Henley Madness




Well, this was a busy week. Way to state the obvious, so was the week before and so will be the coming week.

Anyway, the team from Henley was in the office on Tuesday doing interviews of staff and stakeholders to help us understand internal and external perceptions and understanding of heart. This was a useful exercise as it had some key insights but from my perspective the really valuable work that went on was in helping us figure out why the organisation that I am running should exist. To this end, I talked for several hours on Tuesday with the two team members who were focusing on that part of the problem. We didn’t really accomplish anything on that day other than just moving the ball forward a little bit.

Everything else about Tuesday that I wrote was boring so I’ve changed my mind and will move on to Wednesday because that day was more interesting. In the morning a co-worker of mine and I went out to Sea Point to get the download on market research results from one of our social enterprises. This was great for a lot of reasons; there is a lot of good insight there. I also gained a few more key insights: a) people should listen more (especially me), b) making the whole greater than the sum of the parts is critically important, and c) we exist in a wider context, and what we do impacts on others and we often don’t spend enough time understanding this.

The rest of the day was spent in interviews. Nothing I want to share publicly around the challenges here, but at the end of the day I was … well I was going to write exhilarated but that’s not actually correct. I was relieved. However, I was also frazzled but the yoga brought me right back to where I needed to be, which was a good thing because I had dinner plans at the house of a good friend. Had I gone over there in my earlier emotional state, I would not have been good company. I can shift my mental state, but doing that requires a level of focus that is difficult to achieve when you are physically stressed out. The very awareness of the existence of the tool can be missing, and may have been on that evening. My good work quote of the day, if I do say so myself relates to this: “It’s hard to see the forest for the trees when you’re stuck in the weeds.” Especially for me. But dinner was lovely, and relaxing. Some relationships are just comfortable and mutually beneficial.

Thursday! This day blew my mind. So I spent a little bit of time with the Henley crew in the office before they headed back to their hotel/conference center to work. I had one more interview, followed by an hour-long planning session with my boss. He was off the next day in Joburg, and to China for a week on Sunday, so we needed to talk about what needed to be done across the different projects. But, with one key exception, that didn’t tell me much I didn’t already know, so the value in the discussion was around more the core of getting on the same page with what we are trying to accomplish.

After that was over, I headed up to the Cape Milner which is where the Henley group was staying, trying to draw conclusions and pull together a presentation. I worked with them for maybe an hour and change before I had to go back to do Purple Heart business coaching. I was a bit impatient and frazzled and tried not to let that get through to the girls too much, but really I wanted to get back to the Henley team. Shame, life is what happens when you’re waiting for other stuff to happen and I need to work on being more present.

But soon enough I got out of there and back to the hotel. At some point over the course of the evening what started off in my head as a muddle turned into a crystal-clear picture. That was tremendously exciting: I could see through all the complexity to understand both why this organisation should exist, and how it would work in practice. A raison d’etre is key for any organisation but especially when you have to have a fundraising story a) and b) a fundraising story that doesn’t compete with another, somewhat similar organisation under the same umbrella.

One of their teachers came by around 6:30 with a beer and offered some commentary. Fair enough, but when he came back at 8:30 with another beer I was pretty impressed (not sure how many were consumed in between …). Impressed not that he was drinking, although that was cool, but that he was just as sharp mentally as I was, and I was obviously still sober. But more fundamentally I am impressed with people who can see the big picture. So I am sitting there and most of what is going through my head in terms of feedback is within the box, but his feedback is what’s missing. And once you get me thinking about it I can contribute at that level, sure, and hopefully offer some insight there but I know it’s not my key strength. But then again, we must work on our weaknesses and when it comes to comparative and absolute advantage the picture becomes muddier. It’s also hard when what I like to do the most isn’t the thing that I absolutely excel at.

Anyway. Being sober didn’t last long as after we gave feedback on the presentation and the team focused on crafting how to communicate our insights to a wider audience, and we went to the bar. Where we planted our butts down and stayed for the next six hours (in my case, five in his). Second shift, I guess. As I was saying above, some relationships just work. For whatever reason, I don’t know cause and effect in this case and I am not sure it even matters, I was needing to work through a period of self-reflection. Now of course I like myself perfectly well and am happy to talk about myself, and yes I like having my ego stroked because who doesn’t? But I’m getting ahead of myself. But what I got out of this was not just good company but a series of questions and commentary about myself and my boss, and what we’re trying to do here that once I finally followed the thought process to its logical conclusion led to a pretty interesting insight. However, I am way ahead of myself as that insight didn’t arrive until Sunday morning at the Gururamdas patio. I think that place may be my own personal temple.

Now my comment above about giving feedback while drinking notwithstanding, one of the other groups was getting feedback on their presentation so I sat in and contributed to the discussion (as a complete outsider of course). LOL of course I think I had some insights…

Again an outside highly strategic perspective was interesting. Actually a bit scary. I was so focused on the “simple” task of trying to do what I am trying to do that I had failed to look at the implications of success (or failure). Peter talks about creating your own reality, which he does purposefully and I, at this point in my development, do accidentally but in this particular case the end effect is the same: we know that we can succeed, and we know that we will succeed. We might fail, yes, or rather I should say it is possible that we could fail: but we will not. Watch this space: I can’t wait for the day when we’ve done it and can look back on this time, but I also look forward to the actual process itself (and thank goodness – life must suck if all you do is look forward to the future!).

