People around us


There are many ways in which people around you can influence you.

On the positive side, there are mentors [people who guide you to be the best version of what you aspire] and well-wishers [people who wish the best for you].

On the negative side, there are manipulators [people who try to take advantage of you for their benefit] and underminers [people who try to pull you down].

However, this blog post is not about any of them.

It is about everyone around you who have a subtle influence, something that is hard to notice if you don’t zoom out and look at the big picture.

The people around you define what is possible and in some cases they define what is the norm.

You would find that most of the innovation around the world is concentrated in hubs like Silicon Valley, Shenzhen, Tel Aviv, Sillicon Cape, Bengaluru etc.

One of the reasons behind this is the culture: failures are learnings and anything is possible.

The best perks in the top innovative companies are not the free food or the free massages but the people.

The people around you push the boundaries on what is possible. They inspire you, challenge you and bring out the best in you.

So, what can you do? Here are some action items:

Find Like-Minded People – If you would like to maintain a healthy lifestyle, you might consider joining a gym as a good first step.

A better thing to do would be to join a group of friends who workout regularly, who can motivate you and push you.

Sure, you can still get fit with all the people around you criticizing you and pulling you down, but why would you?

Read Books – Broaden your perspective by reading books that challenge your views.

Learn to be nimble and be prepared to be proven wrong.

Reflect – Once a while take time on reflect, think back on the areas of your life you could improve upon.

It is sometimes possible to get caught up in our daily lives and not see the big picture.

Who you hang out with determines what you dream about and what you collide with. To change your future, you have to change your circle.

Market Research: Noisemaking is not a strategy


In a competitive, commercial environment the logic is the more people who know about your business the more successful it will be.

So we make noise.

We make noise on TV, radio, emails, social media, everywhere we are and everywhere where there are people.

Look at me, look at me, buy from me, I am the best.

We prioritise making more people aware.

But if ‘awareness’ is your problem then asking how to get more of it is the wrong question to begin with.

The better place to start is by understanding why the right people don’t already know about your products and services.

The Brand Awareness Checklist

1. Did we make a product people want to buy and then talk about?
2. Why exactly will they want to buy it?
3. Who are our ideal customers?
4. What do they care about?
5. Where are they spending time online and offline?
6. What motivates them to buy products and services?
7. Where are they researching and shopping?
8. Are we where they are, providing the tangible and intangible value they want?
9. Are we communicating with them the way they want to be communicated to?
10. What Job is our solution doing for them?

You can only reap the rewards that come by getting beyond the last question on the checklist when you have successfully answered and addressed the first nine.

Noisemaking may gain you awareness, but it won’t gain you trust.

Trust is built in the quite, conscious listening and seeing your customers.

There is no shortcut to mattering.

Noisemaking is not a strategy.

PS: There is a difference between strategic noise, and noisemaking. Singing the loudest at a soccer game in support of your team is strategic noise, but doing the same in your home street is noisemaking.

7 Crazy Years of Blogging Every Day


Today marks 7 years of writing here on this platform every day.

What started out as a rant about the tragic Marikana event has ended up as a daily blog where I shared my thoughts. Initially it was hard to write every day, but over time, it became a habit, and later an obsession.

I have been reflecting on this 2,588 post journey over the past few days and I thought I would share what I have been most grateful for.

[1] Learning to show up.

I have writing every day since 2012. 7 years later, I believe every person should write or blog every day. Show up every day and share your thoughts.

One reason I encourage people to blog is that the act of doing it stretches your available vocabulary and hones a new voice. You won’t get it for a while, but you’ll get it.

To one person who wrote in and said he did not think he had anything interesting to say, I asked him whether he was boring in person too? Boring at breakfast? Boring on a date? That boring?! Probably not.

Since 29 August 2012, I showed up, every day, did my best to share something of value. On some days, the learnings sucks. On others, it is passable. And, every once a while, it is insightful. But, regardless, I show up, remember to breathe deeply, give thanks, focus on what I’m learning, and share.

It is my daily meditation and I’m not sure what I would do or who I would be without it.

[2] Learning to think and learn.

I started writing here because I was short of confidence after an incident where I would found myself incapable of failing gracefully. I thought writing about my failures may change the way I think about them.

Asking myself “what did I learn?” every day for 7 years has helped me understand what it means to live with a growth mindset.

When you write your thoughts down, you clear space in your brain for more ideas.

