the world’s religions, which you can do if you it after, you know what I mean? You can say, “It’s very interesting, guys. Let’s now look at,” there’s a book called “Comparative Religion” by a guy called Burke in 1963 at Oxford, where he was just interested in looking at the value propositions of the world’s religions. He was a scholar of religion, of theology, [inaudible 00:38:29], Buddhism, [inaudible 00:38:31] and Islam is all about actually thinking of the groups and the others and not yourself. There’s certain underpinning lessons from the humanities that you can bring to bear by starting with successful people like me further down the track telling me what I need to do because I’m no actually interested in just the generic theory. I’m interested in starting with practice and backward mapping myself to the context later on, if you see what I’m getting at.


My views are that you don’t like we used to do in engineering in Sydney Uni in 1963 when I went there and had Germaine, where the engineers are asked to read a novel in first year. They just went feral. If they’ve been told about successful early career engineers and the emotional intelligence that’s needed, and someone had labelled after they’d experience that how that actually aligns with a harmonious and productive society or organization by referring, for example, to Burke or something, you know what I mean? You do it after you’ve started with, “what am I going to do”, not “what do you think I should do”.


Sam: The short question is the big one. The role of education, some people would argue, is about an abstract critical thinking, it’s not about pushing barrows. People treat sustainability as if it was a religion that we are trying to get everybody to follow.


Geoff: Yep and that’s the problem. That’s that notion of George Bernard Shaw, reformers have the misplaced notion that change is achieved by brute logic, right? Just because you go and lecture them, in fact what you’re going to do is turn them off. How do you do it? You’ve got to listen, link, leverage and lead so if you go in working with a company, you don’t go and say, “You’ve got to be sustainable,” you do a blue economy project and that’s … The listeners are interested. It’s the most wonderful book, you just put it into your search engine, just “Blue Economy“. We have a hundred projects operating around the world out of the same United Nations University that endorses our RCEs, Regional Centres of Expertise, where you’re making money out of waste.


Just as a very quick example of one, the students from Pretoria University go into a community up at Phalaborwa, Northwest South Africa where there’s a citrus grove that’s broke. The engineers brought in by the Bank said, “Just automate and you’ll make money.” The task of the Blue Economy team is to see how could we actually keep the jobs of these people, even improve them and think laterally about how to do it. That’s the inventiveness. Here’s what they did, right? They had a whole range of people, they had plant biologists, they had chemists, they had tourism, students and a range of others all went up and their job was to go out and do some community diagnosis.


Phalaborwa’s on the north gate of Kruger so they found all these game lodges full of rich people my age all sitting there with a very high end camera shooting the big five and then sitting around at night having very pleasant meals in front of open log fires, right? The tourism students came in and said, “Where do you get your orange juice in season?” They said, “Oh, we fly it up frozen.” Would you guys and these people here, sixty-five, seventy year olds, be interested in … They got to meet the local township who would bring in the orange juice and talk about the township as they did. “Oh yeah, that would be fabulous.” We can do it under the price of Pretoria, that’s good.


While you’re at it, you’re not allowed to chop down wood here so can we bring in wood for you for the geriatrics to sit around to talk to the people? Yeah, that would be good. Then the plant biologist said, “Well, would you be interested in shiitake mushrooms? We can show the local group how to in fact grow shiitake mushrooms on the detritus from the citrus leaves when they prune.” They brought in the thing and shiitake mushrooms and in fact large international coffee groups are now growing shiitakes on their waste coffee grounds out in the background and they pay money. Then the chemist said, “Hold on, don’t throw away the orange peels. We’ll get a lemonade press, which we’ve got twenty thousand [inaudible 00:42:40] to get it.” The lemonade press presses lemonade oil, which you get a lot of money. The return on investment, that was paid off in six months.


Then the guys working with the bovine cattle development program said, “Don’t throw the orange peels away, we can feed them to the cattle because they’re a clinching agent for the first round of cattle.” The point is I count probably four or five sources of income there so instead of doing the one automate thing, you’ve actually kept the jobs of the people, the people have got to meet these other people there who’ve actually … Social understanding doesn’t hurt. Everyone’s got a job and you’re not wasting anything. That’s the Blue Economy. Why would not this be happening out this door here, the students …


Sam: What’s your go-to definition of “sustainability”?


Geoff: What is my definition of it? There are numerous ones about the Brundtland and all of those ones. My view of sustainability is that the world is able to work in a harmonious, decent way where there’s a reasonable equity of distribution of resources for people and we don’t actually use up all the resources for the kids of the next generation. Tied into that is another subject which, again, therefore you’ve got to move to alternative energy rather than carbon. My university’s working with five universities now on solar semiconductors. Once we get that, we’ll be able to separate hydrogen from oxygen and water using only the sun.


Sam: You said there used to be money in it. Why isn’t it trendy anymore?