This sounds arrogant, or at least audacious and it is but a) only unreasonable people reject the premises put in front of them and go make big things happen, b) everything I’ve done up to this point has prepared me for this and so this is not blind faith, and c) it’s not actually about us. We are both doing this entirely for ourselves, and entirely not for ourselves. But this too is dangerous because with what we are doing in particular the means is as important as the ends even though it may not seem that way. So we must be careful not to led the end justify the means when we need to make tough decisions. And not to let egos get in the way: there is a big difference between being capable of doing something and actually doing it. Check Fight Gone Bad for case in point, except one problem I had there was I didn’t know I could reach 300. It’s the mind. “It’s all in the game, yo.” – Omar.

Eventually the group I was with all decided that we must sleep at some point so I went home (I stay three blocks from the hotel so I was quite happy – no driving involved!). The next morning I felt the lack of sleep, though, as I had a couple of mentally-intense meetings first at the morning meeting where we met someone who is 14 months into five years of living without money, then on Purple Heart and then on FoodTents. Both of these latter two were interesting because if you’re going to do something you have a team and the team needs to work as a team and co-create the plan to achieve the objective. This takes time, and trying to figure out where everyone is at the current moment, and how we all need to work to get where we want to go: a complicated thing! Everyone is different. But hey that is also what makes it fun: working with people. I wouldn’t want it any other way. But the morning meeting was fascinating because the explanation of how the money multiplier is actually a bad thing was difficult for me to follow because of lack of sleep. The rocket fuel coffee helped, sheesh.

I left work a little bit early to run an errand, and then back to the Cape Milner (aka my home away from home for a few days there!) for the final presentation by the team. To be honest I don’t think they did a fantastic job of it, which I told them later. There were key bits of context that were missing, as well as some insights that to me were really key. As I said above the vision in my mind that somehow formed on Thursday was so crystal clear, and this delivery was not. That was the bad news, because I had to share this with my boss the next morning and I wasn’t going to be able to lift the presentation from the team verbatim. The good news is that I don’t really care about the presentation because I have the insights, and the team was really absolutely fantastic to work with. I am so, so, grateful that we had them here to work with us, what they did was of extreme value. But also, I got to know some of them a little bit in this short time and I really enjoy them as people.

Then I did something stupid and went to the gym. What did I wind up doing? Tearing the skin on my hand trying to do a pullup and not really paying proper focus. It all comes back to the mind. I won’t repeat that mistake again (I hope), and you’ll understand why once I finish writing this navel-gazing tome and get to Sunday’s insight.

Yeah so after the workout I went to a restaurant called Carne where we had our final dinner. Of course they plied us with champagne before we ate, and the alcohol lubricated everything as it often does. In vino veritas, yes, and removing inhibitions can be ok up to a point … but it’s also quite interesting what goes unsaid. I also think about my boss a lot, because I find him interesting. Fascinating, actually: he is impressive to me in a number of ways even though he has weaknesses himself, of course. Sometime between Thursday night and Friday night I reached a conclusion about our relationship and I also simultaneously realized that he already knew what I had just figured out. The asymmetry of information is/was interesting, but I was thinking about this as I sat in the bar of the Cape Milner for the final time. What are we saying, what are we not saying: what do we think the other person already knows, and what do we not say because it’s not necessary, or because it’s so basic, or because we don’t think of it, or because saying it could actually cause damage. This is different to avoiding a subject, which is a whole other area of course…

So my head is still spinning from all this, but I found someone kind enough to indulge me and perceptive enough to get me thinking deeper. A lot that we talked about but the key thing I want to mention here is that my whole career I have learned how to focus on finding my own weaknesses because I either don’t get constructive criticism or I do, but it’s so far off-base in terms of tackling an effect and not a cause that I still need to do the archaeology to understand what the root problem is. So as a result I have become what I consider to be very aware of my own weaknesses. As I said above I do like having my ego stroked but at a certain point I turned this around and said fine, you don’t know me that well but what do you see as my weaknesses. The answer I got back was very interesting because again it was something I already knew, but didn’t make it onto the radar as one of my most important weaknesses. But now having poked at this open wound for a little bit (and it doesn’t hurt because … hmm, I was going to say because I already knew but it’s actually different than that, somehow it should but it doesn’t. Will need to think about that one), I recognise that it is a lot more important than I had thought. This is why an outside perspective is a good one. Next up is to ask my boss this same question. That scares me a bit but in fact is exactly why I need to do it. It will also be interesting to see what’s actually happened by November when we can continue the conversation. Should be interesting.

If you’re still reading this, I don’t know why, but there is more to come. This whole blog is as much for me to have a history for myself of what happened as it is to let y’all know what’s going on. So this is where my head has been recently and hey there’s very little that’s as interesting to me as me. Humble much, Ellie?

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One comment

  1. i read the whole thing, and i wonder if you'll remember what the big weakness is, when you look at this again in five years. because it doesn't actually say. voice of experience here.

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