Telling the world how smart we are


This is a variation on our need to win. We need to win people’s admiration. We need to let them know that we are at least their intellectual equal if not their superior. We need to be the smartest person in the room, the sharpest knife in the drawer. It usually backfires.

Many of us do this covertly and unwittingly all day long. We do it whenever we agree with someone offering us some practical advice, whenever we nod our heads impatiently while people are talking, whenever our body language suggests that we are not hearing something we haven’t heard before.

We do this more overtly when we tell someone, “I already knew that” or we say “I think someone told me that,” to the sarcastic, “I didn’t need to hear that,” to the downright arrogant, “I’m five steps ahead of you.” The problem here is not that we are merely boasting about how much we know. We are insulting the other person.

MBA students always compete in class and in their group sessions to show off how smart they are. In some business schools there are marks allocated for class participation, basically showing off how smart you are in class will earn you higher marks.

On completion of their MBA degrees, these students will show off their smartness in conferences or workshops by asking “smart questions” sometimes even asking questions they already know the answers to.

These are people who tend to use knowledge as therapy. There is a cliche that says the only way to know that a person has an MBA degree is that they will tell you they have an MBA.

Social media is a classic evidence of how people compete to show the world how smart they are. Twitter is a platform where occasionally people will argue about issues and more often it is about a competition of their smartness, and not necessarily about the real issues.

To some people a tweet is an invitation to argue and show off their smartness.

What we are really saying is by this behaviour:

“You really didn’t need to waste my time with that information. You think it’s an insight that I haven’t heard before. But I agree with you and totally understand what you are saying. You mistake me, the ever so wise and lovely me, for someone who needs to hear what you are saying right now. I am not that person. You are confused. You have no idea how smart I am.”

Imagine if someone actually said all that to your face. You will think they are losers. But that’s what people hear (and think) when you say, “I already knew that.” You are better off hearing them out and saying nothing at all. The paradox is that this need to demonstrate how smart we are rarely hits its intended target.

Being smart turns people on. Announcing how smart you are turns them off.

So, how do you tone down the need to tell the world how smart you are? The first step is recognising your behaviour. Have you ever done this? Stopping this behaviour is not hard, a three step drill in which you :

(a) Pause before opening your mouth to ask yourself, “Is anything that I say worth it?

(b) Conclude that it is not; and

(c) Say, “Thank you.”

There is nothing wrong with being smart, but how you brandish it in the face of others show lack of emotional smartness.


Your business is not your life.

Make a living
Business owners, especially those just starting out, often make the mistake of getting caught up in the day-to-day operations of their business—the work of running the business so much so that they don’t take time to consider how the business runs.

Your business and your life are two totally separate things.

At its best, your business is something apart from you, rather than a part of you, with its own rules and its own purposes. An organism, you might say, that will live or die according to how well it performs its sole function: to find and keep customers.

Once you recognise that the purpose of your life is not to serve your business, but that the primary purpose of your business is to serve your life, you can then go to work on your business, rather than in it, with a full understanding of why it is absolutely necessary for you to do so.

This is where you can put the model of the Franchise Prototype to work for you.

Working on your business rather than in your business will become the central theme of your daily activity, the prime catalyst for everything you do from this moment forward.

How do you work on your business?

Pretend that the business you own—or want to own—is the prototype, or will be the prototype, for 5,000 more just like it.

Not almost like it, but just like it. Perfect replicates. Clones.

In other words, pretend that you are going to franchise your business.

And if you are going to set up a model that is the prototype, there are rules you must follow:

– The model will provide consistent value to your customers, employees, suppliers, and lenders, beyond what they expect.

– The model will be operated by people with the lowest possible level of skill.

– The model will stand out as a place of impeccable order.

– All work in the model will be documented in Operations Manuals.

– The model will provide a uniformly predictable service to the customer.

– The model will utilise a uniform color, dress, and facilities code.

If you are going to create a business that serves your life, you must create an organisation that will stand on its own.