Geoff: I think it’s come back since Paris. It went down. Copenhagen was a real zeitgeist in 2008. You’ve got the global financial crisis hit. Suddenly this is was people do. Crikey, forget that. That’s all too fluffy. What about my pocket? Then you have the Copenhagen conference, didn’t work, was a failure. So the politics of it was if you look now at what’s happening with China, if you look at the commitments that were made in Paris, there is an intent, a substrata of more positive attitudes. I think it’ll come back whether the word sustainability gets used, we’ve got a global action plan out of the United Nations. We had a big stock take last year of the decade and the global action plan is the next step. That’s really being taken up by the States. Europe is really impressive. China has got a lot to do but it’s at least making really quite significant carbon type targets and so on. I think the big dilemma that we still face around the world is social and cultural sustainability. That’s actually, to me, is part of the four pillars. Whether it’s called sustainability as a term, I don’t know.


By the way, you’ve got one regional center of expertise for sustainable development in New Zealand right now, we’ve endorsed it. That’s at Waikato. Hosted by the University of Waikato but it’s centered, they all are around a theme and the theme is the Waikato River, social, cultural, economic and environmental.


Sam: Can we get there with technology change or is it going to take system change, people change?


Geoff: I think you just answered the question, in a way. It’s the mix. Technology’s not the answer, it’s a tool and it can be a dangerous tool or a helpful tool. The issue is who controls it with what tacit assumptions, which is why it’s so important to at least have folks think about their position, even if they said, “I don’t care,” I still have to send a text.


Sam: We’re writing a book of these talks, we’re calling it “Tomorrow’s Heroes”. How would you like to describe your super power? What is it that you’re bringing to this?


Geoff: Moral purpose. I think we’ve lost our moral purpose in education. I think it’s gotten unrelated to tacit assumptions but the key thing that … It’s not my super power, it’s the thing I’ve discovered. Basically, what I discovered really, it’s not a super power but it’s a super insight, which is probably better because, as you’ve already detected, I think the idea of the charismatic person is not it. What I’ve discovered there is my university that I was at in the turnaround, because sixty-five percent of the students were first in family, when I said to the staff, the academic staff and the professional staff, “How many of you are first in family?” Most of them put their hands up, I said, “That is our moral purpose. If you guys have got that far through a decent education, why don’t we do it for the punters that are coming through the door now?” That was far more powerful engagement mechanism for change than talking about brute logic or intrinsic motivators like you’ll get fired or we won’t get any money. People march to moral purpose and I think we’re losing it because I don’t think anyone is actually clear on their position on the tacit assumptions. I know mine.


Sam: What is the biggest success you’ve had in the last couple of years?


Geoff: I think … It’s not my success at all but the actual turnaround at Western Sydney University, when I came in 2004, it’s an entirely different place then as it is now. We improved overall satisfaction on the national course experience questionnaire, for what it’s worth, by twenty-five percent. We improved retention by six percent and retaining first time family students to get a degree gets the family a profoundly improved life. Western Sydney Uni, for what it’s worth, is now number forty in the top one hundred universities under fifty years old in the world. The old money can get on and do their own thing but out moral purpose, we’ll do that and we’re quite happy. I think that’s an “us”, it wasn’t “me”.


Sam: Do you consider yourself to be an activist?


Geoff: No, not an activist in the sense of demonstrating. I’ve been on my fair share of demonstration, as you can imagine, in the ’60s but I’m action-oriented. I’m not talk-oriented. In other words, I’m very much about, in a sense, the motto of my little career is “good ideas with no ideas on how to implement them are wasted ideas”. I’m in favour of not wasting the good ideas and that means, what do you do on Monday? That means how do you not become an activist yourself, but how do you build the enacting will of those who do the change anyway, because you never do it yourself. I’m not really an activist. I am an en-activist.


Sam: Do you think we have a responsibility to be producing en-activists.


Geoff: Absolutely, and that’s why I think work ready plus is so important. It’s the future and the sustainable future of the planet depends upon, I think, us doing a lot more than just training people to be automatons for today because ninety-five percent of the world’s leaders have a degree.


Sam: We have this faith that education is going to make such a difference but I’ve seen a graph that shows the growth of education over the last two hundred years, pretty much mirroring the growth of unsustainability. Why do we think education’s going to solve it?


Geoff: I’m not sure there’s a cause or connection between the two graphs there but I don’t know. It could easily be something to do with the population but my personal view is that change is learning and unlearning and if change is a learning and an unlearning process then universities are charged with helping people learn and that’s why the work ready plus has that … Helping people learn how to engage people with change is the first thing. The second is the tacit assumptions bit of work ready plus, is there’s a profound difference between change and progress. Change is just something becoming different. Progress is something becoming different in a way that people have applied a value judgment to that they see as being beneficial and this comes out of education. By education, I don’t just mean universities or colleges, I mean VET colleges and schools. I think the more we actually look at capability development, not just competency development, the more we’ve got a chance for a sustainable future for the kids that will follow us.


Sam: What motivates you? What gets you out of bed in the morning?


Geoff: The surf.


Sam: I knew you were going to say “surfing”.


