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National Convention Centre Canberra AIM Great Debate 2011

If you are prepared to stand up in front of audiences many times a week – at some point you are going to truly embarrass yourself – and today was my day. I was one of the debaters at the AIM great debate in Canberra – ‘Real women don’t need quotas’ was the topic and I was the final speaker for the affirmative. The iconic Ita Buttrose headed the opposing team.

I had thought that I would be clever and only acknowledge the great achievements of the opposition… however as I sang the praises of Ita and her fight to senior ranks which did not require quotas – I said “but that was last century”. There

Reader Interactions


  1. Ah…. shit happens indeed. Not to worry, Naomi. I personally have experienced your generosity of spirit… and I’m sure you love Ita as much as any other Aussie! Hope you’re feeling your usual sunny self this morning. Today is another day.

  2. Thanks Jen – Yes today the sun is shining and I am full of the joys of life. But a valuable lesson learned…. which I get to grow from

  3. Further to your Blog… You have no reason to feel shame – if the recent Cleo, Paper Giants mini-series was half accurate, I am certain Ita has endured and weathered worse than your unintentional comment. You constantly display integrity and dignity which is why you remain such an inspiration. It merely proves you are human! Take a leaf out of Amanda’s Joy Project and forgive yourself!

    Embarrassingly it has reminded me of one of my many gaffs years ago when I was overexcited bumping into Thorpy at the airport with my (now 10yo) son strapped to me in the Baby-Bjorn. I was trying to say how wonderful I thought he was and what came out was… “we hope our little boy grows up to be as good as you – he was born with nice big feet too!” I still cringe every time I think of that moment – not to mention the look on his manager’s face as Thorpy still kindly autographed my boarding pass!

  4. Lisa’s Blog today:

    How can you tell the difference between a good and an extraordinary leader?

    Consider that it’s only when mistakes happen or challenges arise that test their mettle will you get a chance to see how a leader measures up.

    One of the best gauges is how they handle their own mistakes.

    At the recent AIM Great Debate in Canberra, Naomi Simson had her mettle tested and once again showed why she’s an extraordinary leader.

    She made a mistake.

    In trying to tell a joke, she made the critical error of leaving out too much information and communicating too little to the audience. Anyone unfamiliar with the history of women on boards, or who didn’t know Naomi to be a generous, caring and respectful person would be left thinking her comment was mean.

    It wasn’t. Just over edited.

    How did this happen? Actually, it was pretty easy and happens all the time.

    According to Tor Norretranders in his book The User Illusion, what we say is the end result of an unconscious mental process of sifting through information and discarding whatever we think is unnecessary at the moment. For example, the word “car”, encompasses a vast array of knowledge that isn’t written or stated. It is perceived by the receiver of that message.

    When you read or hear the word “car” you will have an image in your mind, as well as a large amount of historical data that you sift through unconsciously to come up with a final idea of a car. It might be a red convertible, black SUV or any variety of cars. You’ll leave out most of the details as your conscious mind is actually incapable of managing that much information at once.

    Try to imagine every detail of the car right now using all your senses. Every detail. It is impossible.

    Most importantly, for you to even be able to understand my communication, you would have to have some historical knowledge of the concept of a car. Otherwise it would make as much sense to you as if I mentioned some nonsense word.

    In Naomi’s case, she simply over edited. There weren’t enough people listening who had the historical knowledge to share her joke. She apologised which is what any good leader would do.

    However, what makes her extraordinary, is she took this incident one step further and used the power of her blog to communicate enough information for people to know where she was coming from and heal the incident. Then, she made a very public commitment to never make that same mistake again. You can take that promise to the bank.

    That takes great courage (How would you react in front of 1000 people?) and great emotional intelligence. It also takes a commitment to being responsible for the effect your words and actions have on others. Something far too many leaders fail to do.

    To make mistakes is to be human. We stop the day we die. All that’s left to do is learn from our mistakes, clean up what we can and never make the same one again.

    Then, we move on to the next mistake.

  5. Thanks Lisa… sounds like The User Illusion is a book I could read. We do all make mistakes… just some more noticeable than others. One question I do often ask myself though – will anyone remember in 10 years time. Perhaps not as long as I fulfill on my word and give up any hint of cynicism….

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