You need a model that is systematised so that it functions the same way every time, and can be run by people with the lowest skill level. Then, you can step away. And that is the mark of a true business owner—the ability to enjoy the freedom of owning a business, without the requirement of doing work in the business everyday.

Look at your business – Can it function in your absence? If not, what would it take to get it there?

Get to work on your business not in your business.

Six short notes about meetings

Having attended a number of various meetings in the past of the two weeks, some long, others short, here are some of the short notes I made about meetings:

1. There are 2 types of meetings – decision-making and status update meetings. Both should be kept short and only include the relevant people.

2. Milestones: Work with short milestones, ideally 2 weeks. 6 month road maps are highly inaccurate.

3. To inspire a team, tell a good story. Then break it down into an execution plan.

4. Decisions – half the work is getting the right information. The other half is getting the right people behind it.

5. You can’t leave any chance for misunderstanding, or for even one person to walk away from a meeting with different conclusions.

6. Always know the current status and context: You should always know where key people in the company stand on what’s important and why

Highlights of Governor Gill Marcus’s Interest Rate Announcement: 29 January 2014

Gill Marcus
The following are some of the key highlights from the Governor of the Reserve Bank Ms Gill Marcus speech on the interest rate announcement:

• Rand impacting on SARB’s inflation forecast. 2014 forecast now above 6%. Domestic demand not driving inflation.

• 2015 SARB inflation forecast at 5.9%

• SARB concerned about the outlook of growth regarding emerging market economies and also patchy in Europe.

• Monetary policy differences between different countries helping to generate volatility in emerging markets

• Deficit countries like Brazil, Turkey and India have been raising rates.

• Rand inflationary pass through has been less than expected.

• Rand affected by deteriorating in the terms of trade, strikes

• Wide current account deficit is exacerbated by strikes in mining sector

• Growth is expected to be 2.8% in 2014, revised down from previous

• Manufacturing down but construction stronger. However construction outlook is mixed. Job losses in mining & construction worrying

• Private sector loans & advances to private sector are moderate.

• Small decline in household debt to disposable income

• Food inflation have been the main driver of downside surprises in recent inflation data

• Low food inflation unlikely to persist. Acceleration expected.

• Main focus by the MPC: low growth but higher inflation with upside risks.

• Also concern over capital outflows.

• Rate hike 50 basis points, repo rate at 5.5% taking the prime lending rate to 9%

• 50 basis points – against consensus but sensible and should not surprise.

• Hike not intended to support the rand.

• Main purpose of hike is to anchor inflation and monetary policy still regarded as accommodative. This means more hikes if rand weakens more

• The hike more substantive than symbolic. Unstated implications is to reinforce confidence, as it was the right even if unpopular decision

• The South African Reserve Bank has to now grapple with stagflation. Inflation is ultimately an obstacle to growth. Negative short term; positive long term

• Overall impression: a professional SARB governor. Prepared to take the difficult decisions despite election. Reinforces SARB independence

Don’t drink your own Kool-Aid

Startups are hot again. I have family members and friends asking if they can “get in on some deals,” every town is launching an incubator (or 3) and the papers are filled with stories of fund raisings, product launches & new innovation.

If you’re one of the anointed few who is getting the adoration of the press, family and friends, investors and employees, enjoy the moment and capitalise on the momentum but stay grounded.

On Kool Aid:

I want to talk about Kool Aid. Yours. Don’t drink it. I know you’re thinking that you have your head on straight but I promise you the experience of finding yourself in this wind-whirl will leave any first time entrepreneur spinning.

Fame and adoration corrupts first timers. And if you’re not careful you might start to believe your own hype.


If they say your idea sucks:

– listen to the feedback;

– take notes;

– and ask for contact info;

– Then go fix the problems, or come up with another idea; and

– demonstrate you listened.

“But what if I fail?”

You will.

The answer to the what if question is, you will.

A better question might be, “after I fail, what then?”

Well, if you’ve chosen well, after you fail you will be one step closer to succeeding, you will be wiser and stronger and you almost certainly will be more respected by all of those that are afraid to try.

~ Seth Godin