Friday, July 20, 2018

Expectation Management

In my post-work world, many of my colleagues are coaches and motivational speakers. Before that in my 'work world', a big chunk of my job was almost the opposite. Expectation Management. Warren Buffett talks about how the average investor would do much better by just accepting average returns. Average returns can be achieved at below average costs. The key ingredients are not chasing better returns, not panicking, patience, and delayed gratification. So, ironically, accepting average returns in advance will give you above average returns. In the world of money, I am increasingly becoming a believer in 'thinking inside the box'. Do what works. Find something that works (i.e. pays) that you can do well. Do that. Don't let that define you. Have a plan to build an engine so that you can be free of those constraints. In the post-work world, nothing is impossible. In the world of money, Mermaids and Unicorns can land you on the rocks.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018


Maya is the idea that everything we experience is just an illusion, fraud, or deception that creates disorder and chaos. Like Neo and the Matrix but in thousand-year-old Indian texts rather than the big screen. Dharma is order within that chaos. If everything is an illusion, why bother? My understanding of accepting your Dharma is accepting the things that need doing. Things may well not be as they should be, but raging against the machine gets you nowhere. Your Dharma are your responsibilities and duties. The entry ticket for being able to bend the Matrix to your will. The things you need to just 'suck up'. Money is a good example. There is no point in hating it. The world we live in sets the ground rules that you need some. Without financial security, you can't pursue the things money doesn't understand. Learn the rules. Then break them.

Soaking Ideas

When we talk 'off the cuff', where do the words come from? Mostly fully formed sentences come out, with occasional stumbles, ums, errs, and likes... but from where? I am attempting to break out of my Monotongue English world. I am learning new words slowly, and sentences, and gradually creating webs of understanding. It takes ages for it to soak in. I think most of what we say is sitting there waiting to be said. Pre-cooked. So when we listen and act, most of us are just waiting for these pre-existing scripts to play out. It is like our body recognises the situation, and says 'I got this', then goes into automatic effort. It takes a lot of effort to pause, and say 'No, maybe this situation is new'. It takes a lot of effort for new information to soak in, connect to what we already think... and perhaps even change our minds a little.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Things Fall Apart

Published in 1959, 'Things Fall Apart' was way ahead of its time. It is a poetic and layered telling of both the strengths and weaknesses of traditional cultures without being binary. Conservative cultures build up wisdom for dealing with the waves of life. Rituals, relationships, and religions that try give some sense to the challenges we face. Historically, we haven't been good at opening our eyes and ears to the depth behind our beliefs. We have hurt each other. We have hurt ourselves. The great thing about being human is we can learn from the stories others have lived. They may not mirror ours, but the rhythms that drive us share an underlying beat. Improving the quality of our self-reflection.

Monday, July 16, 2018


Somewhere between narcissism and self-negation, sits self-care. We over-simplify into Good and Bad. Our stories, conversations and play all reinforce the things that make us work better together. One of the things that made us work better together in a world of scarcity is hard work. Effort. The ability to prioritise and focus on things that add explicit, demonstrable value. To avoid things that are indulgent. Self-care is mostly internal. Proper exercise. Proper diet. Proper relaxation. Proper breathing. Constructive and caring thought patterns. None of this is externally obvious. We can't see the growth. We can't count it. So we don't prioritise it. Every day, we get up and go to work. Till we can't because we haven't looked after ourselves. Self-care is not indulgent. It shouldn't be an afterthought.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Via Cape Town

When I was 14, I had an incredibly gifted Maths teacher named Mrs Chick. Everybody loved her, and she loved everybody. I had a habit of driving her nuts though. Particularly in Geometry. I would arrive at the solution, but she said I 'always went via Cape Town'. We lived in Durban. To give some context, Pretoria to Durban is 627km. Going to Pretoria (via Cape Town) is 3,000km (depending on the route). I left South Africa for the first time as an adult when I was 18. I had never visited Cape Town. It was far away!

One of the companies I was later a part of was full of smart people, united by the fact that we were all weird in some little way. One smart was not the same as the next. They clashed, and brought up different things. That is clearly true of everyone in the world, but being in the same company gives you a common purpose that requires interaction, and interdependence.

I used to do a lot of public speaking, and would actively seek out feedback by doing lots of dry runs. These dry runs were draining. Not only would the audience see things I didn't, or understand things differently to how I intended, but they weren't shy to let me know. Each session would leave me a little punch drunk. I would go back, tweak, and then have another crack. By the time I got to actually doing the talks to the real world, the multiple sets of eyes and minds had given me a wealth of practice.

I believe in independent thinking. That each of us can add something by clearing our minds of what others think, and looking afresh. We see the world differently, and no one else will ever see it in the same way. Our realities are built up by the experiences we have had, the conversations we have had, the things we have read, and the time we live. Only one of us does it the way we do.

