On big egos

I learned something in the last week. I love competent people with big egos.
Notice I didn’t say all people with big egos. You gotta be able to back that stuff up. Also, you can’t be an ass or I probably won’t like you very much. And you can’t claim a big ego as a cover up for massive insecurities …  because I can see through that sooner or later. That sweet spot where you’re a little bit arrogant but not too much so … yeah, that’s the place to be.
One time at Babson they separated us into groups based on results of a personality test, and MAN, were we happy campers. It’s so nice to have people who are mirrors of yourself. You can sometimes skip verbal steps but still ‘get’ each other, and you are likely to react to the same stimulus differently. That was the purpose of the experiment, of course, to show us how we work more easily with people similar to us and to warn us of the dangers of having too many people around us who are too similar.
Dissent and argumentation are critical to business success. The most dangerous thing is a charismatic person leading lemmings off a cliff. At least, I’m hard pressed to think of a MORE dangerous thing at this exact moment.
Yeah, big egos can be the charismatic leaders of lemmings. But they can just as easily be the people who really move the needle. In fact, they are usually the ones that do. The ones that say “Well shit, someone’s gotta take a stand here and it may as well be me. Someone has to found this company. Someone has to turn this company around. Someone has to speak truth to power. Someone has to rock the boat. Why NOT me?”
It’s like the guy (or girl) who’s good looking and knows it. Not anything wrong with that per se. There’s only a problem when you start taking advantage of the situation.
I was actually having this exact conversation in New York and then kinda partially repeated it Friday evening in Cape Town. That was mainly epic because after specifically emailing my mother that I hoped the 27dinner didn’t turn into a booze fest, a few glasses of Sauvignon Blanc later I found myself at the Waterfront continuing to drink. With yet another super smart guy with a big ego who lives (or soon will, close enough!) in another far-flung corner of the world.
And then Susan made a very similar comment about how the two of us got along so well because, among other things, we have a lot of great stuff going on in our lives, and we know it, and we appreciate it.
That ego drives you, and keeps you resilient in the face of criticism or getting beaten about. It can get in your way, surely, if it keeps you from listening to criticism or committing ad hominems or putting yourself into risky situations where you might be stretched or doing things that you feel might be beneath you.
As I was saying the other day, the most useful week I ever spent at Exit41 was the week I spent working in a Wendy’s. That gave me insight, and context, and street cred I could use with the developers: “Oh, you think that situation would never come up in practice? Let me tell you why you’re wrong.” But in a way you kinda have to leave your ego at the door to be working alongside minimum wage workers who know what they’re doing a hell of a lot better than you do. It was also one of the most fun weeks I spent there, and damn my feet hurt at the end. But it was totally worth it. The grind, right?
So I am back from vacation with only one big task on my plate for now: how to systematise multi-dimensional assessment & problem-solving. I can’t help but think someone, or some team, has solved this problem before but I’ll do the best I can for a V1, and will definitely take this as a learning experience. I’ve definitely already learned that not everyone sees the value in starting with the big context and working down to the details. Maybe this is the curse of a big picture thinker; that I think SO big that it’s sometimes hard to figure out where exactly to start!
The adaptation back to Cape Town was a bit rough. I felt a bit out of sorts the first couple of days. I don’t blame jetlag because I don’t really do jetlag, but the sheer physical exhaustion of the plane ride back to Cape Town did take its toll on me. Friday night I went to the gym to do mobility (aka stretching) and it was dreadful. Everything was stiff!
Followed that up with a 27dinner, which is a regular dinner/networking/drinking event for techies. This time around we met at a place called Frieda’s where I caused mass confusion by ordering a salad with a burger on top, met some cool new people, and after the aforementioned Sauvignon Blanc found myself at Ferryman’s at the V&A Waterfront not watching the Olympics opening ceremony but instead … well, drinking, yes, but also thoroughly enjoying myself. Geez, it’s going to be sad to think of a Cape Town without Henk.
Saturday post-plane bodywork session, followed by double lunch at the Biscuit Mill (I didn’t eat enough on the plane … and drinking doesn’t count as eating either), then I went home to take a nap with my kitty. Met Susan & friends back at Ferryman’s for a little bit, dinner, picked up Jon Jon at the airport and watched some Olympics with him (on NBC, no less … when outside of Rome, bring it with you!). Man, NBC’s Olympics coverage sucks compared to the standard South African coverage. Less chats with the athletes and more action in primetime. Seriously, guys. At least have two feeds: one with the action and the other with the fluff.
And while I’m on the subject of the Olympics … South Africa has so far won two gold medals, both in swimming (and one of the swimmers beat Michael Phelps). As much as I am American and do root for America in pretty much everything except for ice hockey, I obviously also now root for RSA and it’s quite cool to witness the genuine excitement and pride of South Africans when their country wins anything. I mean if you come from the U.S. or China or Russia it’s all about “how many more or less medals did we win than X or than last Olympics” not “oh wow, we actually won something.” Spreading the love a little.
