Jozi & Final Preparations

Well, I finally got my head out of the sand and went on my first business trip to Joburg for about a year. I attended a conference run by Echoing Green, a U.S.-based non-profit that provides angel funding to promising social innovators. This was their first Africa-based conference, and I’m very glad I went! I wrote a full summary for our web site’s blog, so I won’t repeat myself here.
What I didn’t include in that post was how well I got along with some of the people there. In one of the discussions, a venture capitalist from Gauteng actually specifically pointed to me (and Heart) as being experts in the field and while of course we think it’s true, external validation never helps. But it’s great to be able to go there and hold your own socially and intellectually.
I was feeling pretty smart after the first Brain Trust which really was somewhat in my sweet spot (and I even got to quote Greg Glassman … always fun), talking about how to get mentors and learners to ‘pay it forward,’ similar to how non-coaches help coach in a CrossFit gym. In any event organisational structures and operations are an easy area for me (relatively speaking of course). But in the second one I was pretty quiet because people who knew a lot more than I did were doing all the talking. That was interesting too, although sometimes it is the non-expert who comes in from left field: near the end Elizabeth finished off an anecdote to which I replied “Well why don’t you just find someone you TRUST to partner with, and have them enter that side of the business?” to which there was an echo of agreement around the room. So I left without feeling totally useless.
Also, a reminder of how small a world it is …. At the conference I encountered someone I know from Cape CrossFit (!), and someone who had worked at Singularity University with my old Ask Jeeves buddy Caitlin Sparks on the Matternet project.
When I first landed, I was probably the happiest person alive because the temperature was about 20C (I guess that’s around 70F), which was a nice break from the scorching weather in Cape Town. What I did find strange was the time difference, rather, the lack thereof. All of South Africa is in one time zone, and Johannesburg is a two-hour plane ride northeast of Cape Town. It’s essentially equivalent to the difference in sunset and sunrise between D.C. and Boston, which is to say, noticeable. It’s still late at nearly 8pm here, whereas it was pretty dark around 7 in Jozi.
I hadn’t ever spent much time in Johannesburg (and I’m not counting two days as a lot of time), but I can start to understand why Cape Town has a bit of a chip on it’s shoulder about it. Cape Town is a very small city, and Joburg is big. VERY big. You drive into downtown and it’s like driving into Chicago, or something similar (grunginess included). But you also get a very clear sense of being at the beating heart of something, a feeling you just don’t get in Cape Town.
So that’s the good. The bad? Well I was staying in Sandton in a nice part of town, and it was like we were living in compounds, literally. Here in Cape Town there are more burglar bars and the like than in the States, but in Sandton there are literally 15-foot high walls around EVERYTHING. It’s like living inside a very nice, secure prison. I’m not sure I could live like that for too long. I’ve heard stories of some of the rest of Joburg (my one experience in the mafia hotel a few years ago aside … ).
Arrived back to Cape Town safe and sound, and was immediately annoyed because Cape Town rarely has traffic but when it does, there is gridlock. On this occasion there were road closures to allow for the practicing of the State of the Nation address, and it took me nearly an hour to get home (it usually takes 12-15 minutes). This caused me to be late to the Sea Point pool, where I wanted to get in some technique training before Fittest in Cape Town (just in case). I’m glad I did, because I needed to work on my breathing rhythm, and I’m glad I practiced it. Some people call this the most beautiful public pool in the world … judge for yourself.
I’ve been enjoying eating whatever I want this week (so long as it’s paleo that is). Chris told us to eat as much as we want, as much as we can, and I haven’t been so hungry because I haven’t been training but I’ve been forcing food down the gullet. Sweet potatoes, how I have missed you!! Ahh rest week … Monday & Tuesday I had no desire to train, by Wednesday and Thursday I was starting to feel antsy, and today I feel like I’m ready to go rip the head off of something. So with any luck by tomorrow morning I’ll be ready to go! Been doing a pretty good job with daily mobility and have gotten a ton of sleep so I’m as ready as I’m going to get. Excited for tomorrow, and possibly even a bit nervous, although I’m feeling a lot less pressure than I was before Durban. Maybe because there is not such clear sense of intention to win, that takes the pressure off?
Had a lovely meeting of my media/tech women’s group Thursday evening where we discussed my perennial favourite topics of user-centered design, usability testing, learnability vs usability, etc. It was also a chance to meet some other interesting women, one of whom I’d actually connected with on Twitter but had yet to meet in person (weird how that works!). Friday morning’s talk was a smash hit with Chloe Feinberg, an Ashoka employee working out of Amsterdam walking us through a case study of a health care services social enterprise in rural Punjab province in India, then engaging with about 6 or 8 of us in a discussion of the challenges of youth unemployment in and around Cape Town. Lots of good stuff going on as well with Wines with Heart and the hub; very excited about those two projects.
On a more sad note, our receptionist abandoned us. She just stopped coming to work, and didn’t have the courtesy to inform us that she had found another job. Meanwhile, considering that she lives in a township and has health issues, we were concerned that she might have been hurt in some way. This is particularly shameful to me because Peter and Mandy plucked her from being a child care worker, taught her computer skills, and gave her a chance to transition to a white-collar type job.
Now, goodness knows I’m a believer that you must do what you think is right for yourself, even if that hurts other people. And I’m certainly not saying that she owed Peter and Mandy or us any eternal gratitude or something like that: they upskilled her out of love, and that’s an end in its own right. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it, and the right way is in person, as soon as you have made up your mind. Ordinarily I wouldn’t mention such a hurtful thing, but it is a hurtful thing, and it’s been weighing on me. So there it is. But in a week where I also caught an ex-co-worker lying right to my face … well, people will do what they do I suppose. Life goes on, right?
  • “I think it’s a shame.” – Pascal
  • “The genie’s not going back in the bottle.” – Cheryl
  • “I’m struggling not to become despondent about people.” – Mandy
  • “I think for sanity, continue to dream big, even if you don’t know if you’re going to survive tomorrow.” – Chloe
  • “You don’t learn from people who think the same way you do.” – Sonja
  • “It’s crazy to think that a good idea is not enough.” – Anton 
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