Measuring what matters: Our challenge

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One of the biggest challenges with designing a good life for ourselves is that the stuff we measure our days, weeks, and even months with is not how we measure our life as a whole.

The stuff we measure our life with; living with integrity or building a few deep relationships with people we care about for example, come with no awards, no vanity metrics, no promotions, and no recognition.

And, just in case that was not hard enough, there are often minimal signs of progress for long periods of time.

On the flip side, most of the stuff that seems to loom large and feature so prominently in the near future [e.g. work/career milestones or fun side projects] seem to matter for the longest time… until they don’t.

It is not easy to measure integrity, consistency, commitment, and focus. These are things that are not visible to flaunt to your peers. And so we don’t measure them.

Job titles, number of likes and followers, number of places checking in at various destinations are things we can measure and show off. And so we focus on measuring them.

What truly matters is hardly measured, and what is not fundamental, is what we spend our time measuring.

It is the classic urgency vs. importance prioritisation problem.

And, as is the case with most things, it is much easier to talk about thinking long term/balancing the short and long term than it is to actually do it.

PS: This is much like building good products. The foreseeable future seems more important than it is.

 

Book Review: Betting on a Darkie: Lifting the Corporate Game by Mteto Nyati

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This book is about the journey of an over-achiever, a corporate leader who had to overcome being the only black person in places that his achievements have taken him.

Being the only Darkie [black person] in senior positions in apartheid South Africa was hard. You had to prove yourself twice, being as good as anyone else in the room and dispelling the myth that black people as not as good.

In this biography, Rre Nyathi, takes you through the journey of his corporate career and personal life.

He comes from a middle-class family background. His mother ran a store [Embekweni Store] in Tabase in Eastern Cape and father a teacher and principal. His mother was a qualified teacher as well but cashed her pension, bought a cream Toyota Hilux single cad, which had a bench seat and loaded it with stock in Mthatha.

He briefly takes us through his upbringing, his schooling life and university days.

Mteto is a hardworker there is no doubt about that, but couple with a good family background that instilled discipline and mentored him at a early age, he was able to use that to propel himself forward in life.

The bulk of the book focuses his working life, the first company he worked for and how he navigated his career, from South Africa, to working in Europe and USA, and coming back home and being appointed CEO in major companies.

He has had to transform companies who when he joined as CEO were  mainly 100% untransformed, and had to transform the executive teams and at the same time very important follow that with good financial results.

He is the old-school kinda leader, sober, not excitable, pretty much a safe pair of hands. As a typical engineer, his approach to issues is that of rational, problem-solving step by step manner.

He is not philosophical about issues, he sees an issue, a problem, and then he looks for ways to solve the problem. Pretty much the Bill Gates approach to problem solving, less emotion and more calculations and systems.

When he joined MTN [South Africa’s major network provider], it was in the middle of a protracted labour strike of over two months. His first task was to end the strike and he was able to do that within a week of being appointed.

In most of his appointments, he managed to deliver the results at MicroSoft South Africa, MTN South Africa, and now he is delivering good results at Altron, the company he is current CEO.

What I loved about this book the value Rre Nyathi attaches to mentorship.

Someone who has achieved what he has so far, he still values having a mentor. He seeks and listens to advice from his mentors.

Rating:

7/10

This is a book about leadership. If you are looking for a role model and mentor in corporate leadership I recommend this book.

Favourite Quotes:

  • “Show me the heroes that the youth of your country look up to, and I will tell you the future of your country.”
  • “Revering big talkers and fast-living populists is dangerous because they seldom propose concrete solutions. Instead, they say one thing and deliver another, and like to promote the belief that ‘clever’ is bad.”
  • “If you want to take the system down, provide a better alternative at least. At heart I’m an engineer. I want to encourage people to fix things, not to raise false hopes.”
  • “To my mother, nothing was impossible. She was the only woman in the area with a Code 10 [heavy duty] driver’s license and her actions sent a message to others in the community; don’t wait for things to come you. Eventually the shop did so well and expanded so much that she took on some employees, bought a Mazda truck and hired a driver.”
  • “Communication through the media is key. If we don’t provide information, how will ordinary people know that Altron assists money-lending businesses to do client assessment…”
  • “The writing is on the wall: millions of individuals will be displaced by automation in the next 50 years, but what’s important to remember is that humans are in control. No matter how far into the unknown technology takes us, the drivers will always be irrational, emotional and unpredictable humans.”
  • “One of the greatest values of mentors is their ability to see what you may not be able to and help navigate a course.”
  • “You should not tell your mentee what to do. All he or she needs is advice and guidance.”
  • “When people transcend their differences and work together to achieve common goals, greatness is possible.”

Born a Crime – my favorite quotes

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Just went back to re-visit one of my favourite books I read recently by Trevor Noah.

