Empathy: Create something


For entrepreneurs, empathy goes beyond just seeing things from other people’s perspective or understanding how they feel.

It means doing something about it.

It means developing a solution that remedies the situation.

But it starts with empathy, understanding the problem from the customer’s perspective.

Entrepreneurs are problems solvers. Business is about solving problems.

When everyone see problems, entrepreneurs sees opportunities for solutions.

The best way to complain, is to create something.

Creating something with empathy, something that makes our lives better, that connects, that eases the pain, that moves us forward, that makes the journey worthwhile.

People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.



Empathy: You | Me | We


“Sorry” does not mean you caused the pain.

It merely means that you see it, that you have felt pain before in your life as well, that you are open to a connection.

Our ability to bring people along is critical because we are playing a long game, even an infinite one.

Back and forth, day by day, with many of the same people, we are in it for the long haul.

When you see someone else’s pain, when you understand what they are going through, you are able to empathise more.

One day, it will be reversed, and a classmate or co-worker or competitor will be the one that can listen and care about your pain. A pain that might feel very similar.

Gloating about your superior position or silence about their pain closes the door.

Empathy, on the other hand, and the action of speech, of moderation, of connection, can change everything, it opens the door.

And if it has not been present before, it can start right now.

“I see you. I’m sorry for what you are feeling. How can I help?”

It starts with empathy, with understanding, with asking “How can I help?” then it proceeds to designing a solution with understanding, with warmth, with care, with humility.”

It starts with you, and then me listening and understanding your position and then both of us designing solutions that works.

Empathy: Design vs. User Experience


From a Design Thinking principle, empathy is the first step to the problem solving process.

This is with good reason, if we are going to design a solution for a client, it is important that we understand what the client wants first.

Entrepreneurs often think that they know what customers want, without asking or putting themselves in their customer’s shoes.

Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

Understanding what your customer feel is important because you can’t solve her problem, if you don’t understand how she feels. 

It is essential to find empathy for the people you hope to serve, to teach, to work with.

Without empathy, you cannot find the place your customers are stuck, as a result you can’t help them move in the direction they seek to go.

Empathy is about Batho Pele [People first].

Empathy is solving a problem that is valuable to customers, not you the entrepreneur.

Empathy is designing a product that customers want, not what you think they want.

But empathy goes beyond just what customers want but:

  • are you marketing to your customers the way they prefer?
  • are they transacting with you the way they prefer? and
  • are they using the product the way they want to use it?

At the centre of all this, is the customer.

As an entrepreneur are you humble and empathetic enough to listen to your customers.

When it comes to designing offerings for customers, listening is the new talking.

Listen more than you talk.


Low-key: Have less, do more


A simple life is a life of both less and more.

It is a life of less distraction, less consumption, and less of the inessential, to make room for more mindfulness, more intention, and more of what matters.

If one’s life is simple, contentment has to come. Simplicity is extremely important for contentment.

Having few desires, feeling satisfied with what you have, is very vital: satisfaction with just enough food, clothing, and shelter to protect yourself from the elements.

Living a simple life does not mean you lack ambition.

What it means is that you choose to keep things simple so that you can focus on more important.

When you have less distractions, you are able to focus more.

The trouble with simple living is that, though it can be joyful, rich, and creative, it is not simple.

People struggle to live a simple life. Being content with less is hard for many people.

We are born in a world of chasing. Chasing good grades, chasing a great career, chasing an awesome partner, chasing a deal and another one, chasing a big house, chasing more money, more friends, more clothes, more shoes, bags, books, followers, power etc.

This is an endless chase. We never arrive to the destination.

Stopping this chase and saying enough, what I have is enough and I don’t want more is something very rare.

Contentment is not reached by seeking more, but by enjoying less.



Low-key: You are enough


Living a low-key life does not mean you are not ambitious.

It does not mean you are aiming for an average life.

Living a low-key life does not mean you have a low self-esteem about yourself.

Living a low-key life means your measure of what is important in you is not the same as what society deems as important.

You can be low-key person and run a successful organisation.

