Africacom and the games we play

Leverage is fun but I’m sick of playing games.

This is the unfortunate aspect of being a smaller player. You are dealing with much bigger companies, normally, who like to demand what they want, and even the smaller ones see what they can negotiate. It’s fine; we all do the same thing; it’s part of the game.

And then there’s the secrets. Telecoms is possibly more cloak & dagger than other industries, certainly more than other industries I’ve experienced, because, I think, the competition is fierce, the risks and costs are high, and it’s a long game.

Kinda like the industry known as ‘defense,’ maybe. But I’d rather be helping people communicate than kill each other anyway, although I do hear the tech in defense is pretty damn cool, and the budgets are big.

Not only is it a long game but it’s a game that is constantly varied. A year ago, Wi-Fi presence analytics was a hot topic. Now it’s already commodified, or close to it. One year.

And the ISPs understand that they have to fight not to become dumb pipes, and pick different ways to do so, or stick their heads in the ground and pretend it’s not happening. Same thing with the mobile carriers, which are struggling to figure out how not to become dumb pipes in the air. But for all these bigger companies, the challenges are enormous, and they actually start with the company itself. Its KPIs are structured around one business model. How do you structure yourself for flexibility and innovation as you grow?

Africacom is a giant trade show held at the CTICC in Cape Town every year. I mainly just went for the networking and the free food. Had some partners in town, and a good chance to catch up with the WAPA crowd. But as with any telecoms conference there’s the fair share of checking out who’s talking to who (funny when within 10 minutes of my arriving the first day, I went straight to the Ruckus booth, as one does, and was joined within another 10 minutes by not one but TWO of my Cape Town-based competitors!), innuendo, oh, and a couple of the whole ‘This conversation never happened’ vibe. Yeah. Telecoms.

A media feeding frenzy/my friend

A media feeding frenzy/my friend

The week ended with some massive rain storms (one of our partners and I were having dinner on Friday and it was quite hilarious both the commentary and the getting drenched running one block to the car!), and some interesting discussions. One of those awkward moments where you really want to tell someone something but professionalism gets in the way. But that’s part of the game, too, I suppose. You don’t go blabbing confidential stuff around the room. Information is shared on a need to know (or need to vent!) basis.

The most important thing always to remember is that you lose 100% of the deals you aren’t in the room to pitch for. In that old ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’ game, being a smaller player can be less optimal, but it can also work in your favour. After all, just getting in the room isn’t [usually] enough, and thank goodness for that. You still have to know what you’re doing, and be able to deliver.

Anyway, like my sport, my job. My friend Kora was asking me on the weekend if I ever feel like training is a chore. Absolutely I do. Do you think I LIKE getting out of bed at 5:30am to go train? Sure, the endorphin high from a metcon can be fun but how about struggling with a skill over and over and over again and still not getting it right? How about the day when you don’t FEEL like picking up a heavy weight, or when you’d really rather just sleep in or drink a glass of wine than do your rehab?

You can't ask deep questions at such a venue!

You can’t ask deep questions at such a venue!

But at the end of the day you do it for love. It does ultimately come down to this. You suffer the downs to enjoy the ups, and the reason I do it and the reason even that I compete does change all the time.

So work is the same. I said last post that it’s a good thing my reasons for taking this job were consistent and that I understood them but I didn’t say what the reasons were. I did it because I thought it would be a good learning experience. Little did I know just some of the things I would be doing one year in.

Now, always having to be worrying about jockeying for position and setting things up in such a way that if a variety of scenarios happen you are protected on the one side and set up to capitalise or even gain an advantage on the other is exhausting. So is being patient, and charming, and energetic even if you’ve not slept enough and you’re busy worrying about your shoulder or what’s going on with something else … just being present with who you are with, when you are with them, is tiring. For me.

So that’s all fine. Just like negotiating, if you do it right, isn’t about dividing a pie but figuring out how to make the pie bigger, jockeying for position is also hugely creative and a lot of fun.

What is not so fun is playing games. Games push you into reaction mode, and they annoy me. Worse, is where that subtle or not-so-subtle bullying has to be taken into account. It is extremely annoying to have to spend mental time thinking about how you regain leverage with a party that’s trying to take advantage of you.

Well, everything has a silver lining if you can just see it, right? And you can’t appreciate the wins without the struggle.

Silver linings on these? Maybe earlier in the day

Silver linings on these? Maybe earlier in the day

There are rules in all games. Human relationships have social rules of right and wrong, and we have a deeply rooted sense of morality. Check Antigone. This concept is not new, and we also now know that it’s rooted in our evolutionary biology. To survive in a pack, the pack must have rules, and members must be motivated to follow the rules.

