Tipping dominoes


Non je ne lache pas le morcesu.

And as much as I’ve said before I’m not a quitter, that’s also not true. I do quit when it’s clear that things are not going to come right. I do give up sometimes.

Why did I name this blog Tipping Dominoes?

If you’re going to break the rules you first need to know the rules. And have leverage. If you’re going to be disruptive, you have to know what that means.

The way I see things is that business is one giant puzzle. You must understand what the market wants. You must understand how the industry operates. You must also understand, and implement, a good go-to-market approach. It’s a lot like putting together a puzzle.

Or, like setting up dominoes in a row. You set them up, knock the first one over, and all the other ones go tumbling down.

One of the things that I do find very frustrating, in case it’s not obvious to everyone, is that I’m not living in Joburg.

I love Cape Town but to set the dominoes up I have to be in Joburg. I am not exaggerating. And it’s not even that easy because you can’t guarantee the availability of the people that you need to meet with on any given trip. Every day I’m travelling costs money and you can’t just pop ‘round for coffee.

The design thinking that goes into how to set up the dominoes is fun, especially because the playing field keeps changing as you uncover new information. Sort of like Chutes & Ladders, you have one great meeting and five new possibilities open up. Then you realise a desired partner is already in bed with a competitor, and you have to re-evaluate.

This is exactly what happened right around the first of September. I went up to Joburg with a set of expectations about what sort of strategic outcomes I could expect, and I went home with a completely opposite end result, but one that’s probably better than what I was originally hoping for. So we will see.

The actual tipping will be fun when I get there, I am sure. One thing I know for sure; I have no idea what’s going to happen next. But I know it’s going to be interesting, and one of those learning experiences I said I was looking for. Doug once called me naïve and while he later apologised, he was right.

I’m much less naïve now. I wonder if we ever lose it entirely, or maybe if we do it’s only when we become so cynical that we may as well no longer bother.

I was feeling like quite the old greybeard when being praised at one point during the week for my wisdom and level of experience. It’s all relative I suppose; compared to some people I’m a complete neophyte. Compared to myself a year ago I’m a lot better; I am always focused on where I want to be and not where I’ve come from or where others are. But yeah, it’s been interesting to take the strategy from the MBA classroom to the teal world.

Interesting and terrifying. What I’ve benefitted from just as much, though, is the learning around management, motivation, and human interaction, much of which I didn’t learn at school. Mostly I try not to give advice to others because it’s really pretty useless to do that and it feels good but you’re really just engaging in listening to yourself talk. At one point though I really think I made someone’s day, and that makes me happy. I just told him how he could add value in meetings where he wasn’t yet able to contribute substantively.

It’s really quite simple: if you’re busy acting, or posing, or negotiating, you’re so focused on what you’re doing that you may completely miss some things. What I wouldn’t give to have a fly on the wall in some of my meetings, because I cannot pick up on all the subtleties of power dynamics, body language, etc. when I’m doing one thing I’m missing out on other things.

And I do love it when I meet people who see the world similarly. One of my new business acquaintances was talking about how you must pay attention to the words you use right before you lose someone’s attention. If the message is right but you’re losing people, your storytelling is wrong. Or, they may have just lost concentration.

Anyway. Back at the ranch known as the Highveld: I timed my visit with a local CrossFit competition under the moniker ‘Big 5 Showdown.’ It was a team competition held at a shopping mall. This is Joburg, after all. Who’s ever heard of shopping malls with outdoor amphitheatres? It’s maybe kind of like a modern-day gladiator type thing; not that they ever anticipated CrossFit when building these centres.

Anyway. My shoulder is not all the way healed and so I was not competing. Probably a good thing given the workouts which would really just have wrecked the body for training for 5-8 days.

What I did do, though, was take my turn judging. This was just about as difficult as I expected it to be.

Don't I look hardcore?

Don’t I look hardcore? Photo credit to Cindy Ellis

Firstly, it is mentally exhausting. You have to be paying attention at all times, counting reps, and reacting with a ‘no rep!’ in real time. Mostly the athletes were gracious but some of them were a bit rude about getting no repped. The box jumps were the worst – all sorts of non-hip extension going on! One of the top female athletes in the country I had to give two no reps in a row. Then she started performing the movement properly.

