It’s deep inside

A carpet of fallen Jacaranda flowers covers a sidewalk in Pretoria. ©O.Mkandawire/ESCP
A carpet of fallen Jacaranda flowers covers a side-walk in Pretoria. ©O. Mkandawire/ESCP

Pretoria is affectionately called the Jacaranda City. One cannot escape the imposing majesty of these beautiful trees when they bloom in early October as spring turns to summer. The carpet of purple on the streets from the fallen flowers is the last marker as we race towards the close of the year and to the wonderful festive summer break. You can almost tell the mood of the city by looking at these trees.

At ESCP, we are calling our October picture gallery, “Purple Rain” and I thought it would be timely to borrow a lesson from the jacarandas for this week’s post. Imagine someone coming to the city in June and getting very disappointed that the jacarandas look barren with their dry leaves and certainly no flowers. Would it be fair on the trees and the city? The certainty of the seasons is reflected in nature; and the beauty of the jacaranda’s bloom is hidden potential that is revealed only at the proper time. One season hides the beauty while another reveals it.

Our own lives are similar in that we are born with an internal compass. Like a line drawn from one point to another, I believe we are meant to be striving towards something; growing and blooming through the seasons of life. Whatever we become, like the jacaranda trees, we leave an impression on the world around us. I am particularly convinced of this by what is written on a person’s tombstone. Allow me to give a fictitious tombstone heading: Jane Doe. Born: 1 January 1980. Died: 31 December 2000. Buried: 01 January 2001. This life can allow us to draw a 20 year timeline for Jane Doe. Viewed in this way, we can see how the quality of the memories she leaves behind will be influenced by the decisions she made in the various seasons of her life. Where are you in your timeline? What season is your life in? How do you want the world to remember you?

Till the next time,


Don’t be the weakest link

chainEvery person’s life is a link in a chain. From our families to the communities that hold our societies together, we form a perpetual link that holds humanity together. Whether our families and communities succeed or fail depends on the quality of decisions made by the individual members; a chain is only as strong as its weakest link goes the old adage.

But what makes a decision good or bad? Surely individual experiences are so diverse that a general rule for good or bad decisions cannot apply across humanity? Rest assured that this is not what I wish to establish in this article. What I want to share is an observation that was brought to my attention at the inaugural Cornerstone Men’s Conference by the keynote speaker, Bishop Simon Peter. Speaking on fatherhood, he said that fathers do one of three things: they perpetuate a cycle or they break a cycle or they start a cycle. Take a moment and think about the role your own father has played in your life. Is there something to emulate and perpetuate? Is there something to deal with and break? Or is there a void that demands a fresh start?

I believe that the quality of your decisions depends on the context that informs them. Looking over my own life, I realise that there was mostly negativity to perpetuate. I therefore found myself needing to break the cycle of failure, absenteeism and selfishness started by my father(s) – a story for another day – and start a new cycle that lays a foundation for others to build on. Most people do not want to think of life in this way because of the responsibility that such thinking brings. The truth is that our lives do form part of a chain and we need to make a habit of thinking of them as such. Our unique voice is where we fit in the cycle – are we perpetuating, breaking or starting a cycle. God put us where we are because he knows the best place for our skills. Our craft is how we shape our skills-set and acquire the knowledge needed to carry out our task. So look around you, your family, your community and your country. What are you going to do about the situations you do not like? What decisions will you make?

My desire is that the younger generation of my family will have relatives they can look up to and a family business they can use to hone their skills; they will have traditions worth perpetuating. This is the context from which I view every sacrifice I have made.

Till the next time,

MC Hammer vs. Dubai

Hammer vs DubaiIn 2005, I was in a mathematics lecture when a thought crossed my mind. Dubai, one of the seven Arab Emirates, now synonymous with wealth and opulence was but a desert 50 years ago. I began to think about how the discovery of oil and its prudent exploitation by the people of the UAE have turned them from poor nomads to one of the wealthiest people on the planet and wondered if there were any parallels I could draw for my own life. Could oil for a nation be equated to musical talent for my life?

As I sat there learning the advanced mathematics that could be applied to finance and statistics, I started to rethink my musical ability. Suddenly I saw it as an oil well that could enrich my life for years to come in much the same way that the oil wells of the UAE had done for that country. I noticed further that the UAE has taken a move to diversify their economy to reduce the dependence on oil and this got me thinking about many artists such as MC Hammer who made and lost fortunes in the music industry almost overnight. I realised that before I made a single dime in the music industry, I needed to know what I would do with it. I needed to plan for the next phase before I had even begun.

You see, in talent management, the planning phase is the most difficult and the most crucial. You need to know that if you have a hit song or get some attention for your work, it will be at the expense of someone else who was famous before you. Stars come and go and so will you. What matters therefore is what you do during the time the spotlight is shining on you and how well you are able to channel that attention in meaningful and profitable ways. The sad reality is that if you are on stage and the spotlight is shining in your face, you can’t see ahead of you –  and this is why you should have done your planning before your vision was compromised.

