Play Day & Leap Day

Field trips are always fun, right? For an extrovert like me, mix a day out of the ordinary with a couple of networking events and you wind up a lot of fun, although networking is a form of performance, and performance is inherently tiring.
I feel like I’m always saying this, or maybe it’s a form of kaizen, but the focus of the first half of this week in the office has been focus. Pruning out what is and is not important, planning what needs to get done, and writing requirements for tracking systems.
The focus of the first half of the week outside of the office has also been focus, and sharpening the sword. Some of the management staff and one of the founders of COMMON are in town this week, from New York. COMMON is on a mission to become the Virgin of social enterprise, with a stable of house brands that are easily identified worldwide as best-in-class social enterprises. They are also out to make social entrepreneurship cool and aspirational, which I think is very important for the industry in general.
As such, I couldn’t be happier to have made the in-person acquaintance of their CEO. I am busy writing a blog post for the Heart web site all about the COMMON visit, so I’ll link to that when it’s done. But, as usual, what doesn’t make it into the ‘official’ blog was how well I thought the two of us got along. Just like old friends, from the first few minutes. This guy is sharp: grilling me, politely of course, with not only the normal questions but the hard ones: why Cape Town? Why Heart? Why attach your star to Peter Shrimpton? He also gets the CrossFit thing (he has some CrossFit obsessed buddies back home): “What happened to your knee?” “Burpees.” “Are you a CrossFitter?” “Yes.”
We also view the world, the need, and, more importantly, the opportunity, in the same way. It was just a very cool experience, and also to be able to hold my own intellectually discussing my field with a peer from across the world: not an academic, not a government official, not someone from the charity background, but a young, bright, dynamic mind working to make the world a better place through business, design, and marketing. It’s hard not to get re-inspired when you’re around positive, dynamic energy.
Peter and I participated in a mentorship day for the social entrepreneurs. I’ll go into more detail in the other post, but here are the key lessons: having a vision is important, focus is important, knowing what your customer wants is important, and working well with the right team to make it all happen is important. Basic lessons, yes, but worth repeating. Also: just do it. Don’t overthink it, or over-analyse …. Just get started.
It also gave a great opportunity to catch up with old friends Henk and Elodie, meet the guys behind some of the biggest commercial property successes in Cape Town, and a bunch of social entrepreneurs from around the world. Henk, in his usual incisive and blunt manner, pointed out the obvious problem with my plans for world domination; namely that maybe no one else has done it because it’s too hard. I think I did a decent job of making my case, however, time will tell. But I always enjoy catching up with him because he’s an incredibly sharp mind with high aspirations. There are two types of people in the world, as we were reminded: those who make themselves feel better by pushing you down, and those who make themselves feel better by pulling you up along with them.
The property mavens Jody and Nick were particularly interesting; I think attitude has to do with a lot. Jody was also the first person ever to ask me point-blank if my move to South Africa had anything to do with a man (it didn’t). But it’s funny, my first internal reaction was something along the lines of (everything else aside, of course): ‘That’s ridiculous; I don’t form attachments to people that fast.’ Then I realised the irony of that particular thought. Sometimes we don’t know ourselves as well as we think we do, now do we?
Speaking of networking and meeting people as a form of performance, the following words of wisdom were posted to Facebook by the wise, talented, and good looking M.O. Lecko:
When Jeremy and I started this music thing a year and a half ago, I always used to tell the guys we had to put on bar none our best performance to date at every show because you never know who is watching. I still tell them this.

Why? Well…

Jeremy asked me to try this music thing with him because we were absolutely rocking The Biscuit Mill when we were busking there. I only asked if I could rap with them because they were playing nice tunes.

Rocking The Daisies happened because the event owners saw us kill our ‘audition’ at Sowing The Seeds 2011. Sowing The Seeds 2011 itself happened because the event organiser saw us kill Rafiki’s, and figured we should at least get to ‘audition’ at Sowing The Seeds 2011.

Assembly happened because we killed Assembly the one time we got a chance through a GreenPop party hosted there.

Our two PMB/Durban gigs happened because the event’s company’s director saw us at Assembly.

And now talks of really big (I mean MASSIVE) things are ongoing because we killed Sowing The Seeds 2012 in JHB.

You never know who is watching, and you never know what doors you could open by just putting your back into it. We’ve played for an audience of 10, and we’ve played for an audience of 3000-5000, and we give equal effort every time. Every. Fucking. Time. No off days. Ever.

My point: people are always scouting in any career. Just, please, show the fuck up, especially if you want it badly. And I don’t mean play play badly. I mean really, really want it.

