Catching up – work

Well, I am learning a lot. I have been working on these business plans for a couple of weeks now and it is quite interesting to analyse already what I have done right, and what I have done wrong. My goodness, I’ve done a lot wrong; and not so much in terms of what I’ve done but in terms of how I have gone about doing it. In short, I’ve been so focused on getting things done that I haven’t taken the time to make sure everyone is on the same page, which I KNOW is absolutely the wrong way to go about doing things but sometimes we all get blinders on.

I am also learning so much about managing because it has been a while, and it’s pretty stressful to make sure that everyone is happy, productive, and actually understanding the objectives that have been set out. There are so many interns, and some are more capable of acting on their own than others. I have always respected the amount of time it takes to be a good manager, and I know that I’m not being a particularly good manager at the moment. That bothers me in a lot of ways but then again it bothers me that I can’t work past about midnight before I can feel my mental capacity decreasing, and it bothers me that I can’t be 100% focused all day long. And it bothers me that I can’t perform certain physical activities. So apparently, I basically wish I was a Cylon. But definitely one of the final five.

On the other hand, if I were perfect life would be pretty boring as I would have no learning left to do. That I think is what I love the most about work or life in general just now, this is stretching me in all sorts of new ways but not in a way that’s too much. As my mother once said, I don’t like learning, I like knowing. So what I’m doing is close enough to a core competency that I can struggle through figuring out what to do and how to do it, and the process is fun. Being in way over my head would not be fun, I don’t imagine.

Anyway, at this exact moment I am feeling pretty excited actually because I had a fantastic meeting (why do these always seem to happen between 5 and 6pm??) with two of the members of the management team and I’m happy because we are not only giving the business plan template a dry run (and are making a ton of changes to it as a result), but also the whole incubation methodology. So, rather than red tape when we are trying to move fast, we are now actually refining the incubation methodology which is about as exciting to me, honestly, as any business plan. As much fun as it is putting a business idea through the ringer, systematizing the way to produce a business plan is both more challenging and more powerful. It is, after all, why we’re here – our rock star CEO is a visionary but we need to be able to replicate a model that works, which means the methodology has to work in the real world and not just on the drawing board.

That was a funny moment because I think all three of us had a bit of a different epiphany sitting in that room as the sun was setting over the harbour (sorry American readers, the spell check keeps “correcting” my American spellings). That is also a very cool feeling to take a bunch of bright people, put them in a room with a problem and see what comes out. There is very little to me that’s as inspiring as working with a bunch of really smart, hard-working people.

Herding cats … that about sums up what I’ve been trying to do this last week and change. A couple of highlights (other than getting dragged to the roti place twice in a week …. SO NOT ON MY DIET!):
• A visit to Philippi to meet with a large scale farmer Johan Terre’Blanche (no relation to Eugene). All I can say about this is that I’ve heard all this before (about the “benefits” of conventional over organic) and don’t agree with the half of it. Also, thank goodness I wasn’t the only one in the room who didn’t speak very good Afrikaans … my learning is coming along so slowly, there are so many other things to be doing and learning. It doesn’t help that my vocabulary is getting added to in odd ways (i.e. waterpokkies and hout (chickenpox and wood)).
• Visiting Mama Rosie and the Philippi Farmers Market (site for a future Grow Zone – see the image with the tractor) and learning about their farming challenges
• Reviewing the work I’d done on the second half of my coworker’s drug rehab parent support programme. I swear every time I meet with this guy it’s a new revelation. The world is a better place that he is in it – he makes an impact in a way that I never could, as a role model and an incredibly powerful spirit and presence. We all contribute in our own ways; my way just now is as someone who gets things done but you never know – I am so much more of a dynamic leader and speaker than I was ten years ago, who knows what role I’ll find for myself in the future.
• Watching this same [ex-gangster, mind you] guy making Purple Heart hampers
• My one co-worker asking me exactly what was in my water bottle (I drink a lot of water, ok?)
• Finally grasping conceptually what needs to happen for market research for all of these business plans
• More Purple Heart business coaching; this time of the team of girls. The epiphany this week was showing them why inventory theoretical vs. actual count was important (actually they realised this on their own, after I explained the concept of over/unders). THAT was very cool. As I read this I realise it sounds patronising which is not what I mean to be … people are people. Some are smarter than others. The people I’ve met from the townships aren’t stupid (ok some of them are but a lot of people across all walks of life are pretty stupid), but they lack knowledge. Seeing them make leaps of comprehension around business ideas …. VERY cool. Oh, and they also like the pictures of the soccer players. I think the zoom on my camera makes me the most popular person in the Purple Heart office on business coaching days.
• Working on the Purple Heart business plan all of Friday night to about 1:30am and waking up early Saturday to finish it before heading to the weightlifting clinic. The funny thing about this was discovering a major flaw in my spreadsheet around 8:30am when I had to be at the gym before 9. Nothing to focus your mind like a deadline…
• Touring the Abalimi/Harvest of Hope operation and meeting Rob Small, the founder. What an amazing character. Harvest of Hope is essentially an organisation that helps train and provide a route to market for township farmers, telling them what to grow and holding them to very strict quality standards. They also have farming training classes a few times a year that I would love to attend if I had the time (and if I didn’t probably already have 80% of the knowledge but that lats 20% is always the difference between mediocrity and excellence). I may be getting involved with a new project Rob wants to get off the ground …. More on this later if it comes to fruition. Like I needed to add something else to my plate, but this would be just up my alley.

The only other thing I can say at this point is that I wish there were more hours in the day. Boy did my ex-boss have me figured out….

I leave you all with a quote from an email I just received: “There is work to be done, mostly by you. Ellie, please drive the process. We need to torture the financial model next. Please read the whole document – all 79 pages – so that you have the context you need to complete your sections.” Life at heart.


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