Start something: Where is the Director of Starting?


“What do you do here.”

That is one of my favourite questions I often ask people in companies. It is interesting to hear people describe their roles, their jobs, their sets of tasks.

Some people are self-limiting, I do administration, I’m the PA, some people are even proud of their limitations “I only do this, they don’t pay me to do this, I’m not doing anything extra beyond what they pay me for.”

Other people are grandiose in their response: “I’m responsible for running the branch.”

Almost no one says, “I start stuff around here,” or proudly limiting themselves by saying “I only get paid to initiate things,” or grandiosely says “I’m the chief responsible for initiating things around here.”

This is surprising if you think about it. If there is no one starting stuff, then where does innovation come from in your company?

No, I’m not talking about ideas, there are plenty of ideas, I’m talking about starting.

If no one starts stuff at work, where is innovation going to come from?

Where is the Director of Starting, where is the Department of Starting, the Starting Team?

Clearly there is guy in charge of the plant or the sales force or the money. But who is in charge of “yes, go ahead, start it?”

We have a lot of Directors of the Status-Quo, their job is to ensure that we do what we have always been doing, keep things as they have always been. They are the director of “No” [to new things], we need directors of “Yes.”

Most organisations are missing the Director of Starting, probably that’s why innovation always lags behind. To such organisations it is better to follow than start.

Nokia adopted the same approach, hence the CEO recently said, “we did nothing wrong, but we lost,” and then cried. They didn’t start anything new.

If there is no Director of Starting, or Director of Yes, it is unlikely that staff will start things, it is unlikely that an organisation will be innovative.

Don’t touch it you will break it or touch it and make it better? Growth comes from touch it and make it better.

Start something: Take initiative


The subtle beauty about initiative is that it is not given, you just take it. 

Unlike taking an apple or my spatlho, there is no loss to the rest of us. After you take it, we all benefit.

You don’t need permission, in fact you already have permission.

You have permission to create, to speak up, and stand up.

You have permission to be generous, to fail, and to be vulnerable.

You have permission to own your words, to matter and to help.

No need to wait.

Start something: Fail, fail, fail, succeed


The reason why people don’t start things is because they are afraid they will fail.

The reason they are afraid to fail is because they will be laughed at, shamed and shunned.

This is how we have been indoctrinated from a young age that we laugh and shame at those who fail because we are made to believe that they are not good enough.

The school system has ingrained in us to play within the rules, do as we are told, follow our teacher’s instructions, and we will be fine.

We carry this indoctrination throughout our lives, doing nothing new, creating nothing new because we are waiting for someone, our supervisor, manager, or boss to tell us what to do next.

When the teacher is not in class we play, when the boss is not at work, we idle because there is no one to give us instructions on what to do next.

So we grow up seeking out bosses and supervisors because without them telling us what to do, we are lost.

It more like a free bird looking for a cage, because once it is caged, it will be managed and told when to eat and drink. According to the bird, by flying freely in the open air, it risks getting lost, it risks looking for food by itself and so it is better to be caged, be feed and be instructed than to hunt for yourself.

School does not teach initiative, it does not teach getting lost in the open sky, it teaches obedience.  

So we insulate ourselves from failure by doing what is proven to work before.

Starting something brand new is risky because it exposes us to the risk of failure and if we fail, we will be laughed at, shamed and shunned.

If you never fail, either you are really lucky or you haven’t created and delivered anything new.

But if you succeed often enough to be given the privilege of failing next time, then you are on the road to a series of failures.

Fail, fail, fail, succeed – you get the idea.

Talk to any successful person. She will be happy to tell you about this long string of failures.

I started businesses, and they failed. I organised conferences, and had to cancel some of them, I failed. I wrote certain blog articles, they were not good enough, I failed. I wrote small books and failed. I got bankrupt and lost everything, I failed.

The winning part? I learned from each of these failures.

When you do something new, something untested, you will fail at some point.

I’m not encouraging failure for the sake of failure. I’m encouraging learning how to fail.

The best way to fail is to fail quickly, fail forward, fail cheaply and fail small. A pilot cannot experiment a new landing method while carrying 200 passengers in the plane.