This reality isn’t just limited to artists or film stars. Professionals too have a similar fate albeit more sinister. It is a fact that most people who retire in South Africa do not have enough savings to maintain their lifestyles after retirement and most live in poverty after they retire. Whereas artists need to take advantage of the spotlight when it shines, professionals need to make the most of their youth and store up for the time when their strength will cease to be what it was.

Back to our oil analogy, I also realised that to exploit oil wells requires a great many skills to take the oil from crude in the ground to the high value refined oil products that bring in the real wealth. I therefore needed to learn all the skills in the music value chain and learn to do them myself because the only progress that matters, is the progress that you can control. Dependence on others to reach your goals always results in frustration. I am not saying that there is no room for working together or creating synergy. No; what I’m saying is that unless you can get into the habit of making small steps and achieving small victories, you will not build the confidence in your own voice which marks the cornerstone of your competitive advantage.

A true artist understands that the creation of art is a luxury – a privilege – and luxuries cost money. This is why besides learning your craft, you need to learn the work of everyone who contributes to your value chain and understand how they make money and then enforce agreements that make sure that if you don’t make money from your talent, no one else should.

Till the next time,

What’s your score? Setting goals that work for you

Goal setting

Life by its very nature is a series of goal-achieving processes that have a cumulative effect on our entire existence. From the moment we are conceived, nature initiates a series of life stages required to help us build the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual maturity needed to live up to the demands of adult responsibility. In an ideal world, these life stages should occur smoothly in a way that rightly equips us for life. Sadly, most people even in adulthood do not have a solid foundation for life and are left to live lives based on correcting one mistake after another.

I developed the following thoughts on goal setting after having tried for many years to find an authentic goal setting method that starts by aiding the building of a solid foundation rather than a correctional method that builds on a shaky structure of bad decisions.

I like to think of goals as a series outcomes that I look forward to and the actions I need to take to realise those outcomes. Actions are the manifestations of the decisions I make everyday. If I look forward to passing my exams, I will take appropriate action by studying. The idea of looking forward to an outcome brings in the aspect of visualising your future because visualisation helps with motivation. If I can see myself passing the exams, I can mentally experience the feeling of passing.

This brings us to a few characteristics of goals. For an outcome to be visualized; a) it has to be specific, which is what distinguishes goals from wishes b) It has to be time bound and C) it has to be easy to refer to and therefore has to be written down.

The three elements -habit, voice and craft – help with goal setting because they help you create a rhythm for your life. I will invert the order of the habits in order to deal with the characteristics of goals.

Find your voice
Voice is personal and in goal setting it dictates that your goals must mean something to you or else you will give up on them very easily. When a goals is meaningful, it becomes easier to reinforce it with visualization. This is why building your life on talent makes sense because your talent is personal and means a lot more to you. Voice will help us create a set of goals that are consistent to one another.

Develop a good habit
Habit in goal setting helps you build momentum. The starting and stopping of one thing after another robs us of progress because we keep losing the gains we make each time we start afresh. Habits are what define what we do with our time and spending our time on the goals we set for building our lives will keep the momentum of progress going in our lives.

Practice your craft
Craft in goal setting deals with the specific way you choose to write and think about your goals. I write my goals starting with What I look forward to today, this week, month, year etc at the top of the page. This helps me keep the goals continually accessible. It is similar to a to-do list except that by saying this is what I look forward to today, I add a visual and emotional aspect to the list and thus create a high interest in wanting to see the goals through. This gives me a degree of confidence which grows with each goal I achieve on the list.

How do you set goals? Has it worked for you? I look forward to hearing from you.

Till the next time,

If life was a manuscript…

Last week I started on the topic of writing; exploring three elements that I believe are central to any writing ambitions. I would like to go further and state that the three elements are general principles, which can be applied to many more creative pursuits including entrepreneurship. Over the next few weeks I will explore those three elements and argue their merits in setting goals, talent management and decision-making. The elements in the order I present them here are; habit, voice and craft.

Habit deals with progressive and consistent action that is designed to build in you the discipline needed to succeed whatever your ambitions may be. The main point behind habitually performing progressive daily actions however small is that it cultivates a mindset that respects small beginnings and a willingness to try. Think of how even the great Usain Bolt was a baby learning to walk long before he became the fastest man in history.

Voice refers to developing your personal tastes and preferences and the confidence to pursue them regardless of how odd they might be to people around you. Perseverance in your habits will ultimately make you comfortable with your own abilities. Think of the Wright brothers who believed in the possibility of flight or Nelson Mandela who believed in the liberation of the South African people. Their causes became the voices that distinguished their work. Voice gives you confidence and is the light that God designed for you to share with the world.

