Tania de Jong AM

Tania de Jong: Brave, inspirational – or both?

Margaret Paton

Spawning multiple and simultaneous start-ups, mostly non-profits, plus a global conference on creative innovation. That would keep you busy, but Tania de Jong AM has also managed to pull off a career as an international soprano, workshop leader, speaker for hire and, earlier this year, set up a creative co-working space, Dimension5, in South Melbourne, with multinational IT company Dimension Data. And yes, she’s had her 17 minutes of fame thanks to her TEDx talk.

“If I think it’s a good enough idea, I don’t analyse, I don’t do risk management, I don’t do a lot of business planning to begin with,” she says.

De Jong’s founded Creative Universe, Creativity Australia, Creative Innovation Global, MTA Entertainment & Events, Pot-Pourri and The Song Room.  She works with diverse communities through her Creativity Australia social enterprise and One Voice Choir for social inclusion programs.

Being bullied and feeling socially excluded going to an Anglican girls’ school, she says, were part of what drives her now to give voice to people who are different and “help unleash their creative potential”.

“I’ve never worked for anyone, maybe I was born an entrepreneur. When I was about five, my brother and I would charge our parents admission to attend our magic show. Later, I had a shell and jewellery store outside my parents’ home, I ran a tennis coaching business to get through university and then started a singing teaching business,” says de Jong, whose grandmother actually invented the portable folder umbrella.

“Everything I started was from scratch. I didn’t buy a business. I started my first charity, Songroom, in 1999.

“Starting charities is tricky as … you can never afford to pay as much as what the corporate world can pay, so you’re working off a smell of oily rag even more so than other start-ups.”

“If I think it’s a good enough idea, I don’t analyse, I don’t do risk management, I don’t do a lot of business planning to begin with.”

She set up Creative Universe as the umbrella for her work across innovation and entrepreneurialism. Her keynote consulting business was next to advise organisations and government on building capability through innovation, creativity leadership and entrepreneurship.

For her first Creative Innovation Global conference organised in 2010, de Jong wanted it to be cross sectoral, from CEOs to emerging leaders and across government, business, industry, academia. She “literally booked the venue for a date a month away then went into ANZ and was lucky to get them on board as a partner” and creativity guru and lateral thinker, Edward De Bono, agreed to speak.

“Ducks fell into place as I got lots of other speakers. I reverse engineered it; I saw the result of what it could be, then went back to the beginning. I came up against many obstacles, but I didn’t think about them,” says de Jong.

The conferences have won two global awards in the past. Last year’s event attracted 900 people, took out Corporate Event of the Year in the Australian Event Awards and was one of the Anthill SMART 100.

Her Creative Innovation Global (Ci2016 Asia Pacific) conference, to be held 7-9 November, will have 40+ plus world-class leaders, thinkers and innovators. This year’s theme is Exponential Shift: Making Transformation Happen – offering forecasts, strategies and practices to help transform you and your organisations.

This conference will explore the theme at personal, organisational and global levels across the major sectors of business, industry, community and government.

If de Jong had her time again, she says she wouldn’t start as many businesses at once.

De Jong says rising to the transformation challenge needs “new mindsets, skills, organisational designs” that means participants will learn new strategies whilst also “leveraging their innate, but sometimes hidden, right-brained creative capabilities”.

“The waves of disruption affecting our global economy are creating massive new growth markets. We now have a chance to bring education and healthcare to hundreds of millions of people in new ways. New technologies have the potential to find effective ways for us to confront climate change, feed the 10 billion people who will populate our planet and radically reconfigure how we make and distribute things,” she says.

If de Jong had her time again, she says she wouldn’t start as many businesses at once; instead focusing on developing her people management skills.

“Because I’ve never worked for anyone, I often forget these human resources skills around how to manage people, keep them running with you and bringing them in on your vision constantly – I keep learning that lesson. A lot of people feel they can never keep up with me.”

Margaret Paton

Former Sunday Age staff journalist, Margaret Paton (formerly Jakovac) has written widely for corporations/government departments and more than 100 online/hard copy mastheads in regional NSW, Sydney, Melbourne and Europe.

If it’s inspiration you’re after, there are plenty of entrepreneurial success stories on ShortPress and some ideas for where you might find it.