Fail in the small, fail with things that will still keep you in the game.

With each failure, don’t miss the lesson.

When no one retweets your first twitter entry, you don’t quit social media. You tweet again tomorrow and the day after.

When you were a toddler learning to walk, you fell at your first attempt, you didn’t gave up on walking, you didn’t say, “I quit, this walking business is hard,”  instead you laughed at yourself and tried again, until you walked properly. You failed your way to success.

The more you fail, the more you learn, and the more you grow.

I personally think straight A students miss the point of school. That’s why Straight A students work for average C students in their businesses or they become academics at universities. Post school, straight A students never take risks, because they are afraid to fail. Average C students are willing to take risks because failure is not fatal to them. Having taken enough risks, Average C students’s businesses succeed to the point that they employ straight A students.

Strive to be a straight A student by all means, we want smart students but never insulate yourself from failure.

I think those who fail the most, win. Because they learn the most.

Every time I meet my entrepreneur friends, we talk about things we failed at. When I have to meet one of them in a week’s time and I haven’t failed at anything, I have to make sure that I go out there, try something new and see how it goes so that I have something to contribute in our discussion when we meet.

In innovation and creativity you will fail, if you are not willing to fail and learn from your failures, maybe consider getting something safe, like a job. Wait, today’s jobs are no longer safe. Basically you have nowhere to hide anymore.

Start something new. The sky won’t fall because you failed.


Start something: …and the fear of being wrong


Of course, the challenge of being the initiator, someone who starts somethings, someone who picks herself is that you will be wrong.

You will pick the wrong thing, you will initiate something that will fail and you will waste time, you will be blamed.

This is why being an initiator is valuable. Most people shy away from the challenge.

People have been too abused, ridiculed and shamed when they failed, now they are too fearful to starting something new, they hold back, they are happy to let someone else take the heat and start something.

Taking initiative is scarce. Hence valuable.

Digging holes on the side of the road is common in South Africa streets, digging holes is not scarce.

It is not hard at all to find manual labor at minimum wage, which is precisely why manual labor gets paid minimum wage.

It is extremely difficult to find smart people willing to start useful projects. Because sometimes what you start does not work.

The fact that it does not work every time should give you confidence, because it means you are doing something that frightens others.

The reason we don’t take initiative is the fear of being wrong. It is not surprising that we hesitate. Starting something new maximises the chances of ending up wrong.

Here is the nightmare: The boss finds someone who did something wrong and she hassles/disciplines/humiliate/fires her.

If you are not wrong, that’s not going to happen to you. You will keep your job, all you have to do is keep a low profile at work and things will be okay.

On the other hand, here is another scenario: The boss finds someone who didn’t start, who never starts, who always studies or criticises or always plays devil’s advocate, and she hassles/disciplines/humiliates/fires her.

Oops forgive me for teasing you: that never really happens.

The typical industrial revolution, factory-centric business places a premium on not wrong, and spends no time at all weeding out those who don’t start. Instead those who initiate nothing are safe.

In the connection economy, the networked economy, the innovation-focused business has no choice but to obsess about those who don’t start. Those who don’t start are not welcomed in today’s businesses.

Today, not starting is far, far worse than being wrong.

If you start, you have a chance at evolving and adjusting. You can turn your wrong into a right. But if you don’t start, you never get a chance.

Change comes from people who initiate things, new things, things that matter. Taking initiative is the hard part.

Are you a hider or a starter?

When was the last time you started something new. How did it go, why did you stop? Were you shamed? Did it succeed? Did you start again? How is going?

How about creating a new song, writing a new book, drawing a new painting, creating a new project, starting a new movement doing work that matters, starting a new business, opening a new branch, doing another conference with amazing speakers.

It’s easier said than done, but once you get into the habit of starting and doing, it get’s easier.



I’M POSSIBLE by Bongani Bakae (20)


One of the best honors one can be afforded is the opportunity to write a book, but even more is the opportunity to review a raw, naked manuscript and contribute to the revieing and editing  of a book.

