Idiot Savant

Broadly speaking, there are visionaries and there are doers. There are techies and salesmen. There are athletes and fans.
Now, of course you can be both and there is a spectrum. I’m certainly not trying to put anyone in a box, but I do believe that we tend to rise or fall to the levels of others’ expectations of us.
However, at all times we are making choices. We might go back and forth over what kind of strawberry jam to buy (not me; that’s not paleo!), or where to go to dinner, what the headline on the marketing copy should be, whatever. But in a way this focus on detail, which is where most of the work happens, is forgetting the forest for the trees. It’s worrying about your Vitamin K when you’re eating too much starch and not enough protein. It’s looking at micro and not macro.
Every choice we make has an opportunity cost. Do you sleep an extra hour or get up and train? Do you have dinner with this person or that person? Do you go to the conference call that falls smack dab in the middle of when the Advanced classes at your gym fall?
I was discussing this with a couple people in the last few days: ultimately you always must have a first priority. It can’t be family AND work. You can do both, sure, but if you have to choose to stay late or go to the Little League game, you have to make that call. The same goes for me: what comes first, the job or the sport? Of course anyone who knows me well won’t be at all surprised by the answer.
Similarly, I am in a position where I have way more to do than there is time to do it. I’ve been ordered not to work too hard or stress myself out (cute, because I’m probably not controllable!!), but happily being a competitive CrossFitter is a self-regulating system. The other night I got 5 ½ hours of sleep because I was busy talking to the smartest guy in the room until they kicked us out of the bar. The next evening I was physically ill and nearly fainted while doing standing qigong. Lesson learned.
So, what do you do? Delegate, and manage, sure. But even still, more work that I really wish could have been done yesterday. The answer? Ruthless thinking in terms of allocation of time. ONLY focus on what’s really important. Opportunity cost, opportunity cost, opportunity cost.
Part of what kept the smartest guy in the room interested in talking to ME was this way of thinking. I don’t think he’d met someone before who waxed on and on about taking the time to find the right partners, not getting caught up in ‘not invented here,’ and just generally considering the context we operate from.
Again as a competitive CrossFitter if I’m going into a competition I know who my competition is. I know who’s good at what, their strengths & weaknesses, even some of their mental strengths & weaknesses. How much time do we generally spend focused internally at our companies? In my experience, almost all of it. That is how you get blindsided.
Related, but unrelated: efficient allocation of time is similar to efficient allocation of capital. Having come from the social enterprise/non-profit-NGO space (sadly it is all kind of one space, still), it continues to frustrate me to an immense degree to which multiple organisations are all using money from different donors to try to solve the same problems, at small scale, by themselves. I swear, if I were a government official capable of making big donations I would convene practical industry working groups to force these guys to talk to each other and incentivise them to partner rather than compete. I would also have an office full of staff whose job it was was to know who was doing what and to be connectors. Kind of like good venture capitalists who don’t just give money but give advice and make connections.
I was teasing Rich a bit that he was an idiot savant, I forget why. There was wine involved. But I think I might be the actual idiot savant or Don Quixote. One of my gifts is to be really good at seeing how the puzzle can fit together, and what spanners might get thrown in the works, and how to get from Point A to Point Z. In other words, I’m a strategist. Now I can implement the strategy just fine but I can only implement one thing at a time, and even that not at the speed that I would like because I’d always like to be faster/better/more productive than I am. Relatively good isn’t good enough.
But that’s a mindset thing. Watch me in a year, and watch me in ten. Rich was joking that when I’m chairman of AT&T in five years I should remember him. I told him I had no interest in that job, were someone every crazy enough to offer it to me. Then again, I remember another job about which I may have made a series of similar statements. What did I say about never saying never? I should watch what I’m saying never to now …
I can’t fix the NGO sector by wishing it so. So maybe my windmills are the potential I see but that I can never implement. Maybe I can just learn to replicate my mind. Oh, wait, Babson thought of that first.
Speaking of the mind: I had a great experience the other day at the Virgin Active when I was about to do a set of relatively heavy squats and my previous set hadn’t been the best. I was tired, and a bit unfocused. I walked up to the bar and thought to myself: ‘Ellie, why isn’t your head in the game? Oh yeah, you didn’t get enough sleep last night.’ Then I re-racked the bar, took a step back, put a positive thought into my head (the last set wasn’t feeling heavy it just felt ugly), then went and lifted.
Pretty cool, huh? In other news, I’ve been sleeping more.
This blog has been missing the part where I talk about what I actually do. This week … hmm.
  • Monday: meeting with a key supplier in the morning, one-on-ones with the technical team in the afternoon, CrossFit in the evening. Somehow my back was hurting and I had problems with the heavy back squats & high box jumps. Skype call with San Diego. Roasted a chicken!
  • Tuesday: worked at Heart on Greenpop materials, had a conference call with a partner, and left work early to have a few meetings at the new job. Rest day, stopped by Kelsey’s place for a glass of wine, then to qigong. We are now busy learning a standing form which is in some ways easier and in some ways harder than the seated form.
  • Wednesday: back squats, front squats, pullups, dips, and dumbbell bench press, a whole bunch of forwarding text messages to Henk, nearly drove over Justin (God I hate Century City to be known hereafter as Dante’s Fifth Circle of Hell), and attended the iWeek conference. This was the WAPA (Wireless Access Providers Association) day. In unrelated news, the WiFi at the conference was shocking. I saw some old friends who I didn’t realise were in the industry, met some interesting new people, saw some Linux penguins, and the food was amazing. Sushi for dessert. Yeah and listened to some interesting things … some of which I understood. Then CrossFit: more front squats, jumping, burpees and the prowler. Good stuff. Then to the WAPA dinner. Oh my word. Words almost cannot describe the industry of which I am now a part. Well, the best thing about the dinner was the bar afterwards. Somehow that always manages to be the case at these techie events, if I make it that far, which I often don’t.
  • Thursday: felt like death warmed over, and not from alcohol. How I ever survived on less than 8 hours of sleep a night I will never know. Saw Debbie in Hout Bay then coffee that turned into 3 coffees and breakfast with Doug at Starlings. I am happy to report that he is not actually perfect after all. But he’s pretty bloody close. I have SUCH an amazing team around me, and I can’t wait to start showing what I can do to help make the team better. I think I also might be completely and totally in love with that place. Then, to Heart for my last day in the office. It was … bittersweet. But what I said which is true, is that I’ve watched a lot of people go over the years, mostly interns, and I’ve always felt sad like for me to leave would be painful like leaving a family. This wasn’t goodbye, as I’ll still be involved, and that made it loads easier. Drove to Bellville for a technique session at the track which is honestly all my body could handle that day anyway (active rest), and then on to the aforementioned qigong where I nearly passed out. I would never have lived that one down, I can tell you that right now!
  • Friday: slept in, went to the office, Skype with Sydney, meeting, meeting, meeting, some emails, lunch meeting, company meeting, some more emails. Ha! CrossFit, which contained some squat snatches and then team variation on Elisabeth, which I did with Ralf & Wayne. Awesome team: very good teammates to have! Out to dinner, then back to catch up on emails.