Being low-key is as a result of recognizing that you are enough with yourself and that you don’t have to prove anything to anyone before you get enough.

Unfortunately, being low-key is not for the present pop culture.

Everyone is encouraged to consume more, self-promote more, and do things that makes them look successful and richer.

Looking successful and being successful are not the same.

You don’t have to prove a point.

You are enough

You may not be perfect, but you are good enough and that’s what matters.


Low-key: Seeking validation


When you paint a picture, perhaps no one will walk by, see your creation, and gaze upon it in awe.

Perhaps no one will tell you that it is beautiful, that they see the painstaking detail you took in bringing paint to canvas, that you should keep painting.

When you play a song, perhaps not a soul will stop to listen, or perhaps they will listen as they would listen to elevator music.

Perhaps they will hear it, but not hear it.

When you write a poem, perhaps people will not read it, and perhaps those who do read it will not get it.

Because people seek validation, we hide our art, poems, songs because we are afraid we will be rejected.

How many paintings are locked inside the artist, for fear of what happens (or what does not happen) after they are channeled through the fingers and brushes?

How many songs remain unsung and inside, for fear of being received by no audience?

How many poems are unwritten, for fear of being misunderstood?

When you keep a low profile and focus on your art, when you write that poem and that song, you will attract a niche group of people, what Seth Godin calls a tribe.

When you do your art not because you want to be popular, but because you care, you will attract people who care.

Even if no one reads my blog, I will continue to write.

Don’t do it for fame, don’t seek validation, don’t look for permission.

You are already famous to your family and circle of friends, your talent is validated by God and you have permission [not that you needed it in the first place].

Do what you love, without seeking validation.

You are not your likes, retweets, followerships or shares.

Actually you are more than that.

Start, do your best, you will find your way on the way.

Let your smile change the world, don’t let the world change your smile.

PS: Yes get feedback, get critical and constructive feedback, work hard to improve, but don’t wait to be validated before you start, start and then get feedback from people you trust.

Low-key: Successful and not popular


Most people seek success and share the view that one of the things that makes you successful is when you are popular.

In an endeavor to be popular, they befriend popular people, want to date popular people, because this somehow will make them feel either popular by association or successful by association.

I have learned that the vast majority of successful people who ever lived are people you have never heard of.

If we are to drill down further and consider happy successful people, it is almost certain that we have not heard of them.

Only a very small number of stories and identities make their way into the history books or into legend, and by definition, those that sought fame and fortune beyond what any human could possibly enjoy, are often over-represented among them.

Everywhere you look, people seek more followers, more influential people in their circles, some brag about being connected to so and so powerful/popular person.

We seek to read books of and by popular people, we attend events of popular people, we want to wear clothes designed by popular people, we want to be in the same vicinity with popular people.

So why are some of the most successful people not popular, for two reasons:

Survivorship bias or survival bias

This is the logical error of concentrating on the people or things that made it past some selection process and overlooking those that did not, typically because of their lack of visibility. This can lead to false conclusions in several different ways. It is a form of selection bias.

The media and society has a selection bias towards certain people, either because they look a certain ideal way, they talk a certain ideal way, they hang in with other popular people.

Once the media likes you, they will make you famous.

This is where you find people who are popular for being popular. They are not known for certain specific things, they are just socialites.

Keeping a low-key life

Second reason is that the unknown/anonymous successful people consciously choose to be unknown/anonymous.

Those who don’t make the media/society cut, even though they are successful, remain unknown and anonymous.

They deliberately choose to shun the spotlight, to keep a low-key life.

They believe that a private life is a happy life.

What does this have to do with you?

Isn’t there someone whose status and success you envy? Someone who has gotten more recognition, who has sold more books or albums or stuff, who has won more awards or set more records?

And when we think of these people, we think, “Oh, they are the lucky ones. They got what I should have gotten.”

But is that really true?

Most people with a public persona tell you that the downsides outweigh the upsides.

When the Minister of Finance in South Africa, Minister Tito Mboweni was recently appointed, he jokingly said in an impromptu interview, that he will have to leave his private life at home from now on.