…. So there. Life is short. If you’re going to do something, try to do it properly. Your job, your sport, your friendships … but also, don’t try to be what you’re not, and don’t try to be all things to all people. You do the latter, you’ll wind up disappointing everyone. I will also add, make sure that you’re receiving as well as giving value. We all have friends, maybe even family members, who don’t quite so much put us down, but don’t pull us up either. You can give someone constructive criticism in a way that builds them up, or a way that tears them down. Enough already? OK.
And as I said the last time, it’s not all fun & games. The hard work, the grind, matters. A lot. If you’re not willing to put in the time doing the grunt work, who the heck are you to expect others to do it for you? I’m the sort of person where I do best playing between the big vision and the weeds. But that doesn’t mean I can’t do the vision thing (actually I’m better at it than I sometimes give myself credit for), and it doesn’t mean I don’t or can’t get my hands dirty with the details. It all matters: where you’re going, how you get there, and every step along the way. Even if it’s hard to remember everything all the time, and you do make mistakes along the way.
Crazy workout Monday evening with rowing & kettlebell swings. By rounds 3 and 4 my legs, far from feeling like strong things propelling me along, felt more like massive tree trunks I somehow had to contemplate moving. Heh. The next morning wasn’t as fun, however; my legs felt like dead weight again on the rower and when I went to go throw the medicine ball to the ceiling it went pretty much everywhere else (forward … straight up … anywhere but the target). Not my best performance by any means.
The ankle was also quite bad on Tuesday, especially after acupuncture. But by Wednesday morning (leap day!) the swelling and pain was WAY down. In the last few days, a memory resurfaced of having this ankle taped so frequently at St Paul’s that I learned how to tape it myself. Funny the things you forget, right? But this right ankle has been a problem before these last three sprains. I guess I must just be more careful.
I also geeked out a bit, by downloading the raw results of the first week of the CrossFit Open, and calculating how many standard deviations my score was away from the mean (the answer: slightly more than 1). This is quite a tight bell curve outside.  If I recall correctly, in a Normal distribution 70% are within one standard deviation, 85% are within two, and 97% are within three. In this case with a total of 18,386 females entering scores, 70.06% were within 1 standard deviation of the mean, and 96.32% are within two standard deviations (if you’re curious and I know you are … mean: 84, standard deviation: 17). For men, there were 31,563 scores entered with a mean of 95 and standard deviation of 17, and therefore 71.62% were within one standard deviation of the mean, and 97.67% were within two. Very consistent, just as you might imagine. Cool, huh? Some other statistics also matched up quite nicely but I’m done boring myself with math.
So many exciting opportunities on the table right now, and people doing such cool things here, in New York, in San Francisco… I wish the world were a lot smaller than it is. I wish I could live in Cape Town, go visit my parents on the weekend, work out of New York a few months a year, get back into the heart of Silicon Valley. But times change, seasons change. The chill of autumn was in the air this morning, and as the seasons change I always fall in love with Cape Town all over again. To me, autumn always signifies harvest and fruition, and one of the things I love most about South Africa is that vividness of experience. Intense heat doesn’t really do it for me; never has.
I’m also getting even more inspired to test my vision for Heart, and to set aside the time to make more progress on my book. So many conversations this week, with so many different people, all focused on the same things. It’s a macro version of the whole conversation: see a customer need, add value, differentiate, make it happen: BOOM.
I’ll end with this quote from the great Gabriel Garcia Marquez:
“One winter night while the soup was boiling in the fireplace, he missed the heat of the back of his store, the buzzing of the sun on the dusty almond trees, the whistle of the train during the lethargy of siesta time, just as in Macondo he had missed the winter soup in the fireplace, the cries of the coffee vendor, and the fleeting larks of springtime. Upset by two nostalgias facing each other like two mirrors, he lost his marvelous sense of unreality and he ended up recommending to all of them that they leave Macondo, that they forget everything he had taught them about the world and the human heart, that they shit on Horace, and that wherever they might be they always remember that the past was a lie, that memory has no return, that every spring gone by could never be recovered, and that the wildest and most tenacious love was an ephemeral truth in the end.”

  • “I’ve tried to take a stick on the plane before and they don’t like that.” – Jeff
  • “It’s our job to make this sh*t cool.” – Richard
  • “I’ve met a lot of people who I think are thinking about this space entirely wrong. You’re not one of them.” – Richard (yeah I teased him later for his use of the double negative)
  • “He was quite blown away by you.” – Peter
  • “What we believe literally governs what we see.” – Richard
  • “If you can’t understand other people, you can’t manipulate them.” – Ross
  • “I know this sounds very evil but it’s what I do.” – Ross
  • “Don’t give people too many chances.” – Henk
  • “If you’re not solving a problem, you don’t have much of a business.” – Jody
  • “Let me know when you’re done with this non-profit business and are ready to take over the world.” – Henk
  • “I can see what your favourite part of your MBA was!” – Brett 

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