After podcasting with David Olney 3 times, and being blown away each time by his unique insights, I asked him a fateful question: ‘David, since you’re blind, what other abilities of yours have become heightened?’ David told me that he can assemble information from multiple sources and see the connections quite readily. I have since hired David to consult with me on business development and crisis management for several months now, and his insights are incredibly useful and actionable. I daresay David has already helped me avoid an attack that easily could’ve jeopardized and destroyed one of my major projects. David has also provided insights that will lead to hundreds of thousands of dollars in added profit over the next year to my businesses. As I have told David several times: “I want you to talk to and consult with everyone I know!” David has also consulted with 3 separate team groups in my organizations; literally every person he has spoken to has come away enthused, informed, and changed for the better by his insights. Whether you run a government agency, a corporation, or you simply want strategic insights on how to improve your thinking and your situation, David can diagnose and help you quickly and powerfully. He’s a tremendous asset. Richard Jacobs President, Speakeasy Marketing Inc. Host, Finding Genius Podcast Executive DIrector, Finding Genius Foundation
David is a strategist and a communicator, that is why I first worked with him to build project management skills in statisticians.
I despaired at the project management training we were providing people: Gantt charts, schedules, resource allocations blah blah … essential skills for project administrators. We needed managers, we needed people who could envisage their project’s futures, how it fitted into the organisation, its weaknesses, how it could fail, how they could tell in advance it was failing. Then they needed the skills to understand the other people involved, to work with them to take their rickety, precarious project to success. David was outstanding: he inspired with compelling stories, deep knowledge of organisations and strategy, a disarming style of challenging ideas and mastery of understanding and influencing people.
From a consultant, David became a colleague and finally, now, a coach and challenger. I always leave our conversations with a list of ideas to follow up, many of my well held positions in tatters, and thoroughly intellectually refreshed. Lunch with David, David as a colleague, is not for the feint hearted. However, if you want your strategic thinking challenged, expanded, and improved David is outstanding.
Dean Bowley Strategic Consultant Retired Senior Public Servant
David has impacted my life for the better by demonstrating what it means to live by evidence-based principles. Although he is given to heat and passion, his reflections are grounded by deference to repeatable, quantifiable evidence. His insights provide a reliable True North through any storm or blizzard of doubt; which has a calming and emboldening effect on those willing to listen and respond to his utterances. David Olney is our modern day sage amid the shallow, shrill noises of mass and social media. Steve Davis MBA Mktg Mgt, FAMI CPM Principal, Marketing & Communication Consultant Talked About Marketing
David is an incredible strategist, thinker and communicator. Aside from his phenomenal expertise on security, military, and geopolitical issues, David’s analytic skills, understanding of complex decision-making and strategic thinking make him a world-class educator, mentor, philosopher and consultant. I cannot recommend David more highly to any government agency, corporation, or individual that is seeking any strategic, communication or advisory services. His insights and expertise will provide the “edge” you need, whatever outcomes or objectives you are seeking. Mercedes Page Founder and CEO, Young Australians in International Affairs
I have known David for almost ten years and have been his student for three, although in truth I have always taken away learning from our conversations. David’s ability to create and enforce individual frameworks for self-directed inquiry based learning enables anyone with at least mild intellect to undertake complex problem solving in a complicated environment. David categorises this unique skill as an insight, which simplifies an understanding of cognitive reasoning and frameworks for thinking that often eludes even seasoned practitioners. I would recommend David to any Australian government agency or corporation seeking strategic insights or uplifting capability within their own employees to better understand, breakdown, address and ultimately solve complex problems. I owe and attribute much of my success to David. Rowan Sanders
David has been my teacher and mentor since 2015, since teaching me ‘Complex Problem Solving,’ and ‘Strategic Culture’ and ‘International Security After the Cold War’ at the University of Adelaide. It’s difficult to put into words the profound effect that David has had on my personal and professional trajectory during this time. He has taught me to become a more creative problem solver, a more effective leader, a better academic, a stronger communicator and a more well-rounded person. I have no doubt that he would have this effect on others too. In terms of a metaphor, David is like a guiding light. He doesn’t give all the answers, but he will show you how to find your own. I cannot recommend David highly enough for any complicated problems you, or your organisation, might be facing. Jessica Freund