My greatest pleasure and joy is to see people around me share their thoughts through blogging and writing. I believe everyone should write, not necessarily to write for everyone to read, but to write for yourself.

“Here I wrote this, what do you think?” has to be one of the scariest things to do, yet one of the best ways to structure your thoughts and to grow intellectually.

When a young man at the age of 20 approached me to help him write, review, and edit his book, I didn’t hesitate to say yes.

I met Bongani about three years ago when I was facilitating an entrepreneurship program at a Schools Entrepreneurship Camp in Kasane, the northern part of Botswana. He struck me as one of the most bright students in the group. Having aced his matric and now studying in Moscow, Russia, in his first year last year, he wanted to write a book.

I had the pleasure of reviewing and contributing to the book and also wrote a foreword to the book.

At the age of 20, he published his first book, I’m so looking forward to more books to come.

Personal Message to Bongani Bakai:


Bongani, I was impressed with your performance at the Schools Camp, but now I’m more proud of you writing this book.

Initially I was a bit weary and I never thought you will see this project to the end, but you took me by surprise and you persisted with writing until the end while at the same studying full time in a foreign country.

I remember your dedication, discipline, tenacity to this book when we started this journey.

I remember your emails late at night when you were submitting chapter after chapter after chapter to me for review.

I remember the days when you had to go back and forth changing, updating, writing and re-writing each chapter.

I remember the days we had to come up with the book name, we must have went through 30 names or so until we settled for one.

Working with you on this book made me realise one wish that was granted to me in my short life, the gift of friendship with a young writer.

I’m so proud of you. You are an Outlier.
Keep up the good work. You are indeed POSSIBLE.
May God bless you with more possibilities.

My foreword to the book

“No need of a story,” Beckett wrote in “Texts for Nothing,” “a story is not compulsory, just a life.” But in storytelling you can’t have one without the other. Life and stories go together. It is compulsory, though it goes without saying now, that everyone has a story and will probably want to tell it (and should be free to); that there is every need for a story, that the one thing everyone does have inside them is a story, and that they might even suffer from not telling it.

In I’M POSSIBLE, you get stuck with the story, and the story becomes compulsory. In an age of storytelling in which life stories, lives recovered in words, have become our inspirational literature, there is always the risk of fixing and healing ourselves.

Great stories succeed because they are able to capture the imagination of large or important audiences.

A great story is true. Not necessarily because it is factual, but because it is consistent and authentic.

Great stories make a promise. They promise fun, safety or a shortcut. The promise needs to be bold and audacious. It is either exceptional or it is not worth reading.

Great stories are subtle. Those with subtle beauty don’t scream for attention, but instead are happy with who they are without having to manipulate others through using their physical beauty to feel that way. Talented writers understand that allowing people to draw their own conclusions is far more effective than announcing the punch line.

Great stories don’t always need more than 200 pages book. Either you are ready to listen or you aren’t.

Great stories don’t appeal to logic, but they often appeal to our senses. Pheromones are not a myth. People decide if they like someone after just a sniff.

Most of all, great stories agree with our worldview. The best stories don’t teach people anything new. Instead, the best stories agree with what the audience already believes and makes the members of the audience feel smart and secure when reminded how right they were in the first place.

Stories make it easier to understand the world. Stories are the only way we know to spread an idea. Writers didn’t invent storytelling. They just perfected it.

I can’t do this. I’m not good enough. I will never be a success. There lies keep us from living, working and dreaming. It doesn’t have to be this way.

In I’M POSSIBLE, Bongani shares a story that reminds us that people who come from worse than most people have the ability to change the course of humanity.

I’M POSSIBLE is great story of overcoming impossibilities.

Roche Mamabolo

Entrepreneur and author of The Start-Up Revolution: Fit In or Stand Out. Avid blogger: You can read Roche’s blog every day for free by Googling Roche Mamabolo’s blog



Sooner or later, the critics move on…


Sooner or later, the ones who told you that this is not the way it is done, the ones who found time to sneer, they will find someone else to criticise, ridicule and shame.

