Monday, June 26, 2017


Insurance doesn't remove risk. It smooths it. You can accept, avoid, mitigate or transfer risk but you can't make it disappear. We are on a large rock hurtling through space around a fiery ball, buffeted by water, wind, lightening and each other. The problem with things seeming like they are 'risk free' is Moral Hazard. Nothing is risk free. We behave differently when we don't think anything will affect us badly. That is why a little bit of difficulty is a good thing. If you can afford to accept risk, that is the best way to look after it. Accept some bad stuff will happen, and allow for it. Be aware of it. Build a Buffer, so that the bad doesn't finish the game. A Buffer tops things up in bad times, and builds up in good times. It smooths the ride. Consciously.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Why There?

Why do we live where we live? Daniel Gilbert talks about the three biggest determinants of our happiness being where we live, what we do, and who we marry. We used to live where we were born, do what the parent of the same gender did, and marry someone from the neighbourhood. Ken Robinson says 7 of his 8 great grandparents were from the same area. That isn't how it has played out for me. We live in the age of the escape hatchSome time ago I had to accept permanent uncertainty. I can't choose to live near friends. They move. Family moves. Jobs move. If I like my colleagues, they to move on. I am a self declared Liberal. I love change. I love discomfort. I fully get Conservative love of protecting things as they are. People don't move easily. It is normally because of a big life decision. Left or right. The reality is when people throw their worlds up in the air, they leave a bit of themselves behind. It isn't always by choice. Life makes a lot of decisions for us, and all we can do is choose how to respond. We cope.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Buffers v Engines

There are tight constraints on where the rules of money making work. Money is not an indication of value. Value is intrinsic, and deeply personal. Price is a clearing mechanism. Without interference, the only two things that matter are supply and demand. How much there is. How much is wanted. Parenting is the best example of this. You can't put a price on how much someone raising a child 'should' be paid. It is priceless and there is no market for it. I believe in creating buffers and engines

A buffer is a mini-engine or shock-absorber, that can't last forever, but can let you look up long enough for the panic to subside, so you can make better decisions

An engine is a muse. It can free how you spend your time from the rules of monetising. Not all good ideas are good business ideas. 

The shock-absorber and engine aren't the point of the car. They are however necessary in order to go on a journey. Sometimes we do what we have to do. Sometimes we do what we want to do. You can't always rage against the constraints. Understanding constraints is a better way of dominating them, so they don't dominate you. Build a Buffer. Build an Engine.

Then drive.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Braai Master

Guys get a lot of grief for Mansplaining. It is when someone (normally a man) explains something to someone (normally a woman) in a condescending or patronising way, without first finding out if the explainee knows more than the explainer. A Braai is a big part of masculine South African culture. A Boys' Braai is when there is only meat, beer and rolls. Chicken is the salad. Whether banter or bravado, it is also a place where a lot of man-to-mansplaining goes on. A lot of guys will talk a big game, and then burn the meat. They aren't particularly interested in finding out if the other person knows more, because the rewards are much bigger for the person with the tongs. The person in charge. The same is true for business. Employees get paid somewhere around their cog value. Cog value goes down as efficiency improves. If you can hire someone else (or a machine), there is little incentive to hand over the tongs. Our biggest focus on community building is our workplace. It's the default place we spend most of our time. It's going to be tough to change the culture if it's a Braai.

Monday, June 19, 2017

How Much?

South Africa is on the podium for inequality. It is a visceral example of lives in parallel. Extreme poverty is right next door to opulent wealth. To be clear, South Africa is not at war, has a strong constitution, institutionalised checks on power, and a very vocal public who push back on abuse. A public that defeated Apartheid will not fall easily. There are many strong, resilient communities, that simply don't have enough. It is not a failed stateBut ... we tend to compare 'up'. To where we aspire. South Africa is one of the places in the world where it is most difficult to ignore people who are struggling because of the contrast, despite Global Apartheid meaning starker contrasts are real, but not as visual. Your immediate neighbours can't live in a war zone while you live in peace. Fire spreads. Global neighbourhoods are more like the frog in boiling water.