If you guys are going to take away any lesson from today’s lecture, let it be that military and strategic lessons always get learnt but the overarching political lessons never do”. This was my first ever lecture with David and I remember it word for word (well, nearly). I took this course four years ago but I still remember the lessons from Intelligence and Security with great clarity. I think it’s rare for students to recall lessons their lecturers taught with such clarity. But, not with David. It was this ability to articulate, drawing on an encyclopaedic knowledge, that made David such a terrific lecturer. One of the only lecturers that could keep a class fixated on every word for nearly two hours. I took all of David’s courses, practically moulding my degree after the subjects he was teaching. For this, I am eternally grateful. Not only did it give the clarity I lacked in my degree but it also led to an enrolment in Complex Problem Solving – which was the most useful course I have ever taken to date. Through the course, which was like a hybrid of an MBA Course mixed with Duntroon mixed with Marcus Aurelius (don’t question the analogy), I learnt a lot of practical tools that I readily employ in my academic and day-to-day life. I have always read about great teachers. The people who sparked and educated the great thinkers of this world. David is one of those teachers. He set me on a path towards an unquenchable love of learning that I am forever grateful for. Kalindu Dahanayake Former Student, University of Adelaide
I was a student of David’s in a course called Complex Problem Solving in 2019. This course is easily one of the best decisions I made during university. As a student in Sociology, my studies were saturated with abstracts and theories. David’s course was a breath of fresh air, as he taught us many actionable tools and transferrable skillsets for tackling increasingly complex and ‘wicked’ problems. As I continue with my postgraduate studies, the content of my thesis and the thesis itself have become two specific wicked problems in their own rights. I still find David’s lessons meaningful in making sense of the research topic/problem, before devising and delivering a logical and actionable argument and research design. I have since shared what I’ve learnt from David’s course with my friends, all of whom seem to have a similar reaction that goes along the lines of: “How come I didn’t know about this course when I needed it?!” David’s course resonates with us, in that it is not just about how to solve complex/wicked problems, but also how to learn, think, understand, and ultimately develop insights – something that we all need desperately in times of uncertainty. Laura, Ngoc Lan Tran
David Olney was my lecturer for Complex Problem Solving and Strategic Cultures, and was without a doubt the best lecturer I had at University. Encouraging us to think independently and outside the box, David’s unique experience and perspective on life really does influence those he interacts with to look at life from a different angle. David’s love for intelligent and deep conversations weren’t limited to lecture theatres though, having spent most of my hours post-lecture at a pub continuing the conversation for as long as you need, always offering help and guidance to those who needed it. This speaks volumes about his character and love for those around him, and his desire to make the world a better place. This can also be heard first hand from his podcast Blind Insights where he tackles issues dealing with the fundamentals of our lives and how we can best take advantage of our situation to encourage self-help. If you ever need guidance from someone with a generous heart and a great mind, it is David you’ll be dialling first! Gabriel Chirnside Former Student, University of Adelaide
I first met David as a student of his 2013 University of Adelaide Strategic Studies masters course. This course was run more like an academy than a modern university class, in which David attained the buy-in of students to the course content and cohort. In delivering his course David distinguished himself as beyond an educator, for his mentoring of the cohort. To great appreciation this mentoring has continued for myself and numerous other graduates. This moral and intellectual guidance has significantly added value to the human performance of a vast unofficial alumni, now spread across Australia’s academic, civil service, corporate and non-government organisations. Fortunately now, new communication technologies and travel opportunities are expanding access to David’s work. For anyone seeking to improve their individual or organisational performance, David’s advice, and ethos towards value-adding to the performance of others, represents a great opportunity. Douglas Former Student – University of Adelaide
I first met David in 2014 when I took his course Strategic Cultures and Unconventional Conflict. David was an excellent tutor and I enjoyed my semester with David. He takes an interest in each and every student in his class. He is an excellent tutor and is able to explain and demonstrate concepts in a variety of ways for a variety of different learners. He has become my mentor and my friend. He has taken an interest in my career development and has been very supportive in my career endeavours. David is a very knowledgeable, patient, compassionate, empathetic, kind hearted person who will go out of his way to support and bring the best out of a person. Anyone who hires David will find him to be a valuable asset. He will be a great leader and an excellent team player. Sharmini Nathan Researcher Monash University Malaysi