The more I write, the more I learn, the more I understanding things I would not ordinarily understand had I not jotted down my thoughts.

I write at least one a day. I queue up the extras, and replace ones I don’t love with a new one.

This discipline does two things… first, it treats each post as a precious opportunity (which it is) and second, it cajoles me into overcoming whatever little voice in the back of my head says “nahhhh.”

[3] Learning to make and keep commitments.

Matt Mullenweg, the founder of WordPress, says that we blog for two people: ourselves and one other person who we can picture reading what we write. The important principle I carry when I write is that I always write for myself.

If I wrote for other people, I would have stopped a lot time ago when people didn’t read my grafitti on my blog wall.

I always tell myself, even if no one reads my blog, I will continue writing.

While I could always count on my close friends to read my notes, I have also met many wonderful people along the way.

The only reason I blog is because I love it.

I love being able to create something that feels like a gift, giving an idea that spreads, that may improve something for someone.

I’m certain [just speaking for myself] that if I figured out a way to profit from it, I would probably be starting down the road to wondering how to maximize that profit, and if I tried to do that, I would fail. The idea is not use reader of this platform for financial gain.

I started writing here because I thought I would learn how to write better and think better.

And, while I hope I have gotten better at that, I am certain that this process has taught me how to live better. And, I could not be more grateful.

Not only did I learn how to write every day, but I also learned commitment… commitment to show up every day even when you don’t feel like it.

The journey is definitely the reward.

Thank you for being part of the journey.


Market Research: The difference between average and exceptional


The service at the restaurant is only as good as the investment the manager makes in training the team.

The quality of the website’s user experience is a reflection of how many hours the developer spends testing and tweaking.

The hours of research the journalist conducts before writing a single word shines through in the genius of the article.

We tend to focus the majority of our thinking on the moment of the performance, forgetting that it’s the work we do leading up to it that makes all the difference.

The things we do when the customer is not looking is what creates remarkable moments and products.

What differentiates the average from the exceptional is not performance, it is preparation.

Research your market, put in the hours, prepare.

Measure twice, cut once.

Market Positioning: Shifting the narrative


In the 1960s, the team of researchers at Vicks Corp. were tasked with finding medication for cold and the flu.

They came back with a solution that worked well except for one major drawback: it caused drowsiness.

Just as they were about to go back to the drawing board, someone [presumably a smart marketer] suggested that they change nothing about the product and, instead, advertise it as a medicine to be taken at night.

Now, it would deal with your sickness while giving you a good night of sleep.

Thus, Nyquil was born. And, the rest as they say, is history.

Shifting the narrative can be very powerful.


Market Research: How much information is enough?


When do we know it is safe to cross the road?

How much information do we need about how far away that truck is and how fast it is going to decide whether it is safe to step off the pavement and cross?

How much information does your customer need before deciding she trusts you?

As people who sell things or ideas, our challenge is twofold.

  • We must understand what information our prospective customers want; and
  • How much information is enough.

All the while remembering that the same information does not work for everyone and we can only ‘know’ with hindsight what messages worked.

Researchers in university departments around the world spend years, sometimes decades, attempting to answer similar questions.

Unlike scientists, we do not have years to discover what is working.

But just like the scientist we must try and test.

When lecturing, the lecturer needs to assess what information is necessary and if she is not overloading her students with too much information.

When mentoring, the mentor needs to decide what information is necessary and if she is not overloading her poor mentee with too much discussion.

When writing, the author needs to decide what information is necessary and if she is not overloading her readers with too much information.

When in a relationship, she needs to decide if her talkathon has not reached a point of diminishing marginal returns.

The thing is we must begin with the posture of empathy for the people we want to reach and resonate with.

The question about what we should say then becomes about what the person we are speaking to is ready to hear.

Market Research: Let me tell you a story


Professor Daniel Kahneman has spent a lifetime researching why and how humans make decisions.

His decades of work focused on the two ways we think and decide using one of two modes of thought, System 1 and System 2.

  • System 1 makes fast, instinctive and emotional judgements; and
  • System 2 operates at a slower more logical level.

Kahneman wrote a five hundred page book on the subject titled Thinking Fast and Slow.

Of course, just like us, even Nobel prizewinning researchers do not usually have a lifetime or five hundred pages to explain the impact of their work.

The thing is we often only have someone’s attention for seconds, let alone minutes.