Oh, and I should also say that my conversion to Twitter is nearly complete. I now spend probably twice as much time there as on Facebook. The quality of content is just better. I used to get so annoyed at our CEO at Exit41 who was always banging on about Twitter. It’s fun when irony kicks you in the face huh? You just have to laugh.
Another thing that helps my mood is sleeping enough. I’ll admit I was a bit worried about myself a week and a half ago but I knew that I’d get myself sorted out. I’m still taking my personal time to train, to blog (aka self-introspection). One of these days I’ll get to my pleasure reading.
No, not Don Quixote.
  • “More people say they want it than actually do.” – Andrew
  • “I just know that GNU is not UNIX. Whatever that means.” – Ingi
  • “I’ve managed to get a picture of a warthog into a written submission to the Department of Communications.” – Dominic
  • “This is the industry of which you’re now a part.” – Edge
  • “This has gotta be the most misunderstood industry in the world.” – Edge
  • “Richard is the one who told me about the Hello Kitty tazer.” – Ingi
  • “If you bite too hard you’re not going to be a good team player.” – Rich (He was talking about hyenas…)
  • “Isn’t it a terrible feeling when you wake up in the morning and realise you’re going to be tired all day?” – Gareth Cliff
  • “The problem with perfect competition is laziness.” – Doug
  • “Oh come ON, it was a WAPA dinner!” “I know what happens at those dinners!” – Ellie & Doug
  • “Either that or I’m just a really good salesman.” – Ellie 


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