Ask about Dr Nicholas Gruen
Key Points
  • Dr. Nicholas Gruen founded policy consultancy, Lateral Economics, and Australia’s first and oldest discount mortgage broker
  • He sat on the Productivity Commission, Chaired the Federal Government’s internationally acclaimed Government 2.0 Taskforce
  • He has been published in Australia’s Best Essays and Australia’s Best Political Writing
  • Nicholas is a columnist for the AFR, the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne Age
  • He was founding chair of data analytics crowdsourcing site Kaggle, recently acquired by Google
  • He advised two cabinet ministers in the 1980s and 90s
Topics
  • Are the forecasts on which you rely worth the paper they’re written on?
    When researchers at the Reserve Bank of Australia investigated the amount of value their forecasts added, the answers were not pretty. The RBA spends more than anyone else on forecasts and has the best experts. And their forecasts were probably the best there are over a long period of time. But they still explained only around 10 percent of the changes they forecast, with the rest being random noise. And other forecasters were nearly as good – or should that be “only slightly worse”. Yet forecasters are notoriously overconfident in their forecasts. How can we do better in forecasting? How can we prevent overconfidence in our forecasts? We can learn by asking which forecasters almost never suffer from overconfidence. And why.
  • How the internet is changing our economy and our lives
    While we’ve been reforming our economy in the image of a normal market something huge has happened in the meantime. A whole slew of new public goods have been built. And most have been built privately. Google, Facebook and Twitter are all public goods. So too is open source software and Wikipedia. The first group are built for profit, the second for other reasons. But the government had nothing to do with either. This calls for a whole new agenda – in which those in the public, private and NGO sectors come together and build the digital public goods of the 21st Century. What do those new goods look like? And how to we start?
  • Want your business to be smart? Maybe try not being stupid
    Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s business partner and co-billionaire says that’s all they do. ““It is remarkable how much long-term advantage people like us have gotten by trying to be consistently not stupid, instead of trying to be very intelligent.” There are hundreds of cognitive biases many of which get stronger in groups, particularly hierarchical groups. That’s pretty much every organisation.
    What are these biases and how can you and you business protect yourselves?
  • Evidence-based policy: why is progress so slow and what can be done about it?
    The expression 'Evidence based policy' rolls off the tongue easily, but if it was as easily done as said, we’d have it by now. And yet in all manner of government funded service delivery areas there’s been literally billions of dollars wasted or worse, from VET to child protection to programs intended to benefit Indigenous people. Evidence based policy has been agonisingly slow going because to do it effectively it needs to be done in a way that is integrated into programs, is highly collaborative and generates monitoring and evaluation outputs that are publicly reported in as close to real time as possible.
  • What can businesses learn from evidence based government policy
    Evidence-based policy is a big deal in government. It’s important in business too, but business tends to ‘wing it’ paying little attention to the way KPIs are set. Business needs far deeper expertise in monitoring and evaluation, delivered, as it was in the Toyota production system, to help those at the ‘coalface’ optimise their performance. In this talk Dr Gruen will show how you can revolutionise the performance of your business by using expertise first developed in the not-for-profit sector to measure and track the effectiveness of value creation in the business and report it independently to all stakeholders.
  • How we blew it in international negotiations: DFAT goes AWOL on IP and the TPP
    It's axiomatic that as we transition towards a progressively more knowledge intensive economy, intellectual property (IP) arrangements become increasingly important. Yet they have never received the attention they deserve from economists or policy makers. IP arrangements are increasing constrained by international agreements, and yet our chief negotiator, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade demonstrates virtually no coherent thought as to what our strategic IP interests are or what kind of framework might be applied when considering and negotiating them. In this presentation, Dr Gruen explores the basic economics of IP and suggests some principles to which we should adhere in negotiating international agreements; principles so far we’ve ignored.
  • Detoxing our democracy: a new role for ordinary people in politics
    Why have our democracy and our politics turned so toxic and what can we do about it?
    Brexit and the rise of Donald Trump have humiliated political elites. But Australia led the pack in 2013 when the elites in Australia’s Parliament humiliated themselves – abolishing carbon pricing when most parliamentarians understood the folly of doing so. Why? Because of the imperatives of political combat in our vox pop democracy. With the political-infotainment complex degrading representative politics, creating space for ordinary people to influence our politics at every level could see our democracy reborn. It could also help young Australians fight back against their political eclipse by older generations.
    How to protect your organisation from our toxic politics
    Polarisation is built into politics. You can't become a politician without beating other politicians to the job. Political activists feed off all the same things a shock jock feeds off – sensation, indignance, self-righteousness.
    In this presentation Dr Gruen shows how self-appointed spokespeople – for consumers, for business, for investors, for women, for any group are usually hugely unrepresentative of the group they claim to be representing and explores ways your organisation can cut through to deal with the people themselves.
