It’s good to be back in the game

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As usual, I mean this in about four different ways.

I ended the week with a CrossFit competition but I’ll cover that one in the next post as I’m getting ahead of myself. Although that anticipation also felt good; it’s one thing to train but another thing to compete although as I learned my competitive nature exceeds my body’s current capabilities. But you get what you deserve, and that I did.

There are two things that are obvious that I re-learned in the last week. Firstly, that big companies are full of arrogant idiots (although there are, always, some lovely people at even the most vile companies). And second, a rolling stone gathers no moss: enough momentum makes it hard to put the brakes on, and you know, if something is going to happen, it’s going to happen. I know that sounds very deterministic, but we do make our own future.

I can be self-congratulatory all day long about how clever I am with the partnerships I’m building and the go-to-market approach, but the thing with dominoes is this – when you set them up you intend for them to fall the way you want. But sometimes they don’t. If I recall, either the momentum stops dead and you have to restart it, or you accidentally set off a cascade of unintended consequences. Sometimes both.

Speaking of unintended consequences, I’m definitely starting to enter a strange field of conflicts of interest. Between my professional role & my volunteer role, my role as CEO of Skyrove and as Ellie the person. To think there is never going to be a conflict is crazy; to think that there will never come a time when I might stumble upon an opportunity even more interesting than my current one is unrealistic.

So sure I may be tempted but there are some lines you do not cross. Just like you might want to quit in the middle of a CrossFit workout, you don’t. You start something you either finish it or gracefully pass the baton. You do not run off the side of the track and jump in the waiting bakkie.

You play the hand you’re dealt, and you deal with the situation as you think is best. I’m learning the hard way that I cannot please all of the people all of the time; and it’s always going to be the case that when you step on toes people will yelp and lash out back. Hard flipping lesson for someone who is a people-pleaser AND a martyr at heart.

A lot of things are games. That’s why businesses are sometimes referred to as ‘players.’ What’s what line in the song that’s been overplayed lately? “Life is a game played by everyone, and love is the prize.” Interesting choice, huh? Why that specific prize? Why not money, or power, or health, or satisfaction? And why is one kind of love inherently more meaningful or worthy than another, like love for a friend or a parent? But I digress.

The game I’m most particularly enjoying being back in at the moment is the development game. But this is so different to how I have ever done things before; it’s like the difference between a relationship where you have to do all the work and one where it’s natural and balanced, and EASY. As an ex-product manager I have a lot of experience taking visions from concept through to delivery. But without harping on the past, what I am loving about this new way of working is that it’s so collaborative and multi-faceted. You get a few different people together in the room and it is literally mind-blowing what having such smart people coming at the same problem from similar, but slightly different, angles can bring.

Speaking of angles

Speaking of angles

More than I can do by myself. And for a perfectionist and a control freak that’s also something that could be a tough pill to swallow if done incorrectly. It’s like that old ‘God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.’ I have to be humble enough to know when I can’t do everything myself, and, of course, where a team is best is where my strengths are different to someone else’s strengths.

I can’t yet talk about exactly what we’re doing but suffice to say, it’s something I’m extremely excited about and proud of. As happy as I’ve ever been with any of the product babies I’ve worked on in the past, this one is different. And it’s mainly different because the business model and go-to-market approach is as innovative as the functionality. It’s not the radio, it’s what you do with the radio. Although some radios are just better than others.

Not going to say it’s perfect and that there’s never going to be conflict. But hell. Conflict and creative destruction is a lot better than groupthink. And when chemistry is right, things just flow. To see people take your thoughts and make them better in ways you never anticipated is a beautiful thing. My ideal working life has this happen all day long; and never people dragging, but always striving to get to that next level so even if you’re working with a junior person, they want to learn and get better, they contribute good ideas, and even you as a manager or mentor or coach learn from the interaction as well.

I’m starting to not only enjoy but even EXPECT to blow people’s minds. It’s actually a bit hilarious to watch it happen. You never quite forget those moments, or the look on someone’s face when you tell them some series of things and then they realise some, or all, of the implications of what you’ve just said.

But there’s also a big chasm between concept and execution. That’s where mostly you fall down. I do not intend to fall down. Die trying, maybe.