Born a Crime is South African stand-up comedian [and The Daily Show host] Trevor Noah’s autobiography.

Trevor Noah manages to be fascinating, funny, poignant and insightful all at once.

The book resonated very deeply as he touched so many topics I think about all at once, poverty, crime, opportunity, race, relationships, and so more.

I thought I would share my favorite quotes sorted by topic:

On advice to poor people

“We tell people to follow their dreams, but you can only dream of what you can imagine, and, depending on where you come from, your imagination can be quite limited.” 

“People always lecture the poor: “Take responsibility for yourself! Make something of yourself!” But with what raw materials are the poor to make something of themselves? People love to say, “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” What they don’t say is, “And it would be nice if you gave him a fishing rod.” That’s the part of the analogy that’s missing.” 

On racism

“In any society built on institutionalized racism, race mixing doesn’t merely challenge the system as unjust, it reveals the system as unsustainable and incoherent. Race mixing proves that races can mix, and in a lot of cases want to mix. Because a mixed person embodies that rebuke to the logic of the system, race mixing becomes a crime worse than treason.”

“Racism teaches us that we are different because of the color of our skin. But because racism is stupid, it’s easily tricked.” 

“In South Africa, the atrocities of apartheid have never been taught that way. We weren’t taught judgment or shame. We were taught history the way it’s taught in America. In America, the history of racism is taught like this: “There was slavery and then there was Jim Crow and then there was Martin Luther King Jr. and now it’s done.” It was the same for us. “Apartheid was bad. Nelson Mandela was freed. Let’s move on.” 

On poverty, and crime and the law

“The hood made me realise that crime succeeds because crime does the one thing the government doesn’t do: crime cares. Crime is grassroots. Crime looks for the young kids who need support and a lifting hand. Crime offers internship programmes and part-time jobs and opportunities for advancement. Crime gets involved in the community. Crime doesn’t discriminate.” 

“It’s easy to be judgmental about crime when you live in a world wealthy enough to be removed from it. But the hood taught me that everyone has different notions of right and wrong, different definitions of what constitutes crime, and what level of crime they’re willing to participate in. If a crackhead comes through and he’s got a crate of Corn Flakes boxes he’s stolen out of the back of a supermarket, the poor mom isn’t thinking, ‘I’m aiding and abetting a criminal by buying these Corn Flakes.’ No. She’s thinking, ‘My family needs food and this guy has Corn Flakes’, and she buys the Corn Flakes.” 

“The more time I spent in jail, I realized law is a lottery. What color is your skin? How much money do you have? Who’s your lawyer?”

On observations about pro-white biases

“If you’re Native American and you pray to the wolves, you’re a savage. If you’re African and you pray to your ancestors, you’re a primitive. But when white people pray to a guy who turns water into wine, well, that’s just common sense.” 

“The name Hitler does not offend a black South African because Hitler is not the worst thing a black South African can imagine. Every country thinks their history is the most important, and that’s especially true in the West. But if black South Africans could go back in time and kill one person, Cecil Rhodes would come up before Hitler. If people in the Congo could go back in time and kill one person, Belgium’s King Leopold would come way before Hitler. If Native Americans could go back in time and kill one person, it would probably be Christopher Columbus or Andrew Jackson.”

“What I do remember, what I will never forget, is the violence that followed. The triumph of democracy over apartheid is sometimes called the Bloodless Revolution. It is called that because very little white blood was spilled. Black blood ran in the streets. “

On relationships

“Relationships are built in the silences. You spend time with people, you observe them and interact with them, and you come to know them, and that is what apartheid stole from us: time.” 

“Growing up in a home of abuse, you struggle with the notion that you can love a person you hate, or hate a person you love. It’s a strange feeling. You want to live in a world where someone is good or bad, where you either love or hate them, but that’s not how people are.”

“People say all the time that they would do anything for the people they love. But would you really? Would you do anything? Would you give everything? I don’t know that a child knows that kind of selfless love. A mother, yes. A mother will clutch her children and jump from a moving car to keep them from harm. She will do it without thinking. But I don’t think the child knows how to do that, not instinctively. It’s something the child has to learn.” 

“It taught me that it is easier to be an insider as an outsider than to be an outsider as an insider. If a white guy chooses to immerse himself in hip-hop culture and only hang out with black people, black people will say, “Cool, white guy. Do what you need to do.” If a black guy chooses to button up his blackness to live among white people and play lots of golf, white people will say, “Fine. I like Brian. He’s safe.” But try being a black person who immerses himself in white culture while still living in the black community. Try being a white person who adopts the trappings of black culture while still living in the white community.” 

