President's commentary: Governance: An infinite game

For governance professionals and society generally, the word diversity is frequently used, perhaps so often that it rivals that central word: governance. I’m not going to write about gender and ethnic diversity, although we must acknowledge that we often fall short and more action is needed. Instead, I’m going to consider cognitive diversity and, in particular, what are you doing to maximise yours? You cannot change your background and history, but you can (and should) improve ‘future you’. Do you want to be that person who only knows what they know, complacent in a comfortable groove — or worse, locked in a filter bubble and less able to bring a fresh mind to personal and professional challenges?

There are lots of ways to work against this and I will share some of my favourites. The first one is to read and listen widely. Podcasts are great resource and I often rave about TED Talks. If you listen to what's on offer, you will hear from smart, diverse and eclectic people on a broad range of topics. They challenge the way you think, and that is the key. Don't skip content that seems less appealing, as that reinforces your current mindset instead of evolving your future one. And listening to an AFL podcast (or the same shock-jock radio daily) may be entertaining and comfortable, but it's unlikely to rewire your brain.

Reading is another excellent method, and a great book to call out is Simon Sinek’s The Infinite Game. The finite game has rules, a start and an end, and there is a winner. Think sport. In contrast, Sinek posits that business, life and (I suggest) governance is an infinite game, and if you play it by the finite game rulebook, you will fall short.

These ideas resonated when I attended a Governance Institute speaker event to listen to National Australia Bank Chair Philip Chronican. I will try to resist promoting the upcoming Governance & Risk Management Forums (oops, too late!) and suggest that attending events is a third way to gain exposure to people and ideas that are different to your own. Participating in events evolves your thinking and improves the diversity of thought you bring to any group.

Advertisement

Governance Institute speaker events are one of the ways that Governance Institute keeps a high profile, and it was great to see coverage in leading capital and national newspapers. Mr Chronican's comments include the danger of complacency (for business operations and governance) and a rousing call to arms for ‘governance with intent’. He flagged that good governance is not simply a process of ticking off checkboxes; it requires a diverse group of people who think and challenge. A test of ‘is this reflective of who we want to be? Is it achieving the mission we set out to take?’ was suggested. And Mr Chronican also highlighted the importance of inward review of every organisation’s own governance practices.

On this related front, I refer to your own Institute's governance review process. The independent, external process has been thought-provoking, with easy wins (and some sensitive topics) identified. Significant progress has been made towards the appointment of an independent, professional chair, and we will discuss this and other progress at our May AGM. For the safety and convenience of members and to maximum attendance, this will be a virtual meeting. I hope that many of you will be able to attend.

Material published in Governance Directions is copyright and may not be reproduced without permission.