Rule breaking can sometimes be good, sure, risk taking and entrepreneurship, re-thinking old assumptions that no longer make sense. Other rules are not to be broken. Do not lie, cheat, or steal. More to the point, don’t wilfully mislead, at least not past a certain point.

Now the counterbalance to this, of course, is that spiritual struggle for … well, whatever; that you either engage in or you don’t. Consciously engage in, I should say! Because we do all struggle, I think, to find some sort of meaning once we’re high enough up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs not to be concerned about where our next meal is coming from.

How to separate the judgment of the rightness of a particular outcome with believing it will come to pass. That’s one question.

The other question is this: when you’re powerful, whether that’s in terms of traditional ‘power’ from status or money or some sort of societal hierarchy, or you have something someone wants (leverage); can be sex or a product or a connection or whatever, or you’re just incredibly charismatic …. Do you recognise and respect your own power? Or do you just flippantly use it as you see fit? Like a bully, or even worse, like a passive-aggressive bully who is nice to your face and stabs you behind the back?

To say ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ is trite. I wonder how often any of us REALLY thinks through the implications of how we use our power? I certainly don’t. I’m too busy moving on to the next thing, and the crazy part is this: I recognise the external trappings of my power but I haven’t really internalised them yet.

Oh yeah, I can be very persuasive. I know this. I’m not used to throwing my weight around, and I don’t like doing so. I’d rather be the scrappy underdog than the favourite.

And it’s not like I always get what I want.

Sometimes what I think I want isn’t even what I later wind up wanting. Or maybe that’s just a manifestation of why I’m largely happy: that yes there are things I want that I do not have, and yes there are things I strive to achieve. Without this, life would be boring. But I’m also quite content with how things are going right now.

Some things I want, are, I think (& hope!) coming, and hopefully soon.

It’s not about getting what you want, it’s about wanting what you’ve got.

Also, taking advantage of what you have while it’s there. Brunch with Riaan at the hot new brunch place in Stellenbosch followed by a wine tour with some of the awesome people from HealthQ … Love. I really do love Stellies; it’s a special place. And I love the HealthQ team, pretty much all of it. Relaxing on a weekend with smart, interesting people …. Life could be worse.

Delheim :)

Delheim 🙂

Life could be a lot worse. The way it’s going now, though, I’m not so much worried about the potential downside as the potential for some really fun, and big, and interesting, upside. Because better to live in a world of hope than a world of fear, and to be trying to add to the pie than to cheat the other player.

Says me, at least.

  • “You’re becoming too much like a lawyer, Ellie. I read that twice before it made sense. Then I remembered my comments on another agreement… so maybe I only have myself to blame.” – Sam
  • “You walked here from the Cape Royale?” “Yes! Can you believe it?” “No.” – Ellie & Blake
  • “I heard something about you.” – (only good things!)
  • “They don’t know yet that you’re the enemy.” – a friend
  • “This is the Wizard of Oz.” – Ellie
  • “Probably after two bottles of wine. That’s what she does, you know!” – Blake
  • “At some point …. No. They never will. I was going to say – ‘At some point they’ll figure out they can’t play games with us because we know too much.’” – Ellie
  • “Do you really think this is going to make a lot of money?” “Of course. Or else I wouldn’t be doing it.” – Paul & Ellie
  • “What’s your strategy?” “I don’t have a strategy. I just talk.” – Jonathan & Ellie
  • “Graham cycles with Dave.” “I love South Africa.” – Sean & Ellie
  • “You did a good job of baiting them.” – Blake
  • “They probably planned on a 20 minute meeting. We were there for an hour and a half.” – Blake (yep)
  • “Well, that was partly a sales tactic.” “It was also true.” – me & someone even more insightful than I like to think I am!
  • “I may have been misquoted.” – Mike (suuuure)
  • “I’ll have the Arnold’s Shiraz.” “The bottle?” – Ellie & my waiter (seriously … maybe I looked like I needed it!)
  • “Oh. It’s kind of like ordering Ruckus.” “Except for you don’t sleep on a Ruckus.” – Ellie & Sam
  • “Denial is easy.” “But it’s naïve.” “But it’s easy.” – Ellie & Blake
  • “If we lose, we are supposed to drink.” “And if you win?” “We also drink.” (they lost)
  • “The problem with South Africa is that you have to live in Cape Town, and you have to work in Joburg.” – someone who would know
  • “You guys sound like Albert Einstein before he figured out what the atom bomb can do.” – Kora
  • “The more people objecting the better you know your idea is.” – Riaan
  • “I thought a ruckus was a big disturbance.” – Tim






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