Love this from twitter: Let’s make it a phrase. “You’ve been Le Clossed,” Definition: “If u think you’ve got something in the bag and someone sneaks up on you and wins.”
Sunday was an awesome day! Firstly it was beautiful and warm although you wouldn’t know it as we froze our bums off in the martial arts studio. There is a qigong Master from Beijing in town right now. I am attending a four-day course this week with most of the instructors and a couple of the other students, and Sunday was the intro.
So I piled into my sun-warmed car, scarfed down some eggs & spinach (sooo nice to be able to eat what I want, when I want again!!!), and drove out to Somerset West for a powerlifting workshop at West Workout Gym. I very nearly didn’t go because I got all the way there and had no idea where the gym was in the strip mall. What looked like the entrance was behind a gate, and I’d been out of the country so long that it took me a minute to realise that just because the gate was closed didn’t mean it was locked.
Anyway this was very exciting not only because I learned a lot but because I got to play around. My bench press setup is apparently practically perfect, and I got some tips on my squat and particularly deadlift setup. Not sure why I find deadlift so difficult; it seems like every coach has a different opinion about the proper setup! We also learned a lot of the theory: how bands & chains work (and we got to experiment with using them), and some tips and tricks for how to train to push through sticking points. Like I said … the theory, and application of the theory, is what gets me off. Once a nerd, always a nerd I guess. It’s also quite exciting to see the sport of powerlifting almost devolve from an equipment-heavy sport where you have to go to extreme lengths even to get into the suits you need that assist you in lifting the weight (WTF, right?) as a splinter called RAW (i.e. no equipment) is forming and is now done competitively internationally. Call me old-fashioned but I think that’s awesome.
Oh and the other cool thing … this gym is properly old-school. Like it reminded me of my boarding school days, but sort of what I might imagine a South African version would be like.
… and speaking of squatting, I had a devil of a time at the first qigong session. It took me close on two hours to learn how to squat properly! They were having a bit of a laugh … but a CrossFit squat is not the same. I was much better by the second day … of course on that day we actually had to coordinate complex movements of both arms and legs doing different things at different times. Good old gymnastic activity messing up the circuits in my brain. Good stuff.
Our instructor has quite a sense of humour although his English isn’t the best, which I find quite endearing, especially considering how it’s almost infinitely better than my Chinese. But his funniest joke so far was not one he intended to make …. he was talking about the problems inherent in giving Bibles (he meant bribes).
I’m quite tired at the moment… these three-hour a night sessions are not so much physically demanding as they are mentally tiring, and I keep staying up late to see Susan. Last night was dinner @Beluga, for example, and then getting up early to train because I can’t do so in the evenings obviously. Have been trying to copy the CCF programming as much as I can, at least for now. Yesterday morning’s huge mental win was 5 sets of 3 strict chest-to-bar pullups (chin-ups, actually). This is a win because I HATE and am TERRIBLE at strict pullups. There is very little worse than a sticking point on a strict pullup, and I have not one but TWO sticking points on pullups.
One interesting tidbit from the week: the five senses came up on Monday morning, and then again made an appearance obviously in the qigong class. What we were talking about Monday morning was how sight is as much about insight into things as actual sight (seeing what is there, not what we want to see), and taste, for example, is as much about taste for life and experience as actual taste. So then that evening we were discussing the relation of each of the five elements to the five senses, and, what I didn’t know, was that each is connected to one of five major organs, AND to a season. Yes, you read that right.
In China there are not four seasons but five: autumn, winter, spring, summer, and late summer (which apparently is particularly hot, and humid). I love this, because it always bothered me how New England has six months with no leaves on the trees. In Vermont we used to say there was spring, summer, fall, winter, and mud season … which isn’t far from the truth. Spring, summer, fall, winter, late winter.
Change, and the changing of the seasons, seems to be a bit of a thing with me right now as a couple of realisations have clicked into place in the last even week or so. 
It’s hardest when you realise stuff is true that you’ve been denying. Damn, yourself really is the easiest one to fool, isn’t it?
  • “Is that paleo?” – Elan
  • “You need to drink more.” “Why?” “Because you’re making far too much sense.” – Henk & Ellie
  • “Good. That fits in with my plans.” – Henk (ever feel like you’re a pawn in someone else’s game??)
  • “So much for complete rest.” – Kim
  • “It says I love San Francisco! And I do!” – Anna
  • “I had a good time. I got to suture a man’s tongue.” – Susan
  • “It’s no coincidence you had that dream last night.” – Debbie
  • “I’m just laughing because it probably wasn’t the best decision on their part.” – Jeff
  • “China.” – Jeronimo (in answer to the question: ‘Where did the sound come from?’ … the correct answer being the belly!)
  • “It’s a good fit.” – Kim
  • “Is that a promise or a threat?” “Take it as you may.” – Ellie & Jaco
  • “Oh, I think they do.” – Derek 


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