Sooner or later, critics stop pointing out how much pride you have, how you are not entitled to make a new thing, how you will fail and certainly regret your choices.

Sooner or later, your work speaks for itself. 

Outlasting the critics feels like it will take a very long time, but you are more patient than they are.

For everyone trying to be creatively disruptive, to really innovate, to change the status quo in a significant way, to fix a broken system, to replace an unjust leader, to give voice to the silent, the shift those “social tectonic plates” … if you are persistent and patient, your day will come and the naysayers and critics will move on to criticise somewhere else.

Some people are unable to be happy for others.

My friend and business associate Dr Lucas Moloi recently blogged about people’s refusal to sharing good things, he says:

“People fail to share a smile when one does well without our help because we want it mentioned that it is because of us that they succeeded.”

Wouldn’t it be great to be gifted?

Pencil Vs Camera
Pencil Vs Camera

Wouldn’t it be great to be gifted? Don’t you wish you were born talented:

In fact… It turns out that:

– choices lead to habits;

– Habits become talents;

– Talents are labeled gifts.

When Aristotle says “We are what we repeatedly do, therefore excellence is not an act but a habit”

It means we were not born excellent, we get to be excellent through our habits.

The fact that you are gifted in art does not make you a great artist, what makes you a great artist is the choice you make to do art, the habits you acquire to be an excellent artist.

Having a gift to lead, does not make you a leader. Learning to lead and leading makes you a leader.

Everyone is born, leaders are made, entrepreneurs too.

We are all gifted, some people never open their packages.

The hard part: Doing it again the next day


Working on the hard part is about risk.

It begins when you deal with the things that you would rather not deal with:

  • Fear of failure;
  • Fear of standing out; and
  • Fear of rejection.

Doing the hard part of your work is about training yourself to leap over this barrier, tunnel under that barrier, drive through the other barrier.

And after you have done that, to do it again the next day.

Value lies in doing the hard part, there is less value in doing what anyone can do.

The hard part: The struggle is part of the journey


Every time I read a management or self-help book, I find myself saying, “That is fine, but that was not really the hard thing about the situation.”

The hard thing is not setting a big, hairy, audacious goal. The hard thing is retrenching people when the company is going down. 

The hard thing is look at someone in the eye and telling them they don’t have a job anymore, a job they desperately need.

The hard thing is not hiring great people. The hard thing is when those “great people” develop a sense of entitlement and start demanding unreasonable things.

The hard thing is not setting up an organisational chart. The hard thing is getting people to communicate within the organisation that you just designed, to work as a team.

The hard thing is not dreaming big. The hard thing is waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat when the dream turns into a nightmare.

Great entrepreneurs face the pain. They deal with the sleepless nights, the cold sweats, and what the great Alfred Chuang (legendary cofounder and CEO of BEA Systems) calls “the torture.”

Whenever I meet a successful entrepreneurs, I ask them how they did it. Mediocre entrepreneurs point to their brilliant strategic moves or their intuitive business sense or a variety of other self-congratulatory explanations.

The great entrepreneurs tend to be remarkably consistent in their answers. They all say, “I didn’t quit.”

The hard thing about hard things is there is no formula for dealing with them.

Hard things are hard because there are no easy answers or recipes.

They are hard because your emotions are at odds with your logic. They are hard because you don’t know the answer and you cannot ask for help without showing weakness. They are hard because your mind tells you to give up, but your heart say “I can’t.”

The role of an entrepreneur is to deal with the challenges, the Struggle.

The Struggle is when you wonder why you started the company in the first place.

The Struggle is when people ask you why you don’t quit and you don’t know the answer.

The Struggle is when your employees think you are lying and you think they may be right.

The Struggle is when food loses its taste.

“Life is struggle.” I believe that within that quote lies the most important lesson in entrepreneurship: Embrace the struggle.

For every big mistake you make, there is a big lesson to learn, don’t miss the lesson.

Contribute to your business by spending time on asking and answering the hard questions.

Lastly have a good support structure, a good partner, or good friend who will see you during the struggle.

