The calm & the storm


One of my favourite recent Tweets: “When everything comes together at the same time, it’s either perfect or a perfect storm.”

There are many tempests in teapots, and it is sometimes very easy to get overwhelmed: with good, with bad, with fear, with excitement, with boredom.

I’ve also noticed many times over the years that whenever a problem, challenge, or context is too big for us to grasp, we have a tendency to become overwhelmed. The most common reaction is to throw one’s hands up in despair, or just ignore the problem and hope it goes away (it never does, but we can often procrastinate it into irrelevance). That’s one approach. The other is to at least tackle the part of the problem you can see.

Which is better? It all depends, doesn’t it.

The metaphor I often use when I speak to other people who think like me, and there are indeed a few, is that it’s like we’re in a dark room with a puzzle in it, and our eyes have adapted so we can see more than others. I know you can’t blame those who can’t see what you do. But darned if it isn’t frustrating at times.

Kinda like loadshedding. We're not used to it and aren't prepared with a backup plan

Kinda like loadshedding. We’re not used to it and aren’t prepared with a backup plan

Then again, things happen when they happen and not before. Such a deterministic statement … and one it is not possible to contradict. But how many times have I wanted things to happen then later realised it’s a very good thing it did not? Quite a few of those in my recent work career.

Another thing – this notion that everyone feels like a fraud or imposter to some degree, I can kind of agree with but in other ways not. When I was early in my Skyrove learning curve I might have felt that. Now, not so much, but no one has asked me to become chairman of Vodacom. Just a trade association. I think the Peter Principle also applies to proper progressions – when you are first looking at doing a muscle up it seems impossible, especially if you have never been able to do a pullup. But you build strength, you do progressions, and one day you realise it’s no big deal.

Even still, some days those rings look really high and it seems like it’s going to take a lot of effort to get up there. Business is the same way. As well as I know my context and solution set, what I am trying to do, the dynamics around me, it is still overwhelming sometimes. There are things I don’t know, players trying to upset the value chain for their own benefit that I’ve not heard of (what you don’t know can hurt you!), a proliferation of features and functions in the ecosystem, dodgy ethics, politics, and not enough time in the day.

Just a little bit of hidden Johannesburg

Just a little bit of hidden Johannesburg

But you approach that like you do anything – if the scope doesn’t make you freeze with indecision or despair at the size then you break the problem into bite size chunks and start to go. Sometimes the best way out is through, and the best way to feel better is to make progress, however small.

I have actually used this as a tool though in some of my partnership discussions. If I find this mishmash of hardware, software, service, business model a challenge, what hope do you have without my two years of head start and the focus that we have in our company? Admitting your own weaknesses can be a lot more helpful than trying to bluff your way through, or trying to pretend to be perfect.

When one door closes, another opens, and the reverse. Happens every day, surely, but think of all the little synchronicities or tipping points, or people that have had to leave your life so someone new can enter. Think of all the people you now can’t imagine your life without that at one point you never knew. My friend Sam, for example, when I first met her I had no idea we’d become close friends. Matter of fact, I had to call her because I’d gotten the day wrong for our original coffee (happens to me about once or twice a year, always the most embarrassing thing!!). Not the most auspicious start, but hey, angels don’t sing at all the momentous occasions in our life.

Anyway. The back half of March was a bit overwhelming for me. One of the weeks was quite relaxed; did have a fantastic catch up with a guy I had not seen in about two years (and they serve Snickers bars with the coffee in his company’s canteen!!). Strange how context really is everything. I always knew he was smart, and kind. I had no idea exactly how clever and insightful.

If you’re too young, too inexperienced, too arrogant, or in too much of a hurry you may well miss the obvious in front of your eyes; you may miss the amazing thinking it is more mundane. I just love broad thinkers, builders, architects, engineers. Not small thinkers or glass half-full, conservative, negative thinkers.

I love making friends. I also love some of my Cape Town friends and colleagues. There is nothing quite like having honest conversations with people about what’s going well, what’s not going well, and how we all need to get ready for the future which is about to hit like a freight train.

Knowing the freight train is coming makes it harder. Anticipation is sometimes worse than the actual experience. Fran and Fight Gone Bad are exceptions. Those are always even worse than what I remembered.

Corporate office park still life

Corporate office park still life

I mean, context is everything. As I always say, knowledge is power and context is knowledge.

They also say no rest for the wicked. Well, I had one heck of a week coming after that Cape Town trip. I don’t even remember the number of meetings but there were a lot, and with some really big companies. More importantly, because I’ve been at this game now for several years, it’s not the name on the door of the company you meet with – it’s with whom you meet and the quality and detail and next steps of the discussion.

They say in business, or at least entrepreneurship, you need a combination of capability and luck. Money, yeah, maybe. In South Africa, connections. But how do you get the luck?

Having the right people in your corner, whether shareholders or friends, and preferably with skin in the game, is the best answer I have. How do you get them? As much positivity and enthusiasm (genuine, not fake!) as you can muster.

How do you get the connections? Same thing. You have to be willing to put yourself out there, talk to new people, and the only way out is through even when you’re exhausted, tired, demotivated, and questioning everything.

Some days it’s harder than others, and sometimes when you feel stabbed in the back by people who are supposed to be your friends. This has happened to me more than once, and it still makes me mad each time. Makes me mad if we were not friends, and madder if we were. I know I shouldn’t hold grudges. But I do not forget.