I first encountered David when on a whim I enrolled in Complex Problem Solving at Adelaide University. Within the first lecture I was instantly captured by David’s insight into the persisting issues of the world and the empowerment through competence building he imparts on his students. David’s approach to teaching made it almost impossible to not enter a flow state through his encouragement of creative thinking and demonstrations of how one person can radically alter their goal outcomes with the adoption of simple intellectual tools and mindset changes to appropriately handle a variety of circumstances. Having since completed a small research project under David’s supervision. David’s lessons on the importance of individual autonomy in teamwork scenarios and his strategic approach to rebuilding competence in old pastimes and skills has changed the way I pursue learning. Be it through his various podcast appearances or book recommendations, David’s insight and wisdom are something I will routinely suggest to anyone who will listen. Jack Holloway
Like many other testimonials on this website, I met David through my time at the University of Adelaide. David was a lecturer and tutor of mine in International Security, Strategic Studies and Complex Problem Solving. In addition to these, David has been a personal mentor of mine for many years, for which I am very grateful. Despite having graduated in 2018, I continue to speak with David on a semi-regular basis and whenever I believe I’d benefit from his wisdom. To this day, I continue to be amazed by the quality and depth of David’s insights. David would be an invaluable asset to any organisation, and I would recommend him highly. To be more specific, there are two pieces of wisdom David has imparted on me that I put to use every day throughout the course of my professional duties. The first of these teachings was to break down silos in order to optimise output. While this may not seem like a unique concept, as a third year university student, this professional concept was not one that I had been exposed to. I believe learning this skill early in my academic career held me in good stead upon entering the workforce. Whether the task at hand is to consult a wide range of stakeholders on an issue, develop or implement a novel policy, scrutinise legislation or simply provide general advice, the skill to break down silos and work across networks to achieve common goals has been invaluable. The second of David’s teachings that I utilise daily is the notion of maximising vs. satisficing. Again, while a simple concept in theory, this was mind-blowing for a university student with no prior professional experience. While it may sound like an exaggeration, I do indeed use this skill every single day at work. This concept has shaped how I approach tasks and allows me to triage my work more effectively. In all my reading and professional development outside of work, I have not yet come across a similar concept. I am certain that without having taken David’s courses at university, I would approach work and life very differently. I am also certain that I would not be the Commonwealth Officer I am without his teachings to bolster my thinking and approaches to work. I encourage all those reading this to employ David’s services whenever the need arises. To be precise, I’d be more than happy to bet on the fact you absolutely will not regret requesting his second counsel on any conundrum you, your business, or your government agency may face. Jay Former Student, University of Adelaide
David takes people with passion and energy and helps them to direct that into real action. He has a formidable grasp of diverse mental tools that you are able to use in order to be more effective in your life, and at a personal level cares about meeting you where you are and helping you specifically to discover and reach your goals. This level of engagement is invaluable and rare, and I cannot recommend engaging with him highly enough. My time in David’s classes in University and in our continuing relationship has been instrumental in making me who I am. Thanks in no small part to him, I feel prepared for whatever life throws at me, and fully in tune with who I am. Xavier
David has a unique knack for making the complex simple. He recently helped me prepare a project proposal as part of a scholarship application in the area of international trade, policy, and security.
I can highly recommend David to anyone looking for advice or expertise in these fields. David greatly improved the quality of my proposal through his clarity of thought and expression.
He is an expert communicator, and a pleasure to work with. If you’re a business, government agency, or someone tackling wicked security and policy problems – David will help you cut through the noise to reveal new and powerful insights.”
I met David at a point in my life where I knew I wanted to grow but didn’t know how too. He advised me on where my strengths, interests and experience could lead me. I then enrolled in a Commerce and Language degree at the age of 43. Fast forward 5 years and I am established in a career working in a high energy job that I could have never imagined in my previous life. Thank you David.
I came across David Olney for the first time as a broadcast journalist, where I would regularly request his expert commentary. I was immediately struck by many aspects of the man from the very first time I interviewed him. Firstly, I was very impressed with how well spoken and articulate he was. This is a trait very much appreciated by a broadcast journalist on a tight schedule because it means less time needed to edit the audio. Secondly, he possessed detailed knowledge about very specific issues related to international politics and the more I interviewed him, I realized that there wasn’t an issue too specialized for him. Even if he wasn’t a direct expert on a particular topic, he knew more than enough about the issue to be a suitable commentator. Finally, I was very appreciative of how generous David always was with his time. Despite his busy schedule, he was often available on short notice and he was never impatient or gave shorter than usual responses because he wanted to wrap things up quickly. He always gave his best commentary and was only happy to end the interview after ensuring that I had all the information that I needed.