No matter who you are, you need two kinds of friends in your life. The first kind is one you can call when something good happens, and you need someone who will be excited for you. Not a fake excitement veiling envy, but a real excitement. You need someone who will actually be more excited for you than he would be if it had happened to him.

The second kind of friend is somebody you can call when things go horribly wrong, when your life is on the line and you only have one phone call.

The struggle is part of the journey.

The hard part: Value is in the hard parts


In an industrial setting, the obvious plan is to seek out the easy work. You are more likely to get it done with less effort and then move on. The easy customer, the easy gig, the easy assembly line.

Today, though, it is the difficult work that is worth doing.

It is worth doing because difficult work allows you to stand out, create value and become the one worth choosing.

Seek out the difficult, because you can. Because it is worth it. Values lies in the ability to handle difficult conversations successfully.

The new definition of hard work is no longer about hard physical and long hours doing the same thing over and over again, that is long work. Hard work is about doing the difficult creative, emotional labour, and confronting the hard parts of your business everyday.

Working smarter is working on the difficult parts only and letting the easier parts of the business be done by other staff. If it can be delegated, let it be delegated.

Once you get to overcome difficult things, they then become less difficult. Most things are difficult before they become easy.

Each success buys you an admission ticket to do more difficult work. The more difficult work you do, the more valuable you become.

There is too much competition in the easy parts, there is less competition in doing the hard parts.

Taking nothing away from other subjects, Mathematics was a difficult subject for most students at high school, which made it more valuable.

A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” — John A. Shedd. 

The entrepreneur’s role or the role of any game changer is to do the difficult parts.

Leaders do the difficult parts and followers do the easy parts.

You lead from the front during difficult times, you lead from the back during easy times.

[An aside for entrepreneurs and anyone starting a new project: if you cannot describe the hard parts, how will you focus on them? And if there are no difficulties ahead, what makes you think your project is valuable? When I meet an entrepreneur, I always ask this question first, which part of your project is hard?]








The hard part: Hard work on the right things


I don’t think winners beat the competition because they work harder. And it is not even clear that they win because they have more creativity.

The secret, I think, is in understanding what matters.

It is not obvious, and it changes. It changes by culture, by buyer, by product and even by the day of the week. But those that manage to capture the imagination, make sales and grow are doing it by perfecting the things that matter and ignoring the rest.

Both parts are difficult, particularly when you are surrounded by people who insist on fretting about and working on the stuff that makes no difference at all.

Getting your ducks in a row is not the hard part, the hard part is what are you going to do with your ducks.

What matters is the hard parts in a project, in a venture. Getting the hard part right is the key to unlocking value.

When you have a lot of balls in the air, it is easy to just ignore the ones that makes you uncomfortable or that might fall.

We prefer spending our times doing tasks that comes easy and natural to us. We prefer the easy wins, we ignore the hard part or leave them to last.

We prefer doing what makes us comfortable. We work hard on the easy things.

Success comes from doing the hard part. When the hard part is all you have, you are more likely to do it.

It is easy to have ideas, but difficult to implement them. It is easy to say I love you, but quiet another to put the work to support the words.

Spend 80% of your day doing the hard parts and 20% doing the easy parts.

If it scares you, it might be a good thing to try.

Invent your next chapter.

The hard part: One of the hardest things is…


…. admitting when you are wrong.

It is easy to hide, to ignore, to say you didn’t do that or didn’t say, or to say you said even when evidence proves you are wrong.

Admitting that you are wrong is rare, which makes it more valuable than hiding.

There is no better test to a man’s integrity than his behavior when he is wrong.

Being wrong is not fatal, it is merely something we would prefer to avoid. Admitting that you are not wrong in the face of contrary information is fatal.

We have the privilege of being wrong. Not being wrong on purpose, of course, but wrong as a cost on the way to being right.

Do the hard work, admit when you are wrong. Be humble enough to have the presence of mind to admit when you are wrong.

The cost of being wrong is less than the cost of hiding.

Being strong means admitting when you are wrong. No one is perfect, it is better to be vulnerable than to hide.

Vulnerability is the bridge to connection. When you are vulnerable, people feel you, not everyone will feel you, but those who matter will.