Lastly, Craft encompasses a willingness to learn. Craft is what directs your habits and builds on your voice. Craft is the acquired knowledge and understanding needed to exploit your voice. A lot of people are interested in doing something special, to change the world or live an interesting life, but few are dedicated to these ends. A demonstration of dedication is the amount of time one devotes to acquiring knowledge in their area of interest. Education is meant to open one’s mind to the beauties of universal knowledge and lead to a path of continuous learning – a means to an eternal end and yet people have mistaken education to be an end in itself. Qualifications are misconstrued to mean competency at the expense of insight and imagination. The shock is hitting home as we see more and more unemployed graduates who are incapable of applying their knowledge to make a meaningful start on careers and businesses. Education is meant to teach you craft and cannot give you a voice. It gives you an understanding of the world around you and how to best apply your voice in it. This is why I keep repeating these elements with the hope that by thinking about them, people may be inspired to find a better use for their education other than just earning a living.

Next week we start with setting goals.

Till the next time,

The elements of writing

In an interview, the celebrated writer Christopher Hitchens once made an interesting addition to the famous saying, “everyone has a book inside them”. His addition – and I’ll quote his entire phrase – was as follows, “everyone has a book inside them, which is exactly [where], it should in most cases, remain”. I refer to his rather cynical remark here because its humour masks a truth that applies to life in general, which is the value of perseverance during hardship. Should yours happen to be the book that others believe is best kept inside and yet you are moved by a compulsion to write that will not let you go, the following elements of writing might come in handy no matter what anyone else says about you.

In my observation, writing is a combination of three very subjective elements. I say subjective because the success of any writing depends on so many factors – timing, connections, location, world events and the context they cast on each person’s life- that cannot be predicted in advance. How then, can you increase your chances of connecting with an audience or readership? For starters, you need to write. Facing an empty page can be very daunting because of the pressure to write something great. Element one is Habit. Develop a habit of writing your thoughts routinely at the same time each day. Julia Cameron in her book the “Artist’s Way” calls this “morning pages”, random outpouring of whatever comes to your mind until you fill 3 pages every morning before you start your day.

After following through with the morning pages, I realised that the second element of writing develops out of a self awareness that comes from pouring your thoughts onto the pages over months and years and this element is called Voice. A good example of Voice is the author, John Grisham whose “name has become synonymous with the modern legal thriller*”. It is not a surprise then that John Grisham had the habit of writing in his spare time while he worked as a lawyer in Southaven, Mississippi and served in the state’s House of Representatives from 1983 to 1990. The Law and politics are his voice that he shares through his stories

Another demonstration of voice is Tracy Chapman. If you follow ‘the man’ in her songs you will identify him as being down and out, a dreamer and most often abusive and self destructive and yet she always demonstrates a great love for him. Could this be a mirror of our own societies where women are most likely to be abused or assaulted by a partner? She is a great social commentator and her music cuts across cultures because of its simple truths. Maybe she just practices her anthropology through her beautiful music, watch her video for the song “Fast car” released in 1988.

The final element to writing is Craft. Whatever you want to write – articles, blogs, books, songs, plays, screenplays, reports etc – will have rules and prescribed formats and language within which you will have to work. The rules and formats are there to guide your creativity and not to stifle it. For example to write words meant to be spoken like a play or screenplay, you will need to learn how each format uses words or else you might find challenges when your actors are not able to act out your words in the ways you intended.

Your voice will develop as you practice writing out of habit and it will in turn determine your choice of writing format and style. We can’t all be John Grisham or Tracy Chapman and should not try to be.

Till the next time,

You and me multiplied

This year, I will celebrate Heritage Day, 24 September, with a great sense of appreciation. My descendants are a mix of four countries and a story of people on the move in constant search of a better existence. The stability I experience today feels strange and this Heritage Day is a reminder of the price that was paid for the life I have and the life I dream and work for.

When I think of the struggles of my grandmother or my mother, I see smart women whose lives were mostly about survival and putting out fires, who learnt to smile through the storms of life and to find joy from day to day.

My dilemma after being in one city for 11 years of my adult life is what to do with the stability in my life after so many years of strife. I am slowly walking into my potential with inspired hope. Awake to the fact that I do not have to live a life of survival, I embrace the challenge to explore and exploit my talents and it really is fun. The truth is that I am not the only one facing this challenge. Young people are achieving financial and career success in their twenties and thirties that previous generations achieved only in their forties and fifties. The curious question will be: What is next after you achieve great success so young?

In my opinion, the answer lies deep within us because God placed the answers as seeds of potential. In my own life I see the challenge as not how to make more money but how to maximise myself and do more things with excellence.

A look at my own talents makes me wonder if we are a generation of split personalities juggling multiple careers? It certainly seems to me that whereas successful careers in previous generations were like great trees with strong roots and imposing natures, successful careers in my generation will be like beautiful Persian gardens that are paradises of sustainability and pleasure – multi-talented and multidimensional.

I love making and performing music, I love writing songs, I love writing for different formats,  I love cooking and entertaining, I love designing living spaces and human settlements, I love restoring furniture, I love preventative health, I love publishing books, I love designing theatre shows, I love starting and growing a business, I love advising and coaching leaders, I love working with numbers, I love drawing, I love producing content and creating enabling environments for talented people, I love working with people.

I am also good at these things to the point of being capable of building a career from each one. So what shall I do you ask? Plant a tree?…. No thanks, I will create a garden no matter how long it takes me.

Till the next time,