Analysing the Past

Shaping the Future

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© 2013 Bill Nicol. All rights reserved

Benchmarked by Books

 

Bill's professional life is benchmarked no less by his books than by his wider career. Inspired as a writer, trained as a journalist, honed as an investigative author, seasoned as a management consultant and tempered as a disaster recovery leader, he has worked across all areas of political, business and organisational leadership, strategy and development. His books explain the journey. 

 

Timor (1978, 2002). This is Bill's first book. It concerns the bloody birth of one of the world's newest nations, Timor-Leste. This sank into acrimonious civil war after centuries of decay under Portuguese rule before struggling from beneath the death and deprivation of Indonesian occupation to gain independence in 2002. Bill had only recently completed his newspaper cadetship with The Canberra Times when he set out to explore the world. Landing in the colonial hothouse of East Timor not long after the 1974 Portuguese revolution, he found himself engrossed in the embryonic hothouse of its newfound political freedom. Inspired to write a book on the subterfuge he found, he undertook a year-long investigation that took him beyond Timor to Canberra, Jakarta,  London and Lisbon in search of the truth that lay behind the manufactured lies that ultimately killed thousands before delivering Timor-Leste's independence. Writing Timor revealed a determined character willing to go to almost any lengths in pursuing the truth as an independent investigative reporter. Confronting the impervious walls of government bureaucracies in Australia, Indonesia and Portugal and the dangerously immature ideological purities of East Timor's new politics, Bill wrote one of the most revealing contemporary studies of power politics leading to man-made disaster with ongoing relevance today. First published with the subtitle The Stillborn Nation in 1978, Timor was republished with a new subtitle, A Nation Reborn, and additional material for Timor-Leste's independence in 2002. Urged by readers to produce an ebook version, Bill is currently working on a third edition.

 

McBride (1989). Bill withdrew from writing books for many years while concentrating on his career in Journalism. To pay his way while completing Timor, he joined Canberra's only commercial television station as a news reporter. Thoroughly immersed in the joys of television, he also produced documentaries and, with Timor's publication, was asked to join a new current affairs program, Nationwide, on Australia's national broadcaster, the ABC. Later, briefly, the ABC's international service, Radio Australia, engaged Bill as its political correspondent. Bill's time with the ABC was cut short, however, when it blocked him from pursuing an investigation into one of Australia's national heroes, Dr William McBride, a powerful international figure famed for "alerting the world to the dangers of thalidomide". Intrigued by the destructive forces of celebrity fame and its flimsy foundations, Bill sacrificed his career with the ABC to pursue the McBride story with the full intensity only a truly dedicated investigative author could ever appreciate. His meticulous research and writing took six years and his completed manuscript sat on the shelf for two more years when rejected by publishers fearing law suits. Unable to publish, Bill eventually gave a full copy of his manuscript to another ABC reporter. After cherry picking the juicier parts to air a special report on the ABC, the reporter subsequently won a prestigious national journalism award before denying ever receiving a copy of Bill's manuscript and alleging Bill based his book on the reporter's research. As insulting as such distortions are and as suggestive as they may be of wider cultural and governance concerns, Bill is nonetheless grateful the ABC went on to publish his book, McBride: Behind the Myth. His research material, referred to by lawyers as "the Nicol transcripts", became the centrepiece of a major judicial investigation that saw McBride dethroned and left Bill to defend a defamation claim that McBride eventually withdrew a decade later.

 

Negotiating A to Z (2002). Writing McBride proved a turning point in Bill's career. While researching the book, Bill became intrigued with the nature and abuse of organisational power. This sparked an unexpected career change as Bill began a long-hall investigation into the leadership that shapes organisational power, politics and performance. In the course of this, Bill developed a reputation and business as an independent organizational analyst and troubleshooter. While the public output of his writing declined in consequence, he turned his attention to writing a wide range of client strategies, policies, analyses, reports, manuals and speeches. He also helped clients negotiate the highly challenging area of organisational and public communication, writing several papers and books to help. One was Negotiating A to Z, which Bill also illustrated and used as a training manual when coaching executives in the productive use of negotiating as a practical tool for managing individual, team, organisational, industrial, political and media relations. Privately, Bill's creative output found expression in poetry and art. 