  • How we’re wanting ‘change we can believe in’ before change we need
    The young want ‘change’ - as well they might. But not all change is worth having. And change-makers use the tools of marketing to convince us of the value of their causes. In this talk Nicholas Gruen will interrogate change-making and conclude that some of the causes we’re invited to get caught up in are unlikely to achieve much and might even make things worse. Meanwhile other changes we need to make are as urgent as ever.
  • Six ways to tell if you're REALLY thinking strategically
    Why are strategy retreats so often a waste of time? Five ways to ensure yours isn’t
    It's crucial for your business to get its strategy right. Often we go away and agree on some central goal - say a mission or where you want to be in ten years time" and then work out how you'll get there working down from high levels to detail. Yet this is a kind of 'anti-thinking'. Goals and the capabilities you need to get there are interdependent.
    Dr Gruen will look at six things you really need to do to get your strategy as good as it can be.
  • Nudging towards innovation
    Dr Gruen will discuss they myriad ways governments can promote innovation without spending money. This is the “Innovation without money” agenda he championed as Chair of Innovation Australia. Because more and more successful innovation involves collaboration between different actors in the economy, it stands to reason that there are strict limits to the extent to which traditional subsidies to activity - whether that activity is in government, the private sector or in some other sector such as education or the not-for-profit sector - can generate innovation. 
  • The culture wars. How they’re holding us back and what to do about it
    The whole way ‘culture war’ works is this: People pick sides. They then imagine they’re the good guys and the others are the baddies. Because both sides focus on how the other side is mad, bad or both, each side misses the wood from the trees. What they miss is how the others’ perspective can improve their own and how that can lead them both on a journey of transformation.
    Dr Gruen shows how this works in education, in economics, in health and in many other areas before saying how we can tackle culture war and build a better world.
  • Is GDP all there is? Better approaches to measuring our wellbeing
    Everyone complains that GDP is a poor measure of human wellbeing. In this talk Dr Gruen will explain why GDP isn’t that bad. But not for the reasons you think. He’ll also explain why many attempts to provide more ‘holistic’ measures of wellbeing amount to little more than distractions. He’ll show how Lateral Economics built the Herald/Age Lateral Economics index of wellbeing published in the Fairfax dailies every quarter and look at other promising ways we could improve both wellbeing and GDP.
  • Economics: what is it good for
    Economics is a premier discipline – the social science that everyone takes seriously. Economists are asked to predict the future, but while meteorologists have got three times better, economists haven’t got any better in the last fifty years. In this talk Dr Gruen will show you how poor economics has been at answering the questions many ask of it, but how it could be used to make the world a better place.
  • Education: Seizing the moment
    Not drowning waving: education and the revolution of web 2.0
    Dr Gruen will describe the opportunities and challenges that face formal learning with the unfolding use of web 2 technologies. These technologies support access to learners by new providers providing additional resources that support, enrich and extend traditional modes of education, new providers who use the technologies in ways that challenge existing providers and for current providers new possibilities of delivery, interaction and feedback.
  • How public-private data partnerships could transform our world
  • How can we get leaders who serve, rather than look after themselves?
  • Corporate social responsibility, shared value, ethics and your organisation
  • Innovation – in government, business, health, education and finance
  • Big Data: myths and reality
  • Is Artificial Intelligence coming after your job?
  • Everything you really do know about economics that doesn’t involve numbers or forecasts
  • We’ve heard what governments should learn from business, what can business learn from governments?
  • Design thinking: how it can help business, government – all organisations in everything they do
  • Social innovation: what it is, how you can help it and it can help you
Testimonials

A brilliant man who deserves to be better known.
Chief Economic Commentator
Financial Times

Surrounded by new devices, systems, applications – a world of technological abundance - there is always one resource in scarce supply; not technology, but technological imagination. Nicholas Gruen has that imagination in abundance and he wants government to share it, to be in his words an impresario. I hope this paper is well read, not simply to ponder the many suggestions he makes, but as a reminder that all of us, even public servants, have the ability to open our minds and think beyond the square, do something different, break with tradition.
Malcolm Turnbull
Prime Minister

Australia's foremost public intellectual
Lindsay Tanner
Former Minister for Finance and Deregulation

Nicholas Gruen never fails to intrigue, amuse and, most importantly, to make us think. Truly well informed and with a strong sense of history, Nicholas is one of Australia’s best ideas-people with a gift for making thinking exciting. I never get tired of listening to him weave his words into grand tapestries, well supported with contemporary experience that delivers many an ‘aha’ Moment.
Pru Goward
NSW Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister for Women.

Nicholas was extremely professional and set the scene beautifully for the Congress. Well prepared and stayed back to answer any questions. His presentation was informative, precise and extremely well received
Samira Wadhavkar
Local Governement Managers Australia