New Zealand is a likeable place.

Kiwis … New Zealanders … are, on the whole, likeable people. We haven’t yet met any of the eponymous birds, so I can’t say they’re likeable too, but I’m inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Sharon and I are visiting New Zealand. It’s our current trip of a lifetime. I’m doing my best to not give any thought at all to matters of leadership, organizational effectiveness, or intentional business change. I’m not losing sleep over the question of whether those of you who have read There’s No Such Thing as an IT Project liked the book well enough to post a review on Amazon … or, for that matter, disliked it enough to post a review.

Worrying and New Zealand just don’t seem to be compatible. I’ll get back to worrying after I get my internal clock back on CST.

In the meantime, I figure I should try to explain why we’re enjoying this adventure so much. But I’m not sure I understand it myself.

Certainly, the scenery is, depending on where we are, beautiful, breathtaking, or, somehow, inviting. But we can find beautiful, breathtaking, and inviting scenery in Iceland, too, not to mention just about every place on earth ever visited by National Geographic’s photographers.

But beautiful, breathtaking, and inviting scenery that simultaneously exists in Middle Earth and ancient Greece, too? Only New Zealand can make that claim.

For those having trouble making the Greek connection, New Zealand was where Sam Raimi filmed Hercules and Xena. Better, it was because of Hercules and Xena that New Zealand had the infrastructure Peter Jackson needed to film Lord of the Rings here.

Not that this was a LoTR pilgrimage. I loved the books, and the movies, and we designed our itinerary to see New Zealand, not Gondor, Mordor, and the Shire.

One of the interesting bits we’ve discovered about New Zealand is how strongly everyone here seems to realize their dependence on an ecology that’s been thrown badly out of balance by decisions that seemed to make sense at the time, but turned out to be disastrous. These are islands where pine trees are an invasive species, bunnies are a horror show, and don’t get me started about gorse.

New Zealanders seem, to the best we can tell, to be united in their desire to stabilize ecologies that aren’t intrinsically stable: Like most island ecologies, New Zealand’s is fragile and will require active management for the foreseeable future.

But unlike some other countries I could name, our Kiwi friends are neither panicked or in denial on the subject. They recognize their environmental challenges and are putting plans into action to deal with them.

Yes, I’m digressing. I can’t help it. I’d love to distill this all down to the “essence of Kiwi-ness,” but so far I can’t put my finger on it.

Certainly, the Kea isn’t it. New Zealand is home to this, the world’s largest and most unpleasant parakeet. It’s a carnivore to boot, and, if you’re a shepherd, quite an unpleasant one: it enjoys perching on sheep and tearing out flesh to eat.

If you’re a driver the Kea isn’t much better: for unknown but undoubtedly compelling evolutionary reasons the Kea likes to eat exposed rubber seals and bushings.

This is, it should go without saying, very un-Kiwi-like (and un-kiwi-like) behavior. If a human did this we’d be appalled, unless we ran an auto parts store.

It’s time to give up. Appreciating New Zealand is easy. Just relax and enjoy it, and don’t worry about why you’re enjoying it, or, for that matter, about anything else while you’re here.

Describing the experience? That’s an entirely different and much more difficult endeavor.

So much so that I’m going to stop worrying about it.

And writing about it.

See you next week. Unless I just can’t be bothered.


All comments this week are about the south island. We leave for the north island tomorrow.

Warning: If you’re planning to watch any Marvel Universe movies but somehow just haven’t gotten around to it, plot spoilers follow. But then, on the other hand, if you haven’t already watched any of these movies you probably never will, which will make what follows just a bit less compelling. Such are the hazards of building an intellectual edifice on a pop culture foundation.

I have a weakness for superhero movies. I also have a weakness for chewing on Hey, Waitasec! questions that don’t occur to me until a few days later.

That’s questions like why, in the first Avengers movie, during the whole battle for New York City, the entire U.S. Airforce never bothered to show up.

But never mind that. We can chalk it up to dramatic license, because had a squadron or two of advanced jet fighters equipped with heat seeking missiles joined in, this would have just cramped our superheroes’ style(s).

Black Panther doesn’t get off so easily.

Oh, don’t be like that. My gripe: The entire plot centers on the most technologically advanced country on the planet, Wakanda, relying on a governance model built on an inherited monarchy complemented with trial by combat.

What could possibly go wrong?

Plenty could, and in the movie it does. What fixes it? If you’re thinking it’s everyone in Wakanda saying, “Hey, waitasec! Shouldn’t we be convening a constitutional convention?” you’d be wrong. It ends up getting fixed by a second trial by combat, with everyone in Wakanda perfectly willing to follow the lead of a bullying psychopath should he win round two as well.

He doesn’t — the good guy wins this one, luckily enough — but really, this is a terrible way for a nation to decide on who is going to lead it.

What does this have to do with you and your leadership responsibilities?

Well, maybe it’s a stretch, but some executives do seem to admire the trial-by-combat approach to choosing who gets to decide what, and how. They encourage inter-manager rivalries on the grounds that this leads to more energy and initiative.

Which it does. That the energy and initiative are largely wasted doesn’t seem to matter very much.

Less of a stretch is something fundamental in any organization, from the board of directors on down: Figuring out how to choose the right person to put in charge of each area of responsibility.

The lesson from Black Panther? Strip away the plot and specific characters and you come to this: The tests through which Wakanda chooses its leader have nothing at all to do with the tests its leader has to deal with when holding its leadership office.

Well, in the movie it sorta does because in it the leader doesn’t lead all that much. He acts like those fighting alongside him only better. Yes, he’s inspirational, but no, he doesn’t seem to think in terms of strategy, tactics, and logistics all that much.

Or, more broadly, that leaders of any organization need to think in terms of … well, in terms of the eight tasks of leadership.

Anyway, when choosing the leaders who report to you, don’t make this mistake. Too many times, executives outsmart themselves when choosing managers, when an unstructured conversation built around “These are the challenges you’re going to face if I put you in the job. How would you go about facing them?” would do the job far better, and far more naturally.

But enough carping about Black Panther. Let’s carp about The Avengers: The Age of Ultron instead, and more specifically, how much better things would have turned out had Tony Stark understood a core principle of application development: You always test software. Testing it before you put it in production is better.

I mean seriously: Launching a full-fledged, self-motivated AI into PROD … in this case, a real-world environment in which it had full access to a wide range of destructive weaponry … without first examining its behavior in TEST? Seriously?

Now to be fair, had Tony Stark followed standard testing protocols followed by ITIL-style change management, the movie would have been horrifically dull.

But since there was a movie, and in it you can see what happens with insufficient testing protocols, maybe this would be a good time to review your own testing methods … not only when you deploy software, but also when you deploy new processes and practices that affect how Real Paying Customers do business with your business.

I’m on vacation this week, so I’ll leave you to finish it. Your homework assignment: In the Comments, post your Hey, Waitasec! analysis of Captain America: Civil War.

And yes, plot spoilers are encouraged.