 

Tsunami Chronicles (2013). Emerging as a sought after strategist for government and industry, Bill found a particular talent in helping clients anticipate and respond to crises and disasters. Along with this and his earlier work in writing Timor, it was not long before he  found himself called on to undertake assignments helping the Indonesian Government emerge into a strong democratic state following the Suharto period of military domination. This work turned into a full-blown commitment to Indonesia following the Indian Ocean Tsunami of December 2004 when the Indonesian Government asked Bill to be its senior adviser for tsunami recovery, a position he held through to the end of the multi-billion-dollar tsunami reconstruction program. Working at its apex, Bill designed and managed key aspects of the recovery effort, observing and analysing its many twists and turns as a pivotal insider. Asked by his Minister to write a book on the program, Bill obliged by spending the next four years researching and writing not one but six books. The series, Tsunami Chronicles: Adventures in Disaster Management, is a seminal work on international disaster recovery. Writing it returned Bill to his roots as an investigative author who again travelled the world exploring various disaster recovery programs, like the response to Haiti's earthquake. Chronicles documents the tensions and conflicts that tear at the heart of every organisation and illustrates the vital role of leadership in determining the success or failure of any venture.

 

Crisis Leadership (2014). Tsunami Chronicles completed a trilogy of books on disasters which, in hindsight, seem the natural outcome of Bill's investigative character and interests. All three cover the darker sides of human nature - Timor the arrogance and deceit that give rise to man-made catastrophe, McBride the hubris, arrogance and folly of fraud that destroys reputations and institutions, Chronicles the politics that undermine how we respond to the destructive force of nature and what we can do about them. Three themes run through each: crises, politics and leadership. To lock these in place, Bill turned his attention to researching and writing a fourth book that brings all the elements together in a single volume. Crisis Leadership: Dealing with Disasters from Asia to Africa and America does this through a series of studies that begin with Rudi Giuliani's mayoral leadership in response to the 9/11 terror attack on New York and end with President Barak Obama's leadership in response to the most recent life-threatening Ebola outbreak in West Africa. Crisis Leadership also updates Bill's personal observations and journey since writing Tsunami Chronicles as he stepped onto the world stage as an international speaker and continued his work in humanitarian diplomacy. Also written as another contribution to global knowledge, this time specifically for the 10th anniversary of the 2004 tsunami, Crisis Leadership tackles the toughest of subjects as Bill explores how the United Nations failed in responding to genocide in Darfur, the World Bank snatched success from the jaws of victory in its response to the tsunami in Indonesia and how the World Health Organization remained asleep at the wheel as Ebola rampaged in Africa and rippled into the wider world. 

 

Tsunami: A Poet's Journey (2014). This is another book Bill wrote for the 10th anniversary of the 2004 tsunami. It is a single poem, a longish one in ten parts, exposing the raw nerves of his tsunami experience in Indonesia. A poet as well as a writer of prose, Bill penned Tsunami in a two-day rush of creativity that helped exorcise the demons of his frustrations and disappointments. The first of several poetic works he hopes to publish in the years ahead, Bill accepts he is no William Wordsworth or Walt Whitman. He has until now written poems for personal pleasure rather than publication. But, stepping from beneath the shadows of his own insecurity, he is prepared to step over the precipice to accept the smacks and whacks of critics as he continues to write now free of the more serious works that have occupied his life over past decades. As for Tsunami: A poet's Journey itself, it compliments Tsunami Chronicles and Crisis Leadership to give readers a greater feel in a succinct form of life in the fast lane of humanitarian adventure. It expresses the feelings of an activist still intent on holding to account those in senior positions who should have known and done better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Building Back from Disaster: A Handbook for Leaders (2014). This is a book Bill did not intend to write, indeed resisted writing for a long time despite encouragement from friends and colleagues who wanted him to produce a disaster practioner's manual. Despite his reluctance to write another book on the subject of disasters, Bill sat down to write just one more to wrap up loose ends. In doing so, he wanted to sum up some of his more practical thoughts on leadership in particular. He also wanted to fill a hole in in the literature. Having read several manuals and contributed to one paid for by the Indonesia Government and Red Cross, he knew there were big problems in what had already been written for disaster professionals. Among other things, all the published manuals and guidelines seemed way too dry for Bill's liking. They deliberately avoided the politics of disasters and focused on supervision to the exclusion of leadership. So, in the immediate run up to the 10th anniversary of the 2004 tsunami, Bill sat down to address these issues by writing just one more book, a very short one easily read in a single sitting. Building Back from Disaster: A Handbook for Leaders quickly emerged to complete what turned out to be Bill's 10th anniversary tsunami trilogy. He hopes it to be his last book on the subject but knows he won't be able to stop writing more if the need arises. If Building Back from Disasters proves useful to recovery professionals, he is also likely to update it with further editions if the professionals who use it help him with feedback and suggestions.