What does ambition mean to you?
AmbitionNZ is a project that explores what ambition means in New Zealand.

Ambition is interesting because how big we dream is a major determinant of how far we can go, in business, in government or in life.

We have written a book, collected interviews with a diverse range of New Zealanders, and put out a survey to gather a wide range of views.


Many commentators say New Zealanders lack ambition, and that aspects of the New Zealand character or our comfortable lives limit our achievements. We are said to be too keen on time off, too concerned about everyone fitting in, suspicious of people who try too hard, enthusiastic about humility, afraid of risk and failure, and relatively unmotivated everywhere but on the sports field. And yet Kiwis achieve at the very highest levels, both at home and overseas.

Ambition is linked to outcomes. Ambition is also something that responds to your circumstances. Some people want to make changes on a global scale. For others dreams focused much closer to home might require no less stretch.

Our book looks at what ambition means to New Zealanders. It reviews what has been said about us over the years, and compares these comments with what a diverse range of New Zealanders say based on new survey results and interviews.

We discuss how ambition might be linked to national economic performance, and to individual and societal wellbeing. We discuss questions of national identity and how our views on ambition might change as the New Zealand population changes. And we discuss challenges such as poverty and other things that get in the way of people setting and chasing goals for themselves and their families.

We explain the science of ambition and achievement, including where ambition comes from, how it is influenced by circumstances and how we can develop it.

We aim to increase awareness of the diversity of meanings of the word ambition and to help New Zealanders feel safe and inspired in setting bigger goals for themselves. We think being more ambitious with our dreams and goals could make us both more content as individuals and more successful as a country, without giving up the values that are important to us.

Ambition: What New Zealanders Think and Why It Matters was featured on the cover of the Listener, on The Nation, Q+A, Radio NZ and NBR, and in the Sunday Star Times.

You can order the physical book through the link below or get digital versions through Amazon or meBooks.

“This is an important book which comes at just the right time. The world is changing at a frenetic pace and disruption is now the new routine. In this kind of climate thinking about ‘ambition’ in a critical way is crucial. Understanding what it is, what New Zealanders think about it, and why all that matters, is one of the most fundamentally important first steps in charting our course as individuals, and as a nation.”

Nigel Latta

“Ambition is a good thing. We need to start talking about ambition in a positive way: something that Kiwis should come to see as part-and-parcel of what it means to be a successful New Zealander. This book is a great start to this important national conversation.”

Sir Stephen Tindall
Founder of The Warehouse and The Tindall Foundation

“E whakaatu ana tēnei pukapuka, ki te awhero nui tātou ki ō tātou iwi, tō tātou whenua, ō tātou ana, tō tātou taiao, tō tātou reo Māori, me tō tātou ahurea, ka piki te ora whānui ki a tātou katoa.
This book shows how being ambitious for the future of our people, our land, our rivers, our environment, our Māori language and our culture can lead to better wellbeing for all of us.”

Tania Ka’ai
Professor of Language Revitalisation, AUT

“What a revelation! After years of vaguely understanding that Kiwis tend to think about ambition and achievement differently, now we can truly understand why. This is a fascinating read that helps us understand how to leverage our unique drive for greater impact.”

Sarah Robb O’Hagan
Executive, Activist and Entrepreneur

“Maybe one day we’ll no longer settle with punching above our weight and aspire to be good in our own right. If so, this book might plot the course.”

Rowan Simpson

“It is both easy and dangerous to assume the way we approach ambitions in our own lives is normal and shared by others. This book helps us understand that people are living with very different views on how wide and how deep they are driven to influence and act.”

Lillian Grace
CEO, FigureNZ

“Ambition is not a dirty word.
Whether you’re ambitious for your family, your business, your community or your sport, this book tells every Kiwi: you’re not alone.”

Phil Veal
Kea Chair


Our online survey gathered data about ambition in New Zealand that we used to test the ideas in the book and video interviews. Between July and October 2018, we collected 1,298 complete survey responses. Thank you to everyone who filled it in.

The survey results are discussed in our book.

If you are interested in using this data for research purposes, please get in touch.
(Note that we did not collect any identifying information from participants.)

Video Interviews


We have completed short video interviews with more than a hundred and fifty people. We ask five questions:


  • What does “ambition” mean to you?
  • Are you ambitious?
  • Why do you think you are this way?
  • Describe the most ambitious person you know (not you)
  • What would enable you to be more ambitious?
The AmbitionNZ YouTube channel contains a selection of our edited interviews.
Please subscribe for updates.

About the Project

Why Bother

The idea of this work is to make an enduring contribution to how New Zealanders understand themselves. Describing ambition more inclusively might make it less of a dirty word. By shining a light on our attitudes and behaviors, we can come to understand them, building a foundation for changing them over time.

Our goal is to support a national conversation about ambition that encourages more New Zealanders to be more ambitious about more things: not just sport, or business, but family and community life, music and the arts, the environment and our wider wellbeing.

This work is a private apolitical effort unaffiliated with any organization.

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Who is Involved

Julie Fry

Julie Fry is a consulting economist and World Class New Zealander who divides her time between New York and a family farm near Motueka. She established the AmbitionNZ project to encourage more New Zealanders to be more ambitious about more things.

Julie has Master’s degrees in economics from both the University of Canterbury and Lincoln University, and she received a Nuffield Fellowship to research discrimination issues at the University of Warwick in Coventry. She has worked for the New Zealand Treasury, Te Puni Kōkiri, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and HM Treasury in London on issues including productivity, immigration, Māori economic development, child poverty and wellbeing. She is the co-author of two books about migration in New Zealand, Going Places and Better Lives. Together with her Ambition co-author Hayden Glass and another friend, she co-owns the Open Book, a delightful secondhand bookstore in Ponsonby, Auckland.

With Thanks To

Founding principal sponsor and advisor: Jenny Sutton
Ambition book co-author: Hayden Glass
Branding & Website: 360 Design
Survey Design: Joanna Smith and Anna Livesey
Book: Caren Wilton, Tina Delceg, Wakefields Digital, David Bateman Ltd and Penny Hartill
Video Editing: Rosel Labone

Copyright 2022, AmbitionNZ