Geoff: Yeah. It’s a sort of … Also feeling useful. I’m retired now. I’m an Emeritus Professor so I’m over here in Otago and it’s a balance of life between … Last week I was down at our cabin cross-country skiing and surfing and what a blessed life I’ve had. The serendipity of where I was born and when and I’m not really a mouth about it but I kind of like coming and doing stuff like chatting to you guys and stuff because it makes you feel useful. It’s something more in life than just doing it all for yourself but you need a little balance. You need to have a bit of pleasure, a bit of fun, a bit of a laugh. What gets me out of bed most is if I’m with a bunch of friends and we have a giggle, really, because laughing is perspective.


Sam: What challenges are you looking forward to in the next couple of years?


Geoff: Staying alive.


Sam: Finding that perfect wave.


Geoff: Finding the perfect wave, yeah. I’m seventy-one now …


Sam: You haven’t found one yet?


Geoff: Yeah. Oh, you do and you don’t. Every wave is different, like life. In fact, that’s that wonderful metaphor about what we need for the future is people can learn to ride the waves of change, which means you’ve got to pick some. If you get new ones, you don’t try and pick every wave. You try and pick the right way. It’s not a very good analogy but it’s a start.


My feeling about, I suppose, the future for our world is I think it is at a bit of a fracture point and I think it’s actually very tied up to the fulminating rapidity with which IT is changing. The amount of information is doubling every, whatever it is, every two years or something. How are we going to get our head around all of this and all of this interactivity? The idea of actually coming to a classroom as opposed to people tweeting to one another around the world and what does this mean? What happens then in terms of political movements? I think it’s a bit of a challenge for education to get its head around that which is really hard to predict in the IT area.


Sam: If you could wave a magic wand and have a miracle occur by tomorrow morning, what would you like to have happen?


Geoff: I would love to see the politicians of many countries around the world actively try to get their heads around looking at something more than just the short term planning that goes on in the electoral cycles to something that’s sustainable and it’s very difficult because of the confrontationalist way it works but that notion of some mechanism that would enable politicians to actually look at a strategic development plan and then to work with higher education, skills and VET colleges around their little role and helping people learn how to do change that relates to a sustainable future. There’s about eight different areas in what I’ve just said there in terms of any chances but I still don’t think it should mean that we should give up.


I’ll certainly, while I’m still around and kicking, I’m happy to talk to that because I think education could be losing its way and I think if politicians can start to return to see education as more than just creating work ready people or work ready plus people and have that with intent and I might say I’m quietly interested in the New Zealand Productivity Commission’s report that’s just come out today on the future of tertiary education. It talks about some of the issues that I’ve raised here today and the study we’ve just done on successful early career graduates in engineering in New Zealand, I was very impressed that New Zealand was interested in doing it, to try and learn from the engineers. There’s a plan to actually now do it with accountants.


Sam: In terms of the change that relates to a sustainable future, what’s the smallest thing that we could do that would have the biggest impact?


Geoff: Smallest thing that we could do that would have the biggest impact? The smallest … It’s not small but it’s sort of small I think in terms of the amount of money that’s being spent in the world and that’s that solar semiconductors. They’ve got it almost now where the energy that you can produce using the solar semiconductor by separating the hydrogen out using only the sun is actually just getting over that which you need to reproduce more semiconductors. Once they get that, we’ve got hydrogen. Once we get hydrogen, we can have hydrogen cars, hydrogen power and all you’re getting when you burn that is water. That really, in one fell swoop, it’s portable. Hyundai, all these car companies, BMW, have all got hydrogen cars right now. The problem is you can’t fuel them sustainability because you’re having to use coal to make the electricity to separate the hydrogen. Once we can get the sun to do the work for us, I think that would be quite a dramatic change.


Sam: Lastly, do you have any advice for our listeners?


Geoff: Maintain the rage, brothers and sisters. Think of moral purpose. Think just occasionally around the tacit assumptions in the sense, the dependent variable being not happy but contented. If one finds one is being continuously discontented because one has to wake up at all times of the night to check ones Twitter feed or whatever it is, is that the right track? That is totally and utterly a personal decision.


Sam: Thank you very much for joining me.


Geoff: Pleasure.


Sam: You’ve been listening to Sustainable Lens Resilience on radio, a weekly show on sustainability topics brought to you by Otago Polytechnic. The show is co-hosted by Shane Gallagher and me, Samuel Mann. We broadcast on Otago Access Radio, “” and podcast on “”. On “” we’re building a searchable archive of conversations of people from many different fields who are applying their skills to a sustainable future. In our conversations we’re trying to find out what motivates them and what it means to see the world through a sustainable perspective, through their sustainable lens. Tonight’s sustainable lens was that of emeritus professor Geoff Scott of Western Sydney University. You can follow the links on “” to find us on Facebook to keep in touch and you can listen to Sustainable Lens on iTunes and other poddy places, as well. That was Sustainable Lens. I’m Samuel Mann. I hope you enjoyed the show.