Off-course, it’s not all bad of course, but there are real problems that go along with fame and fortune. Less of private life, you become a target for those who don’t like you, you are constantly under surveillance, you can’t have a bad day, people want to befriend you for your position, not for who you really are, the pressure to keep up is high and this results in stress.

Maybe the lucky ones are the hidden figures.

When you find yourself pining for fame and recognition, stop and consider what it might actually feel like when you get it, why you think you will be the exception to the rule.

The motto of the philosopher Epicurus, which was taken up by the great essayist Montaigne as well, was lathe biōsas:

Live in obscurity. 

The French saying, Pour vivre heureux, vivons cachés:

“In order to live happily, live hidden.

My people, Mapedi say: Moja sa gagwe wa iphihla, loosely meaning:

“He who is doing very well, don’t show.

You can be successful, you don’t need popularity to validate that.


Sometimes you get tired


… And the going gets tough.

You wish you could just give up and let the load off your shoulders.

And then you look back how far you have come.

You think to yourself, do I still go on or do I just let go and embrace the freedom of not having the load?

I’m strong, but I’m tired.

In a long distance race, everyone gets tired.

The winner is the runner who figures out where to put the tired, figures out how to store it away until after the race is over.

Sure, he is tired. Everyone is. That is not the point. The point is to run.

It is okay to be tired. Rest, walk, drink water, sleep, take a break, but don’t give up.

Learn to rest, not give up.

Saying goodbye


One of my favorite restaurant in town closed about two months ago.

For weeks, there was a sign about renovations.

Then a new sign, this one promising big things.

Then, of course, the “for rent” sign from the broker.

A software service I used for a while sent me a note today that read:

Please note that the service has reached end of life and is scheduled to be decommissioned on Monday, October 15th.  Once the service has been taken down, all content will be deleted.  It is very important that you transfer your data to another service provider prior to this date to avoid data loss.

That’s it. The entire note.

One last example: someone I mentored a while ago changed his mind after the first session. He never showed up again. Didn’t answer calls or email. Just vanished. Not dead, just never scheduled subsequent sessions.

It seems to me that you ought to say goodbye with the same care and attention to detail and honesty you use to say hello.

You never know when you will be back.

“You said hi and left without saying goodbye.”

H is for Humility: Humility from confidence


One of the most important lessons I have learned from Professor Clayton Christensen, one of the most celebrated thought leaders on disruptive innovation from Harvard University is on humility.

Prof Clay Christensen is of the view that:

Humility is a fundamental byproduct of confidence, not modesty or self-deprecation.

The people in my life whom I most admire for their prowess in a given area the most are both confident in themselves and confident in their abilities to accomplish the task at hand.

What I have learned from my mentors and other people I deem as successful is that:

Humble people do not need external validation.

Humble people have quiet confidence.

And, the corollary of that observation, that arrogance and ego fundamentally stems from insecurity intuitively made sense to me as well.

According to Prof Christensen, humble people stood out because: They had a high level of self-esteem. They knew who they were, and they felt good about whom they were.

Good behavior flows naturally from that kind of humility.

You can be humble only if you feel good about yourself.

Humility comes from confidence.

H is for Humility: To be or to do


“Tiger, one day you will come to a fork on the road,” Boyd said to him.

“And you are going to have to make a decision about which direction you want to go.”

Using his hands to illustrate, Boyd marked off these two directions.

“If you go that way you can be somebody. You will have to make compromises and you will have to turn your back on your friends. But you will be a member of the club and you will get promoted and you will get good assignments.’

Then Boyd posed, to make the alternative clear.

“Or,” he said,

“You can go that way and you can do something, something for your country and for your Air Force and for yourself. If you decide you want to do something, you may not get promoted and you may not get the good assignments and you certainly will not be a favorite of your superiors. But you won’t have to compromise yourself. You will be true to your friends and to yourself. And your work might make a difference.”

This extract from Ryan Holiday’s amazing book “Ego is the Enemy” got me thinking.

To be somebody or to do something.