I also believe in thinking in the open. It is confusing. You need a thick skin and emotional resilience. It is much easier to push on in the dark until you find something 'worthy' of the light. Easy restricts us from the benefits of exposure to other minds. We don't have to take on board everything everyone else says. We can't. But the more we listen, the brighter our torch to find a path.

So onwards. With a sense of humour. Dive in. Get lost. Learn. Just make lots of noises so people know where you are, and can point out other routes.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Holding your Breath

South Africa has a deeply rooted meat-eating culture. A 'Boy's Braai' consists of meat, beer, and breadrolls - chicken is considered the salad. The vegetables are often an afterthought with 'what are we eating tonight?' answered with Chicken, Fish, or Steak. So the veg is not the spicey delights served up in the East. 'Eating your veg first' is an analogy for delayed gratification. Do the hard thing first, then you can have the nice bit. Not just a Saffa belief. Pink Floyd's version is 'If you don't eat yer Meat, you can't have any pudding'.

Do the hard thing first. Man up. Tough love. There are stories of Wolraad and Racheltjie to inspire people to stop whining and get on with it. 'n Boer maak 'n plan (a Farmer makes a plan) suggesting that complaining gets nothing done. Australia is also big on this kind of hard life mentality (Check out Chopper Reid). Taking responsibility even for things that aren't your fault.

Even the Bible throws its two cents in with 1 Corinthians 13:11, "When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things."

Ask Bobby Skinstad, Sport is well-supplied with back-pocket clich├ęs like 'commeth the hour, commeth the man', 'putting your hand up', 'stand up and be counted', and 'put your body on the line'. Match after match through school, various coaches and captains will have practiced their very best Braveheart renditions.

Somewhere between self-obsession and self-negation, lies self-care. Somewhere between the victim, and the hero. It doesn't come naturally, and hasn't had years of good movies, funny banter, and motivational speeches to back it up. It feels indulgent and soft. Even knowing looking after yourself is important, doesn't make it feel right. It feels like chickening out.

What it leads to is a mass of people holding their breath. We look at everything that needs doing, and never pause. Faster. Better. Higher. Stronger. More. Now.

We should make time to occasionally pick up childish things... otherwise the pudding will be finished should we ever get there.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Trying Hard (with Brett)

(1/10) Trev:
Brett, you and I both come from incredibly similar backgrounds. We are also both extroverts and very keen to have a positive impact on the world. Then come the demons to wrestle. Poems like 'White Man's Burden' by the author of the Jungle Book, Rudyard Kipling. Cringe. The History of the 'Civilising Missions' of Colonialism as a modern version of the failed Crusades. I look around the world and see deep structural challenges and pain. In my core, I feel compelled to do something about. Yet something shouts back. White, English-speaking, Men like you and I have a lot to answer for. Is it our place to be at the front of discussions? 

Cartoon from 1899

(2/10) Brett:
Great question, Trevor and i think this is one of those very thin lines we need to tread carefully. White people doing nothing is problematic for sure. White people trying to do everything or feeling like they need to swoop in and save the day [white saviour complex is a term for a reason] is seriously unhelpful too. So what's a white middle-aged guy to do? i think, at the very least, that our role is to do the work that needs to be done with white middle-aged men. Call our own to action and to change and where necessary help explain concepts like white privilege and being an ally and sharing some of the lessons we have hopefully been learning as we have started to change. It is a sad reality that many white men will only listen to white men and so another place where we possibly have positive influence is to be able to draw that crowd and then hand over the mic to a black/coloured/indian person. How best do we leverage the white male privilege and influence we have without it being a power move is something to wrestle with i believe?


(3/10) Trev:
I am busy reading a book called 'Factfulness' by Han Rosling. It is a really powerful reminder of how much the world has changed in our lifetimes. It talks about the Drama Instinct, and our need to divide things into categories (Rich/Poor, Developing/Developed, Racist/Not Racist, Us/Them) and create a gap. I worry that in our atonement, we end up focussing on and highlighting real, but increasingly extreme, problems. We feed them. We (cough) elect them. Partnered with that, I am reading 'Trying not to Try' by Edward Slingerland on the Chinese idea of Wu Wei - action through inaction. I have always been what we called at Westville Boys' High a 'Try Hard'. Sometimes I think we end up falling over ourselves in our desperation to be agents of change. To hold that mic in the first place to be able to hand over.

(4/10) Brett:
i think in South Africa we have had too long a time of white people on the whole not contributing much to the betterment of our country. i don't think it takes any action or effort to locate the privilege we have or the mic - i think what is key is what we do with what we have. i also believe that most significant change will come through relationships and if we all just focused on developing deeper authentic relationships with people who didn't look like us then the majority of that other stuff will naturally be taken care of from the foundation or platform of friendship and family. i think i disagree with you on the not-trying part - i don't think white people in South Africa right now need to be given more license to not do stuff.

