Powerhouse panel shares cheat-sheet to success in a VUCA world

Global Women investment partner representatives witnessed a powerhouse panel, facilitated by Global Women diversity director Justine Munro, at the Activation Series in Auckland on March 21.

Michelle ‘Nanogirl’ Dickinson, Anna Curzon and Pip Greenwood have blazed trails to success in their respective fields, but not without learning from failures and roadblocks along the way.

During a candid panel discussion, each of the aspirational business leaders shared how to make an impact in this VUCA (Volatile, Unpredictable, Complex and Ambiguous) world.


Dr Michelle Dickinson aka Nanogirl – Feel the fear and do it anyway

Senior lecturer, University of Auckland, science and engineering educator and speaker


It’s hard to believe Michelle Dickinson was “selectively mute” until the age of 14. She admits the charismatic and courageous woman seen on television and giving engaging public talks has been a long time in the making. In fact, it’s not really even her at all, Michelle says, it’s Nanogirl – her alter-ego.

Paralysed by a fear of public speaking while studying engineering at university, Michelle was coached and mentored by a drama teacher to develop an alter-ego that subsequently helped her to overcome her fear of public speaking. Failure and fear are two things Michelle has encountered many times throughout her career, but says ironically they have borne her biggest successes.

Some words to live by, according to Michelle:

  1. Separate feelings from fact – “I always ask, ‘what’s the worst that could happen?’, and if it’s not death, I do it.”
  2. Stop complaining, start changing – “I have a group of friends and often we’d get together and all we’d do is rant about our jobs. I’ve made a deal with them – we’re allowed to complain, but at the end we have to say what we’re going to do to change.”
  3. Be vocal – “Stand and speak up for what isn’t right and advocate for others – Say, hey I think you’d be great for this role.”


Anna Curzon – My purpose: To democratise success through technology

Managing Director, Xero


Growing up in Glen Massey, a small town outside of Ngaruawahia, Anna Curzon lived the good life – out until dusk eeling and jumping off the old railway bridge into the Waikato River. While Anna reflects fondly on her childhood, stark contrasts between the poverty-stricken and the privileged are imprinted vividly on her memory.

“I thought about all of these very smart people that I’d left behind. Because of the isolation of living where they did, it was as if they didn’t matter as much. That’s when I figured out my personal purpose – my role on this earth is to democratise success through technology.”

  1. Technology to close the gap – “We need people making software that represents the communities that will be using it.”
  2. The freak in the phone booth – “I realised that being the only woman, or the minority in a lot of business situations, was something I needed to celebrate and, in reality, I was probably the most valuable person there.”
  3. Set your intent – “Think deeply about it, write it down, set your north star and start to navigate there. Why would others invest in you, if you don’t invest in yourself?”


Pip Greenwood – Back yourself

Partner, Russell McVeagh


Pip Greenwood has spent her entire career standing shoulder to shoulder with men. A self-proclaimed extrovert, Pip has thrived in what is a largely male-dominated environment and has come to realise why a large proportion of women might not.

“One day it struck me, the female versus male perspective. If something went terribly wrong at work I would always ask myself, ‘What did I do?’, even if I wasn’t directly involved. Blaming yourself is a real female trait,” Pip says.

Another example is the reluctance of women to apply for roles they feel they are not qualified for.

“Women will only apply for a job if they meet 99 percent of the criteria, whereas a guy will just go for it, even if he meets only 60 percent. Women need to start backing themselves if we are to have more women in leadership positions.”

Pip has some sage advice for the next generation of female leaders:

  1. Invest in yourself – “Whether that’s learning a new skill or language, exercising, getting a facial or going to a seminar. We as women are really bad at investing in ourselves and putting ourselves first.”
  2. Be self-aware – “Make yourself better at the things you’re already good at, become a master. That’s not to say forget about your weaknesses, it’s important to be conscious of your Achilles heel.”
  3. Find your passion – “Find your passion and surround yourself with the right people, who inspire and energise you.”
  4. “No” is a complete sentence – as Oprah recently told an audience in Auckland.