In life there is often a roll call. And like Ryan puts it, it’s a fork on the road, and like they say, when you arrive to the fork on the road, you have to decide either you take it or leave it.

You have to decide whether you are driven by position or by doing work that matters.

Reality says that many people are driven by position, incentives, commitments, recognition, awards etc.

Ego aids in that deception every step of the way.

But the thing is appearances are deceiving.

Our obsession with positions is driven by ego, our obsession with doing work that matters is driven by purpose.

Having authority is not the same as being an authority.

Having the right and being right are not the same either.

Being promoted doesn’t necessarily mean you are doing good work and it doesn’t mean you are worthy of promotion.

Impressing people is utterly different from being truly impressive.

The choice that Boyd puts in front of us comes down to purpose.

What is your purpose? What are you here to do?

Purpose helps you answer the question: To be or to do?

If what matters is you, your reputation, VIP status, inclusion to the club, your personal ease of life, your path is clear: Tell people what they want to hear. Befriend people as a stepping stone to climbing the ladder. Seek attention over the quiet but important work. Say yes to promotions and generally follow the track that talented people take in the industry or field you have chosen.

Purpose on the other hand says:

It is about the doing, not the recognition.

Purpose is not: “Who do I want to be in life? but instead: “What is it that I want to accomplish with life?

Purpose sets aside self-interest, it asks:

What calling does it serve?

Next time you encounter a fork on the road, ask yourself:

Does it serve my ego or does it bring a difference.

Am I making this decision based on the glitz and glamor or on the difference it makes in my environment?

To be or to do, life is a constant roll call.



H is for Humility: When the student is ready….

squirrel 2

Here is the thing about ego, you stop asking questions or seeking assistance because you tell yourself you know.

You actually believe people should come to you for help or advice. As a result you don’t seek mentorship, you don’t ask questions, you don’t register for any course.

You don’t seek feedback, so that you can improve.

Pride dulls your hunger.

In order to subdue pride and ego, we must adopt the attitude of being a student.

When you learn from someone, you swallow your pride and place yourself in a position where you acknowledge that someone knows more than you.

The power of being a student is not just that it is an extended period of instruction, it also place the ego in someone else’s hands.

By being a student, you acknowledge that you are not better than the “master” you apprentice under.

You defer to them, you absorb and learn from them.

We don’t like thinking that someone is better than us, or that we have a lot left to learn. We always want to be done, to have arrived, to be at the top.

The thing is that false ideas about yourself destroy you.

To tame ego, we must consider adopting the attitude of being a student. Always stay a student.

That’s what martial arts are about, and you have to use that humility as a tool.

You put yourself beneath someone you trust.

This begins by accepting that others know more than you and that you can benefit from their knowledge, and then seeking them out and knocking down the illusions you have about yourself.

The act of being an eternal student keeps men and women humble.

Humility constantly reminds us that we don’t know enough and that we must continue to learn.

Ego blocks us from improving by telling us that we don’t need to learn more.

Then we wonder why we don’t get the results we want, why others are better and why their success is more lasting.

When we allow ego to lead us, we stop our progress in life.

Ego tells us that we shouldn’t submit ourselves to anyone, and in the process we lose the opportunity to learn from others.

We don’t read books, we don’t attend conferences, we don’t seek a mentor, we don’t register for a courses [even free ones], we don’t volunteer, we don’t job-shadow,  because our ego tells us we don’t need those things. We are smart, we don’t need those things.

We must be on guard against this wild self-confidence and self-obsession.

The first product of self-knowledge is humility.

Now I understand better the old Buddha proverb that says,

“When the student is ready…. the teacher appears.”

When we are ready to make positive changes in our lives, when we are ready to humble ourselves and learn from others, we attract whatever we need to help us.

PS: I have seen students with ego, the mere fact that you are a student doesn’t mean you are without ego. You want to see ego? Check out final year MBA students from a “prestigious” institution. Such people use their education to reinforce their ego, to demonstrate how smart they are compared to others. When they get their Phds, everyone must know and call them with the appropriate designations because “they worked hard for it” as they say.