(5/10) Trev:
Yes, the stuff I am reading about certainly doesn't sit well with how we were brought up. We are wired on action and rolling your sleeves up. On 'doing stuff'. It is interesting watching the miracle happening around the world, but particularly in China and India, over the last 30 years. As people are empowered through the removal of obstacles. The type of action I am suggesting isn't doing nothing. It is more opening our eyes and curiosity to the things that are going well, and feeding them. Often 'giving back' from a Privileged position feels hierarchical and condescending. I will include the cartoon you shared, which you then asked for a discussion around, which led to this exchange. I 100% agree it starts with developing more relationships. Most relationships I have seen that thrive have a degree of peer-to-peer respect and (wink, wink) Common Change. The irony implicit in Wu Wei is that 'not trying' opens up spontaneity and more effective action, because of the natural flow of things. Instead of fighting.

(6/10) Brett:
i completely agree that developing more relationships is the way to go and if the focus is on that then you can probably eliminate a lot of the trying. The white people i think of when i talk about those who have not made effort have particularly not made it in the area of relationships and so they tend to live in largely white bubbles and black/coloured/indian people tend to be the people who serve them [be it homes or petrol or groceries] which is problematic if that is the only narrative because then you don't have to teach your children how to be prejudiced at all because the lesson is being modelled day in and day out. i do still think because of the extent of the inequality in South Africa that action has to be a part of moving forwards even beyond relationships [or around the foundation of relationships]. It is not enough to say let's be better from now when the difference it still so glaringly stark. How does your thinking relate to this aspect of life? 

(7/10) Trev:
I just think we end up focusing on the dramatic and missing the miraculous shift of the normal. So the Purple Cow gets the attention. The type of situation you describe was absolutely normal growing up. I had no people who weren't Germanic in my class until I was 12. I was lucky to have parents who taught me about what was going on, and to live in a relatively liberal place. Even then, Westville was by no means an exception to the Apartheid Bubble in terms of prejudice. Westville today has come on in leaps and bounds. It is not the same place. The 'gap' between Black and White has disappeared, and there are now heaps and heaps of positive examples of the kinds of conversations that need having. There is still a gap between the averages, but not a hole without real people. Just think of the variety of views in our Social Media conversations. I am not saying the example you highlight is okay. It isn't. I am not asking you to change what you are doing (I got in trouble after our last conversation on anger). I still do a lot of fighting and focusing on the things that aren't right. I just think perhaps we need to be pausing, celebrating, and remembering just what a miracle we have born witness to over the course of our lives.

We focus on the Remarkable, not the average

(8/10) Brett
Well, that is where i would strongly suggest we inject the Both/And over the Either/Or which if i have learned anything over the last four years - and hopefully i have - is the biggest of them all. We tend towards extremes or to putting up boundaries or insisting on labels and so much of that stuff is problematic. Yes, in many cases the gap between black and white has disappeared but also in many cases it hasn't [maybe particularly in Cape Town where we have a bad rep for that sort of thing and well earned] and so we need to celebrate the victories and continue to shout the stories of those doing incredible things [people, communities, organisations] and this i feel could use way more airplay. But at the same time, we need to continue to hold the light in front of those who haven't seen it yet and continue to call them to the table. Have we strayed a little bit from our starting point which seemed to be an acknowledgment that there is work to be done, but when it needs to be done, where is our place as white people in that? What is the Both/And to that question i wonder?

(9/10) Trev
I think we can BOTH recognise that there is work to be done AND celebrate the progress that has been made. We can BOTH have a positive impact AND not fall to our 'gap instinct' of having to create an us and them to understand things. As the walls of Apartheid have fallen, perhaps our eyes need updating from 1994 to 2018. Much like the Africa of the 'Do they know it's Christmas time at all' from 1984 needs updating in the minds of those in the United Kingdom. I don't think we need to be panicking and shouting to make real change. That can be true at the same time as not believing that the extremes are justified. To return to the start... I think the lessons of 'Civilising Missions' of the past and unintended consequences mean we should always be armed with a mirror, a feedback loop, and the knowledge that we are probably wrong in the way we see things. We don't need to be passive. Curiosity and love aren't passive... and we both know a dude who lived 2000 years ago who was both.

(10/10) Brett:
i really just wanted to say 'Yes!' as my final comment but people would suspect it wasn't me. i love the idea of being "armed with a mirror, a feedback loop, and the knowledge that we are probably wrong in the way we see things" and also that "curiosity and love aren't passive". i have the strongest belief that whether people believe Jesus was God or not, we can learn so very much from the way He lived and the things He said. If there was ever someone who so completely got it. But He was known to shout and throw things when necessary and so again i will invoke the Both/And and suggest that perhaps one of the biggest challenges we face is figuring out the timing and audience for both. Jesus tended to humble [humiliate?] those who felt like they had it or knew it or were it. The woke crowd of His day perhaps? So maybe the biggest lesson out of all this is that we can leave the Saviouring to Jesus and seek to live out our curiosity and love unashamedly, while not giving in to who the world suggests should and shouldn't be loved.