The mistake we make as entrepreneurs, communicators, marketers and salespeople is believing that we need to give people all the information while we have their attention, that is what we were taught at school.

We were not penalised for writing down everything we knew in an exam.

I always say to my students, rather write more than less during exams. Instead of a blank page, give me something to work with.

The best way to win at exams was to write down everything we knew. But this doesn’t work when we’re face-to-face with people.

But here is the thing with marketing and communication, the goal is not just to deliver the information, it is to capture the imagination.

This is how we communicated as children, in stories, not facts.

But over the years we have unlearned all of that. We stopped telling stories.

If we are serious about making an impact, we need to start reclaiming those innate storytelling skills we once had.

When Professor Kahneman describes how System 1 works, he tells the story about calling his wife Anne on the phone and knowing immediately what kind of mood she is in just by hearing her tone of voice when she picks up.

Whenever he tells that story, the audience laughs, they nod their heads, they immediately get it.

The next time you are asked a question about what you do or why it works, don’t go into a long explanation.

Just start with the words: ‘let me tell you a story’.

When you do your market research, look for stories that resonates with your target audience.

Let me tell you a story.

Market Research: The Walkman decision


There is a great story about a decision Sony made when they created the legendary Walkman.

Against the advice of market research, Sony’s co-founder had asked the engineering team to build a portable music player that would ease the boredom on long flights.

The engineers then came back with what could only be termed a product manager’s dream for nearly the same amount of effort and cost, they were able to add an additional feature, a record button, to this cassette player.

But, to their dismay, Chairman Akio Morita asked them to remove the record button.

By reducing the device to serve a single use case, he eliminated any potential user confusion.

In the same way McDonalds removed steel cutlery from restaurants to make it clear how they wanted customers to eat their burgers, Sony released the Walkman with a lower range of functionality to give them the highest chance to change customer behavior.

And change behavior they did.

You can change behaviour if you know your market.

Knowing your market means spending time to know them.

Research them.

Walk a mile in their shoes.

Market Research: Leave your office


Often when I ask entrepreneurs how big is their market, they don’t know.

Entrepreneurs struggle to assess the size, or nature of their market.

They approach their target market as:

  • If this is a problem for me, then it is problem for everyone.
  • If this is a solution for me, then it is a solution for everyone.
  • If my mother likes my product, then everyone will like my product.

The fact is your mother, or your friends will always give you slightly favourable responses about your product because they don’t want to disappoint you.

However, people out there, strangers who don’t know you don’t care about giving you a favourable or unfavourable response.

Prospective customers care about themselves.

They don’t really owe it to you to give a favourable response to your product/idea.

They don’t owe it to you to buy from you.

So goes the disappointment for entrepreneurs.

Because we assume that if it is great for me, it will be great for everyone.

Well not really.

Do you know your customers?

Have you spoken to them?

Do you know what makes them tick?

Do you understand their hopes and dreams, fears and aspirations?

Do you understand their pain?

A cool product is cool not because you say so, it is cool because customers say it is.

The way to know what your customers think or say about your product/idea is to leave your office and go to them.

Entrepreneurs are not make in the classroom or boardroom, they are made in the art of action, in the streets, in the market where the action is.

Then comes market research, then comes leaving your comfortable air-conditioned offices and going to the streets to talk to your prospects.

Market research links the entrepreneurs to the prospective customer.





A list of alternatives to winning


Instead of always trying to be right and winning, maybe consider:

  • Caring
  • Helping
  • Being human
  • Growing wiser
  • Inspiring others
  • Righting wrongs
  • Upholding values
  • Giving generously
  • Learning patience
  • Prioritising values
  • Practicing empathy
  • Building community
  • Leading thoughtfully
  • Acting with integrity
  • Exploring possibilities
  • Encouraging progress
  • Making a contribution
  • Teaching perseverance
  • Fostering collaboration
  • Experiencing fulfilment
  • Working towards mastery
  • Changing how people feel
  • Questioning the status quo
  • Putting people before profits
  • Creating the future you want to see
  • Doing work you are proud to have done

It turns out there are more ways to matter than just winning.

We get to choose which boxes to tick.

Concerning right


Don’t get distracted by always having to be right.

The only prize for winning that game is loneliness.

There is a difference between what is true and what is useful.


Did I do well?


One of the fascinating vestiges of growing up in education systems that focus on tests is our propensity to ask: “Did I do well?”

It is amazing how much progress we make when we replace that question with: “Did I give it my best shot?”