So the last week in Johannesburg was one of the more amazing blurs I’ve ever experienced. Crossing the chasm perhaps where things finally start to come together in a big way, not just small ways here and there.

I was also sick, which didn’t help. Not badly sick and having a fever so my brain didn’t work but under the weather to the point of not being able to train. I even had to miss the last CrossFit Open workout because I really didn’t feel up to a metcon. What a shame; it’s one I would have done well in. But that’s life.

Cricket World Cup .. towards the end of the heartbreaking semi-final

Cricket World Cup .. towards the end of the heartbreaking semi-final

My life is weird when I don’t train. I have all this extra time that I am too tired to use productively!

But by the end of the week I think Adam had me doing another two sizeable invoices, I had booked a trip to Harare, and had quite some solid next steps that if they all start to come through I’m going to have a problem. But better that problem than the reverse. And man, the confidentiality. I’m really starting to get to the point of being unable to gossip at all because I know too much! How dreadful.

Kind of like sports, or relationships I guess. You can’t manufacture momentum or attraction but once things get going it can be hard to stop them! So I’m not anticipating a lot of rest the next six months or so. Things are finally to fruition I have been working on for what feels like forever. And I even get to see one of my favourite French people in a few weeks!

Before the crazy week in Johannesburg that really ran the gamut of everything from telecoms and beyond, and before falling ill I did have a lovely, and somewhat relaxing weekend in Cape Town. The Friday night after the CrossFit Open a few people came over to Candice’s and ate the dinner I made, which was great fun. Saturday I competed in a powerlifting meet that I’d gotten my arm twisted into entering.

Me & the boys :)

Me & the boys 🙂

The end result of this is that I am far stronger than I thought I was. I did a 115kg squat, 65kg bench press, and 142.5kg deadlift, none of which was anywhere near a max. They all felt light and with very good form. What a great day with the Ballistix crew though, and sushi after! Although damn I was tired, those lifts tax your central nervous system quite spectacularly.

I think I was half passed out the next morning heading into town for brunch with two of my favourites, and for rose picking in the Chart Farm garden. Then, a very lovely and relaxing afternoon where I was enjoying myself so much I completely lost track of time but yet was cognisant of the impending departure of my plane that evening. What a perfect afternoon. It even had a sunset of stunning colours over a rugby field. Not the sort of experience you have every day.

A sea of roses ...

A sea of roses …

I knew the storm was coming so I enjoyed the calm. Now, mid-storm the concept of slowing down seems crazy. But that is the same state I was in when I boarded the plane to Cape Town in mid-December. An almost frenetic pace of trying to create momentum, followed by such a complete relaxation that I had a hard time resuming my desire to work when the new year started!

Back to that muscle up (which my one friend is now busy working to get) – if you death-grip the rings and are afraid of failure you probably will. There is such a thing as trying too hard. When you have a more relaxed approach, and you realise that muscle up doesn’t define you as a person, all of a sudden it becomes possible.

What a change a few months can make! That’s what I keep thinking over and over.


  • “I’m affectionate. And easygoing. But damn it if I need to bite you I will f*cking bite you!” – me, comparing myself to a puppy
  • “If you can do one, you can do seven. Just saying.” – Jason
  • “So what do you do if you’re not connected?” “You get yourself connected.” – Ellie & Jaco
  • “Wait, so you had your house blown up by the Bulgarian mob, and now you’re telling me you had a beer last week with the number 3 in the Nigerian mob?” – Ellie
  • “Most people aren’t like us.” “No. They think we’re crazy.” – Ellie & Andy
  • “You must meet a lot of people.” “Yes. But not very many of them make an impression.” – Ellie & Andy
  • “The telecoms industry is in some ways quite polarised.” – Jens (understatement of the year)
  • “How do you know them?” – Donovan (I just gave him a look)
  • “We’re not stupid. … At least, I don’t think we are.” – Enrico
  • “You’re trying to change the world!” “Uhh, yeah.” – Enrico & Ellie
  • “It’s been four hours.” – Richard
  • “You can’t hear yourself.” – Candice
  • “I hope it’s not the bandwidth.” – Mike (it was the bandwidth)
  • “If you don’t control the backhaul, I wouldn’t invest in Wi-Fi.” – David
  • “OK. I now know enough to be dangerous!” – Jacques
  • “The market is starting to become unrealistic.” – Bheki
  • “I *like* you!” – Ellie (my companion had just used some colourful language to describe some behaviour … I think we’re going to get along just fine!)
  • “What do you mean ‘What do I mean’? I said I wanted to take them down. There’s only one thing that could mean!” – me, on a mission
  • “You’ve got to feed the gorilla so he stays in the cage because if he hops out of the cage you are so screwed it’s not even funny.” – one of my new favourite telecoms boys
  • “I didn’t see it coming.” – same one … well on the way to being strategic soulmate #2 🙂
  • “Don’t be coy!” – Wayne
  • “See… The thing about this Olympic lifting thing is that a hook-grip really isn’t something one may or not use. One simply does. ‪#‎thatisall” – Carla
  • “The question is, do you go in very aggressive … or very VERY aggressive?” – Gustav
  • “Can you talk now?” “Yeah. I’m in Dischem.” – Mike & Ellie
  • “He said he was told ‘Shoot the officers.’” – Lynne (on the death of her brother in WWII, age 27)
  • “Maybe this will give her hope because without hope, what are we?” – Ellie

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