Last weekend I took the train to Brighton. I had never been there before. I’d been out of London before, once to a country estate off-site in the Jeeves days and once up to Edinburgh. But not for years, and I’d never been to Brighton.
What I knew about Brighton from The Economist is that it was a bit like some of the New England carnival seaside towns, Hampton Beach and the like. In other words, a place whose best years were behind it. Sure, it has some of that slightly run-down feeling but actually much of Europe has that. It’s old. It’s what gives it its charm.
Brighton is super cute, with little walkways, lots of shops, the insane Brighton Pier that The Economist makes fun of (and for good reason…), and many of the row houses of varying shapes, sizes, and construction that England is known for. It also had quite the number of installations of white lilacs.
One thing I do miss about North America is the flowers, most particularly lilacs and also peonies. There is something just intensely romantic about a peony. More so than a rose. Not sure if it’s the size or the almost overwhelming smell they can have, but a bouquet of peonies is like not much else.
Not sure how I got on that topic. I must have been distracted. There were a lot of peonies in Paris, but I’m getting ahead of myself.
I was visiting my friend Katherine who lives in Brighton. I met her briefly in South Africa and we have struck up a long distance friendship, seeing each other in such random places as Durban, Cape Town, Johannesburg, and, now, Brighton. She is getting a tertiary degree in something kind of related to my old social enterprise field, which led to some interesting discussions with her and some of the people in her programme, about the differences between the world of theory and the world of practice.
Heck if businesses can’t even get positioning right, imagine how researchers must feel trying to influence the black box that is policymakers or the management of NGOs who are driven by what donors want that doesn’t necessarily make sense.
Beware of the tail wagging the dog.
I’m also uniquely positioned to get this part as I’m sitting with a company in a commodity space and trying to figure out how to create a sustainable competitive advantage. It’s devilishly complex when you get right down to it, because there are a lot of moving parts, a lot of buyer ignorance, a lot of commodification, long sales cycles, and high customer acquisition costs. But hey, you hit on a mix that works, and you’ve created real value.
What I’m going through now seems like something straight out of my Babson case study library. A burning platform on the one side, and turning the whole go-to-market approach on its side while trying to keep the old one going too, because you have to pay the bills at the end of the month. Lots of things means never more important is focus.
Every cloud has a silver lining. You know what they say, perception is reality? Whose perception and how do you guide that? I’m just struggling with my own impatience, but as I was telling Chris at dinner the other day, it’s ultimately all my responsibility. Whatever we accomplish is because we chose to prioritise it and whatever we don’t is because we didn’t, whether consciously or subconsciously. The nice thing about sounding like a broken record is that you do get stuck in peoples’ heads.
I was telling Katharine about my shoulder injury. Finally, and I mean finally, I can actually say with credibility behind me that if something hurts, fix the damn problem and don’t try to train through it. My shoulder is feeling much better after another rest week, and I was careful not to do anything to it this weekend. Just main strength & ignorance moves: strict press, weighted pullup (PBs on both, despite my weight gain from a week of debauchery in London), and, on Saturday, I did Fran with the men’s weight. It was easier that way because the weight is too heavy for it to hurt too much, and I was wicked dehydrated (my calves started cramping when I was doing pullups … never a good sign).
But it led to words being spoken that you will rarely hear in a CrossFit gym: ‘You know that weight’s too heavy, right?’ And after the next day’s workout a few people came up to introduce themselves saying words to the effect of: ‘You’re really GOOD!’ I forget sometimes. I’ve been doing this a long time. But yeah, I guess not everyone walks in off the street and does men’s Fran one day and 3 rounds of 10 strict handstand pushups the next. It’s normal for me, but that doesn’t mean it’s normal.
So time to appreciate how far I’ve come, as I sit about getting fat (normal behaviour will resume when I get home).
The same, by the way, goes for my company, where every little thing, good and bad, is amplified. If the art is in the programming in CrossFit then the art of work, actually almost any job, is in the focus.
Knowledge is power, and context is knowledge. I’m working in Africa, but it’s fascinating to talk to the European ISPs & mobile carriers about their problems. In some ways they are very similar, in some ways very different. I love product management. I even more love the Cranky Product Manager, who is now writing a book and had an awesome quote about it: ‘Bottom line is the book is late because I obnoxiously thought it would be easy.’
Reminds me a bit of me. Well, it beats the hell out of being someone who is so conservative that they sandbag everything and their bosses think they look really really awesome but everyone with any sense knows the truth. Not that I’ve ever seen THAT before.
Speaking of easy, we decided to go take a ‘swim’ after Saturday’s workout. This in the Atlantic Ocean. It had some significant swells that day, so hectic that I could barely get in over my head before the waves knocked me on my ass (literally). Didn’t help that the aforementioned cramping calves meant that I couldn’t really stand. Dehydration is hectic! But I did learn one thing – the ocean is warmer in this part of England than it is in Cape Town. True story.
Back to London and a couple of meetings. There is nothing, and I mean nothing, like sharing thoughts and even some secrets I suppose, with likeminded people and similar experiences. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Request-response. I, like most people, like when people think the way I do. Also when you can discuss that fine line between crazy, bold, and foolish.
It’s a small world yes, but there are also some very long distances involved. That’s what makes all gatherings, be they Wi-Fi industry conventions or CrossFit competitions.
There is always a sense of sadness and letdown that I get when conventions or competitions end and everyone goes home. It’s like that magical moment with my St Paul’s graduating class or my Babson graduating class where we are all together, having shared so much, and you know that never again will that exact set of people be together in one place.
But I miss my team. And I miss my home. Which, as much as I love it, London is not. At least not now.
- “You like it THAT MUCH?” – Katharine
- “You know that weight’s too heavy, right?” – Andy
- “You had me at spirulina.” – Ellie
- “So we’ll go out for tea, and I can teach you how the internet works.” – Ellie
- “Don’t be afraid to practice. It doesn’t mean you’re failing. It means you’re learning.” – overheard at CrossFit
- “It’s not that England is inherently awful.” – Katharine
- “I’ve only had one egg today. It’s upsetting.” – Ellie
- “That’s crazy.” “That doesn’t mean it won’t work.” “I didn’t say that.” – David & Ellie
- “I don’t do anything halfway.” “And you’re calling *me* crazy?” “Maybe I’m just bold.” – David & Ellie (or something else!)