I finally met David in person for the first time as an undergraduate student, during my fourth year of university. By this point, I had some perspective about what makes a great university lecturer and it was obvious to me during my very first tutorial with David, that there was something particularly special about this lecturer. Not only was the class’s content very interesting, but David’s delivery of the content was exceptional, particularly with his captivating use of storytelling to drive home his points. By the end of the year I had experienced two classes with David and by then it had become clear that David Olney was a clear cut above every lecturer I’d had throughout my university life. His classes focused on developing real world practical skills such as problem solving, effective goal planning and developing a positive and inclusive workplace culture. Such useful, practical content was generally missing throughout my undergraduate arts degree so I was very grateful to be part of David’s classes. The content was memorable too, which I will accredit to David’s methodical teaching style. That is, ensuring that the students retain the knowledge by driving home the class’s point in various ways, such as first describing the content, then offering examples of the points through storytelling, followed by a hands on, practical application of the content.
What was particularly exceptional about David Olney however, was how much time and effort he put into the development of his students. Every time I have asked David for advice about a particular essay or regarding life after university, he was always there for me. He’d always offer to take me out for lunch or a drink, generously dedicating hours of his time towards ensuring my success in life. Of course, this isn’t just my experience with the man, this has been many students’ experience with David. It was common for me to come across David at university, surrounded by several students on their way to lunch together. I’d say hello as I walked past and more often than not, I’d end up joining them. We would have some good group chats but there were always moments where David would be mentoring an individual, specifically highlighting what he thought were their personal strengths and coming up with ways in which those strengths could be maximized. Above all though, David is just a great person to hang out with, he always maintains a positive attitude, he can keep you entertained for hours and he is very much interested in getting to know you and helping you in any way he possibly can.
Michael Migali – Journalist and former student
David’s mentoring was invaluable leading up to a winter wilderness trek I completed alone across 8 days in dangerous weather conditions. Although I had determined that the risks of undertaking this exercise were manageable, the 8 days of isolation I experienced in combination with sub-zero temperatures and hypothermic conditions challenged my resilience and ability to remain calm while facing adversity like no previous event in my life. I recalled David’s previous guidance on risk assessment, being self-aware and problem-solving when I experienced a blizzard and when I was required to tackle a large snow drift before successfully completing the walk. Without David’s guidance, I would not have had the right combination of maturity, mindset, self-awareness and cognitive tools to consider undertaking such a walk in those conditions, let alone think about how to tackle the challenges that could arise in such adverse situations.
David caught my attention early on by offering a course on Intelligence in the Post-Cold War World and held it so well that I happily enrolled myself doing a summer school course on Complex Problem Solving.
He taught me to ask Alexander’s question ‘what will it take to disprove my assumptions?’ is something that has stayed with me through my career. I’ve had plenty of meetings where this has been insightful and the technique he taught me of back-casting is always useful in critiquing timelines. He also helped hone my natural instinct for ‘red-teaming.’
If you’re in a situation where critical thinking and problem solving are important, you want David’s advice.
William Gloster Former Student, University of Adelaide
David fosters an inquisitive and critical mindset that empowers clients to achieve their desired outcomes. Although ten years have passed since I first sat in David’s seminars at university, I vividly remember how David’s approach to learning and teaching transformed my education experience, my outlook on problem-solving, and my attitude towards what I could achieve. He showed me that one of the keys to effective written and verbal communication is in making transparent connections between ideas and information. As one of the most intelligent people I have had the privilege of learning from, David is quick to identify important connections and transform them into powerful messages, arguments, and narratives. However, David’s greatest strength is in his seemingly natural and effortless ability to cultivate those critical thinking skills in others. David won’t hand you a roadmap. He’ll give you something more priceless that goes beyond your immediate needs: critical cognitive tools to tackle any problem. Let David be your Yoda. Melissa-Ellen Dowling Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of Adelaide