I am a big believer that you can't 'ignore Cape Town'. Like Schrödinger's cat, the boiled frog doesn't just disappear if you close the box by hopping in a plane. A 'Champagne Socialist' is someone who claims to be against inequality, and yet their belief is not reflected in their day to day life. They chink glasses while getting angry about the have-nots, 'someone should really do something about that.' We are our actions, not our intentions.

I also believe we are human, and have to look after ourselves. You should never be more than a half-hearted fanatic.There is no point in being a hero, because heros normally die. If you set yourself up as some pious devotee, but you aren't able to sustain that lifestyle, others will just look at it and say, 'wow, that is amazing, but there is no way I could do that.' or 'what an idiot'. Small, sustainable, changes on the other hand can have a multiplied effect.

Two questions I regularly ask, and have not yet found a comfortable way of answering, are 'How much is enough?', and 'How much is doing enough?'. The first question is a 'me' question. If the answer is 'more', then you will never be able to lift your eyes to the second question. You will end up living hand to mouth where you are lived, more than you are living.

There are knock on questions about Conspicuous Consumption, Conspicuous Hoarding, Shared Space and Community Building. The world we see may be the only world we know, but it is not the only world there is.

Friday, June 16, 2017


The first time I left South Africa was when I was 18. My standard holiday was to Johannesburg, either towards or welcoming my Vaalie cousins. After school, I spent 18 months working as an assistant teacher at a preparatory school in Chichester (on a 2 year working travel visa). Being on the south coast of the United Kingdom, it was the 'warmer' part of the country but I was still greeted by (very) light April snow. A novelty for a Durban boy. It did warm up, and the 9 week summer holidays were spectacular. It was a very different experience from my trip a decade later. Emails were letters on shared computers, and there were no cell phones. Just 50p a minute phone calls back to South Africa from the headmasters office. I stayed in a room next to dorms of boarders making sure they didn't get up to too much mischief. I assisted with Sports, Maths, Reading, English and Art lessons and helped paint the scenery for two school plays. Then I head back to Cape Town to study. A place that seemed as distant from Durban as England.

Village Cricket


Extra Summer job as a waiter/porter

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Red Tory, Yellow Tory

The Royal Oak under which Charles II hid 
to avoid capture by the Roundheads 
(supporters of Parliament in the English Civil War)

One of the reasons politics is so unappealing is the amount of insults that get thrown around. In a Partisan world that divides countries pretty much down the middle, that means almost half the country disagree. 'The People' seldom speak. If people in the ingroup even hint the other side may have a point, they get torn down. In the UK, Tory is the nickname for the Conservative Party. 'Red Tory' is used as a term of abuse by Tories who think someone is proposing Labour like policies, and by Labour supporters who think they are speaking to 'Conservatives in disguise'. When the Liberal Democrats formed a coalition government with Conservatives, many dubbed them 'Yellow Tories'. Compromise as a value is apparently an oxymoron. 'Shy Tories' are those who tend to keep quiet about their support of the Conservative Party because of the abuse that gets thrown at them when they speak up. Or 'the embarrassment' if you are one of those throwing abuse. They keep their opinions to the ballot box. Good people are divided by politics and religion for the reason that 'good' people think a good person would agree with them. One good to rule them all.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017


Putney is well-known for being the starting point of the Oxford-Cambridge boat race. It is a nine square kilometre area with a population about the size of Bermuda (I moved from Bermuda to Putney in 2008). In the 1840s, Putney was still a part-wooded, part-agricultural village. As London boomed, it became an international city. I moved there because my brother, his wife and my brand new niece lived around the corner. Many South Africans, New Zealanders, and Australians had the same idea. Afrikaans is not a convenient secret code language in Putney, Earlsfield, Wimbledon, Clapham, Richmond and Fulham. 'Reverse Colonisation'. As Trevor Noah says, we were told it was Great Britain, so we came to see why. The UK is in the same time zone as South Africa, has a deeply intertwined history, shared sporting culture (rugby and cricket), and the Pound goes a lot further than the Rand (if you take it back). The fact that I had friends and family here, made 'leaving home' much like moving cities. I think we can deal with some different, but common ingredients make the transition easier.

A white welcome in 2008