I have to say, still … the judging was very inconsistent. It wasn’t that the judging briefings weren’t good, it was just inexperienced judges, or judges not happy calling ‘no reps.’ I saw judges in my lane allowing rep after rep that I would have called no good … but actually, not my place to say. It’s a tough problem, I’m not gonna lie. I will say that I do appreciate the athletes who go out of their way to make sure every rep is clean (Susan Claassen).

I didn't see it so it's a no rep!

I didn’t see it so it’s a no rep!

But you know it’s one thing to ‘no rep’ your friends and athletic peers, whether male or female. It’s quite another to no rep someone who is struggling with a weight. There were some great moments of girls who couldn’t clean the 35kg fat bar then finally getting it, and guys really pushing themselves. Then there were the teammates shouting at other teammates, and ugliness like that.

The worst thing I saw was on this one workout where all the team members had to get six chest-to-bar pullups. Some of the girls were unable to get one, and if this happened they were allowed to move down to doing pushups but the rest of the team’s scores wouldn’t count. The good teams did that. In some cases, the poor things were forced to keep trying while everyone stared at them. One poor girl I was terrified was going to hurt herself falling off the bar.

To me, I’m sorry, that’s not what the sport is meant to be about. It’s about pushing yourself, not being pushed into a potentially humiliating position. I hope all those girls compete again, and that it wasn’t actually as traumatic as I feared it might be.

In another case of raw stupidity, I neglected to put on sunscreen and managed to get a decent sunburn on the Saturday. I was also cranky as hell because the judges didn’t get a lunch break because the event was running late. Two things make me cranky: low blood sugar and lack of sleep.

Spencer Hendel snatching a weight I can't deadlift

Spencer Hendel snatching a weight I can’t deadlift

My sleep could have been better because I’d been up the night before drinking with the lovely Sam Schoeman in Pretoria. My friend Hes has the best choice in friends. Beautiful, strong, intuitive, thoughtful … actually I am describing them both. Love, love, love.

What was weird though? The shopping mall we had dinner at did not allow photographs to be taken. I tried to take a picture of the sunset and I had three security guards on me in about 15 seconds. It’s very odd; such a thing, I mean it is private property but one wonders why the desire for secrecy. It made me curious enough that I actually Googled to find out the property management company.

Speaking of food and venues, I had the pleasure of having dinner with a guy who I suspect I’m going to be getting to know quite well pretty soon (in a business sense). This guy is too almost literally too charming for his own good. That makes him potentially very powerful.

He also has great taste in restaurants; picking a fantastic restaurant that was not in a shopping mall.

I love Jozi but now that this has been pointed out; I notice it everywhere. The city is one giant shopping mall, and each centre has some weird thing to differentiate itself. Either it’s mixed use offices or it has a giant water slide, or some such.

You don’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.

I just wish I had a few more eggs, and a hell of a lot more time.

Good things come to those who wait. Allegedly.

  • “One is the American pronunciation. The other is South African.” “Which are you?” – Ellie & a guy with a great sense of humour!
  • “I could pick your brain all night hey.” – B (best part is, I was just playing Socrates!)
  • “My LinkedIn profile still says I work for an online pet store.” – [I don’t work there any more!]
  • “Let the battles begin.” – Pete
  • “Do as I say, and no one will get hurt.” – Ellie
  • “I didn’t say you weren’t pretty.  I said you wouldn’t pass for a girl.” – Ellie
  • “Anyone who knows you, or is getting to know you, knows that you’re serious.” – Neil
  • “Squat lower.” “Thanks, Judge.” “Thanks, Athlete.” – Ellie & Ty
  • “I never called you Captain Awesome. You called yourself Captain Awesome.” – Streicher
  • “When you get a snatch right it’s so much more gratifying than a power clean could ever be.” – Dieter
  • “I just signed an NDA.” “I’m sure you did.” – Ellie & Neil
  • “We’re like an invasive species.” – Phil
  • “You’d be amazed at how many people don’t know that.” “What? That correlation is not causation?” – Stephen & Ellie
  • “Losing sucks more than winning feels good.” “So don’t lose.” – Ellie & Stephen
  • “C’mon. You’ve got a filter problem. I’ve got a filter problem. What did you think of him?” – Stephen (hehe … I do indeed have a filter problem … and I told the man what I thought!)






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