The Ripple Effect - what NZ can offer the world

Imagine what would happen if you lifted New Zealand up out of the ocean one calm windless day and dropped it back in again. Imagine the ripples it would create over the vast expanse of clear water as it plunged in – concentric circles expanding outwards over the ocean, gently lapping on the shores of Australia, Asia, Africa, America, Europe…. Imagine what messages those ripples might carry…

It’s a silly idea but it seemed to give form to thought that has been growing in my mind for the past year – something about what makes New Zealand such a unique and special place to work.

I’ve always felt a sense of magic and possibility in New Zealand. The land has a depth and quietness to it that humbles me. The air is clear. There is space to think and to reflect. People are open and willing to consider new ideas. There are less rules, less history weighing us down. The natural world feels wild but safe. You can walk barefoot through the bush without getting eaten. The drafty wooden houses and freezing southerlies make sure you never get comfortable enough to forget you’re human.

When I returned from the UK early last year I couldn’t believe what a beautiful place I came from. I had gone to London to do a Masters in “Science Communication” after finishing my Physics degree in New Zealand. I ended up staying there for three years. The London vibe got me hooked. I spent my time riding my bike through London’s long grass commons and along the Thames; I worked for a podcasting company producing tourist trail podcasts of London; I wrote songs and sang in bars; I taught science and maths to naughty London kids and directed a play for the Edinburgh festival. London was exciting and stimulating but there was always a part of me that longed for the quiet.

When I came home to Wellington the quiet almost knocked me over. My parents picked me up from the airport and we drove back home along the South Coast. I went and sat in the sun at the bottom of their garden, opened my eyes and ears and just let the thoughts drain out. My senses feasted on the juicy green smells, the lucid details of flowers and insects, the bright colours and the neighbour’s kiwi voice directing some building work. All of these details seemed to be hovering lightly over the top of this vast reservoir of silence. For the first time in years I felt something deep inside come to rest. I could see my thoughts clearly forming against a clear page of quiet.

I actually only intended to stay for a two week holiday but that was January 2009 and I’m still here. I’m here to stay now. From that time I have felt my sense of purpose unraveling. I’ve been discovering how I can use my skills and experience to help contribute to a positive future for New Zealand and I’ve been lucky enough to find more than enough work to keep me busy.

There have been a few things that have inspired me. The first is a vision for New Zealand that my mentor and old physics lecturer Paul Callaghan has described in his recent book Wool to Weta. Paul is a world-class physicist with a flare for communication and a passionate belief in the importance of science to New Zealand. His vision is for New Zealand to become a centre for high-tech and creative industries. He wants to reverse the brain drain and make New Zealand the place young people choose to build their careers and raise their families. I’m inspired by Paul’s rebelliously optimistic spirit, his determination and practicality. I’m inspired by the idea of making money while preserving our natural environment and enriching our community and culture. It’s not very well known but high-technology is already New Zealand’s third largest export industry. A couple of companies, like Weta Workshops, have made it into the public eye but most have gone un-noticed. I’m inspired to change this. I want to go and meet the entrepreneurs and creative people behind these companies and tell their stories to the country at large. I want to help spread this vision and give people the courage and self-belief to go for it.

There are many other things inspiring me – the down-to-earth lifestyle of my friends here, the view of Wellington’s South Coast from my bedroom window, the idea of multi-disciplinary collaboration…

I’ve started this blog to track this unravelling inspiration and to share some of the inspiring stories of the people I meet. The Ripple Effect seems like a perfect title. I looked it up on Wikipedia and it said…

People often speak about the tyranny of distance. There is also a beauty in distance and space. You know what an effect it has to clear your workspace before starting a new project? New Zealand has that clear workspace.

In Europe or America people are sending their signals out on every side. We have a perfect quiet haven to develop a new identity free from the conventions and rules of the rest of the world. We have an ideal oceanic amphitheatre from which to send our ideas out to the world.

I feel an inspired energy rising up in this country and I’d like to give voice to it – start throwing things in the water so to speak.

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