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 are writing a book, collecting interviews with a diverse range of New Zealanders, and putting out a survey to gather a wide range of views.


There is a popular view in literature and public commentary that New Zealanders are not particularly ambitious.

Instead, New Zealanders are said to be “satisficers”. We value humility, don’t like social distance or people who are “up themselves”, and we suffer from “tall poppy syndrome”: the desire to bring down those who claim superiority. Sport is the main exception: we celebrate ambition and success, provided our stars remain humble.

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 explores what is known and reckoned about ambition in New Zealand. We look at what underpins ambition and how people can become more ambitious. We discuss business ambition and the debate about how to boost exports and high wage jobs. We discuss questions of national identity and how that is changing as the 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 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 identifying and communicating stories can help open up greater possibilities.

We anticipate releasing the book in physical and digital formats by the end of 2018.


Our online survey is designed to gather data about ambition in New Zealand that we can use to test the ideas in the AmbitionNZ book and video interviews.

We want to understand how attitudes to ambition differ between people of different genders, ages, ethnicities, locations, and circumstances. This will let us compare the national narratives that we tell ourselves with the narratives that are real for New Zealanders as a whole. We wonder if we will be able to make some predictions about how our national character might change as the population mix changes.

Our survey is now live – please fill it out and share the link below!

We anticipate making the results and the data from the survey available when we release the book at the end of this year.

Please read below and click the checkbox to confirm:

Information sheet for participants
Thank you for your interest in this survey. This information is to help you decide whether you want to participate. Participation is voluntary and deciding not to participate will have no consequences for you. If you decide to participate, you can stop answering the survey at any time, again without consequences.

About AmbitionNZ
The AmbitionNZ project  explores how ambition features in the national character and conversation of New Zealanders. As part of the project, we are writing a book and filming short video interviews with New Zealanders from all walks of life. These will be made available on this website later this year, along with the results from this survey.

“Ambition” can be a difficult word. Some popular stereotypes are that New Zealanders value humility or that we suffer from “tall poppy syndrome”, that is, a tendency to criticise those who claim to be better than others. In this project we want to see whether New Zealanders really think this way, to understand ourselves better, and to see whether our national character is changing as our population changes.

More broadly, we want to encourage more New Zealanders to be more ambitious about more things:  business and government; sports, music, and the arts;  technology, science and education;  our culture, heritage, communities and environment; and our personal lives.

AmbitionNZ is a private, apolitical effort unaffiliated with any organization. The person leading the project is consulting economist and author, Julie Fry. If you have any questions about the project, either now or in the future, please feel free to contact Julie via email at julie@ambition.nz.
You can find out more about the project and who is behind it here:

Aim of the survey
This survey is designed to gather information on what ambition means to you, how ambitious you are, and what you think of ambition and ambitious people.

Who can participate
We are interested in the views of people with connections to New Zealand. You are eligible to take part in this study if you are at least 16 years of age and meet any of the following criteria:

  1. You were born in New Zealand,
  2. You currently live in New Zealand, or
  3. You have previously lived in New Zealand for more than 3 months.

This is tested with the opening questions in the survey itself.

What participants are being asked to do
If you agree to take part in this survey, you will be asked to answer a set of questions about ambition. At the end, you will also be asked some questions about you and the household you live in. These last questions are used to reassure us that we have a cross-section of people taking part in the survey and to see if there are trends in responses for different societal groups.

The entire survey should take about less than 15 minutes.

How the information will be used
Your survey response is anonymous. We collect no identifying information about you. If you also sign up for updates on the project, the email address you give us is stored separately from your survey response and we cannot connect the two.

The aggregate results of the survey will be discussed in the AmbitionNZ book. They will also be made available on the AmbitionNZ website. You can sign up for progress updates on the AmbitionNZ project here.

Survey responses remain the property of AmbitionNZ. Only the AmbitionNZ research team will have access to them. They will be destroyed six months after the project has been completed. During the project, the response data will be stored securely in a password protected electronic file.

What to do if you have ethical concerns about this survey
This project has been reviewed by the New Zealand Ethics Committee (www.nzethics.com) which has agreed that it meets the appropriate ethical standards for social research. If you have any concerns about the ethical conduct of the research you may contact the New Zealand Ethics Committee by email at nzethicscommittee@xtra.co.nz

Any issues you raise will be treated in confidence and investigated and you will be informed of the outcome.

Take The Survey

Video Interviews


We have completed short video interviews with more than a hundred 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?

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 organisation. We are pursuing it because we think it is important and interesting. If you are interested in helping out, please get in touch.

Subscribe for project updates

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 has worked for the New Zealand Treasury, Te Puni Kōkiri, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and HM Treasury in London on a range of policy issues including family policy, the labour market and immigration, and child poverty. 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. Together with Hayden and another friend, she co-owns the Open Book, a delightful secondhand bookstore in Ponsonby, Auckland.

Hayden Glass

Hayden Glass is a consultant with the Sapere Research Group and the former COO of Figure.NZ, a social enterprise focused on making New Zealand’s public data easier to find and easier to use. He has worked for the New Zealand Treasury, for Vodafone New Zealand, and on consulting assignments for a range of clients in the public and private sector including on the economic impacts of technology, on immigration and on employment issues. Hayden has a Masters in Law and a BA from Canterbury University. He has also studied mathematics and economics. He and Julie met while writing a book, Going Places, on the economics of immigration released by BWB in 2016.

With Thanks To

Principal Sponsor of AmbitionNZ: Jenny Sutton
Advisors: Jenny Sutton, Phil Veal and Rowan Simpson
Branding & Website: 360 Design
Survey Design: Joanna Smith and Anna Livesey

Copyright 2018, AmbitionNZ