So, a lovely start to the week in Cape Town, followed by a trip to Joburg that was partly scheduled to make travel to Durban for a CrossFit competition easier, but also partly scheduled to meet with an interesting prospect who’d been a bit hard to nail down, and to make some forward progress with our development partners and some folks in related fields. Oh, and a visit to deepest, darkest of enemy territory; out of which I emerged not only alive but with a free lunch a couple of smiles, and, I think, a smart and good ally, to boot!

A place that needs no introduction. Apparently.

A place that needs no introduction. Apparently.

One other point: you can be as talented as you want, but without the right connections or the right introduction, you may work in obscurity your whole life. What a pity that would be for some talented people I’ve recently met. Success begets success, and connections beget connections, AND, perhaps most important, a warm intro is about five times as powerful as a generic ‘so-and-so meet so-and-so, and you two figure out what the value prop is.’

Even setting up two dominoes, takes two seconds, but the second one doesn’t necessarily fall over if you haven’t placed the first one properly.

Yeah. It was an interesting week. Very awesome. Very. Even the jacarandas were blooming, to make the city of Johannesburg that much more charming than it normally is. Nothing like an elegant tree with elegant purple flowers that rain down onto the ground into a vivid, almost flourescent carpet against the reddish, brownish dirt that also characterises the city of Johannesburg.

Jacarandas & some smog

Jacarandas & some smog

And to think I once found the place charmless. Well, I once thought a lot of things. I always reserve the right to change my mind one way or the other. Never say never.

Stress aside – I’m probably as happy as I’ve ever been, and happy with the momentum that I’ve either created or am being swept in with.

Sometimes, in fact often, I like to not have to make decisions. There’s a huge weight that comes off with something as simple as not needing to decide where to go to dinner or what wine to order or where to park the car or what brand of insurance to buy.

Unlike some of the stuff we’re building and consortiums I’m setting up, I’m not that complicated.

Or maybe I am? Maybe what I think is simple is actually complicated.

I was going to say that sometimes I can’t even figure out what I want to happen, or what I want to happen next. But that’s also actually not true; I pretty much always know what I want. The trick, the real trick, is knowing when it changes. Well, that and asking for it because I’m sometimes not great at that.

Although as I’ve also learned, if the stakes are high enough and you want something badly enough, if there’s a chance you can get it, you should go for it. You’d be surprised just how often what you think is impossible, or unlikely, or improbable, winds up being exactly what looks like it’s going to happen …. And then you face this weird moment where you wonder if it’s for real.

Sometimes it’s a mirage. But sometimes not.

  • “Let’s just hope the Neanderthal association of stone crackers is next door.” – John
  • “No. We’ll just blow up your car.” – John
  • “I think it was a test. But I didn’t even think of that until after because we can do this sort of thing in our sleep.” – Ellie
  • “Why are you going there?” “Meeting.” “No sh*t. I was thinking a milkshake.” – Lance & Ellie
  • “We can do targeted advertising like falling off a log.” – Tristan
  • “Dominic made me do it is a good answer. I’ve met him.” – Sam
  • “Life is nothing but a series of whimsical moments.” – Rob (whimsical indeed….)
  • “She always thinks in headlines.” – Jens
  • “Apple just killed Microsoft. You know this.” “What?!?” – Tristan & Ellie
  • “Jeeves. We’re building Jeeves.” – Ellie
  • “Keep up the good work.” – Rudolph
  • “No, they’ve only scheduled 30 minutes, because they have no idea what’s going to happen.” – Ellie (we met for an hour)
  • “I’m glad we met you too. We’re going to take over the world one sin at a time. Hahahaha!” “You do realise that your laugh is a little bit evil?” “Is it? Oh. Damn.” – Megan & Ellie
  • “You get this right, you’ll make millions. If not, it’ll flop in six months.” – Mark
  • “I didn’t tell her I was out with you again. I told her I was drinking with Afrihost.” – obviously can’t share this one …. and no, our relationship is not what it sounds like!
  • “Would it be completely inappropriate if I open a beer in the office now?” – Rudolph
  • “I’m good with forever. … At least, in this context.” – Ellie
  • “What? No, they would never! Is he crazy? Has he ever met a mobile carrier?” – Ellie

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