On being human

“Nelson Mandela once said, ‘If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.’ He was so right. When you make the effort to speak someone else’s language, even if it’s just basic phrases here and there, you are saying to them, ‘I understand that you have a culture and identity that exists beyond me. I see you as a human being” 

“We live in a world where we don’t see the ramifications of what we do to others because we don’t live with them. It would be a whole lot harder for an investment banker to rip off people with subprime mortgages if he actually had to live with the people he was ripping off. If we could see one another’s pain and empathize with one another, it would never be worth it to us to commit the crimes in the first place.”

“When you shit, as you first sit down, you’re not fully in the experience yet. You are not yet a shitting person. You’re transitioning from a person about to shit to a person who is shitting. You don’t whip out your smartphone or a newspaper right away. It takes a minute to get the first shit out of the way and get in the zone and get comfortable. Once you reach that moment, that’s when it gets really nice. It’s a powerful experience, shitting. There’s something magical about it, profound even. I think God made humans shit in the way we do because it brings us back down to earth and gives us humility. I don’t care who you are, we all shit the same. Beyoncé shits. The pope shits. The Queen of England shits. When we shit we forget our airs and our graces, we forget how famous or how rich we are. All of that goes away.”

On life

“Hustling is to work what surfing the Internet is to reading. If you add up how much you read in a year on the Internet—tweets, Facebook posts, lists—you’ve read the equivalent of a shit ton of books, but in fact you’ve read no books in a year.” 

“Being chosen is the greatest gift you can give to another human being.”

“The first thing I learned about having money was that it gives you choices. People don’t want to be rich. They want to be able to choose. The richer you are, the more choices you have. That is the freedom of money.” 

“We spend so much time being afraid of failure, afraid of rejection. But regret is the thing we should fear most. Failure is an answer. Rejection is an answer. Regret is an eternal question you will never have the answer to.” 

On advice from his mom

“Trevor, remember a man is not determined by how much he earns. You can still be a man of the house and earn less than your woman. Being a man is not what you have, it’s who you are. Being more of a man doesn’t mean your woman has to be less than you.” 

“People thought my mom was crazy. Ice rinks and drive-ins and suburbs, these things were izinto zabelungu, the things of white people. So many people had internalized the logic of apartheid and made it their own. Why teach a black child white things? Neighbors and relatives used to pester my mom: ‘Why do this? Why show him the world when he’s never going to leave the ghetto?’

‘Because,’ she would say, ‘even if he never leaves the ghetto, he will know that the ghetto is not the world. If that is all I accomplish, I’ve done enough.” 

It is a wonderful book, one that reminded me how lucky I was at so many important points in my life. I would highly recommend it.

Thanks for sharing your story, Trevor.

 

 

Book Review: Talking to Strangers by Malcolm Gladwell

Talking to Strangers

As fan of Malcolm Gladwell’s work, it is not a surprise that when this book came out a few weeks ago, I just had to get my hands on it.

What is Malcolm on about in this book?

Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know is book about meeting and talking to strangers.

In today’s connected world, we have no choice but to talk to strangers.

But how much do we know about people we meet at the airport, at a conference, online, or at the shopping mall?

Not much really.

Do we know how to read stranger’s demeanor and intentions accurately?

Not really.

A police officer stops you on the side of the road and starts talking to you, both of you are strangers to each other.

You meet this person at a conference and you start talking to each other, in business circles we call it networking, basically two strangers talking to each other.

A young person goes to a party, consumes a lot of alcohol, gets drunk in the midst of other people, who are strangers.

Online, we meet many people we don’t know, strangers.

We think we can transform or impress strangers, without cost or sacrifice, into the familiar and then known, and we can’t.

Malcolm Gladwell shares a number of stories about strangers, and consequences of what happens when conversations between strangers goes horribly wrong.

We assume the best of intentions on people we meet and don’t know and we come to suffer the consequences.

We trust people we should not trust, and they sexually violate us.

We trust people we do not know with our money, and they turn out to be schemers and fraudster.

We trust law-enforcement officers to do their job properly, only to learn that they are biased against us.

We see someone smiling and we assume they are okay, only to learn that the same chirpy person committed suicide.

We trust a teacher, an uncle, a family member who is an outstanding member of the family and community, only to learn in horror that this person is molester of kids.

Why do we do that?

It is very difficult to tell when people are lying. According to Timothy Levine, the academic psychologist on whom Gladwell relies on as a core thesis of this book.

We default to the good we expect in people, only to be proven wrong later.

Rating 

9/10

This is an important book, unlike his other amazing books.

This not an inspirational, step-by-step, this-is-how-to-succeed kinda book.

It is an important book because we meet and interact with strangers daily. We think we know how talk and read strangers, and it turns out we actually don’t.

After reading this book, I know that I will look at strangers differently, and that I will be a different stranger to others.

From that perspective, I recommend that anyone reads this book.

The stories are amazing, some stories towards the end are sad [especially the suicide stories] and some stories can make you angry [the Sandra Bland story].

Favorite Story

  • If I can convince you of one thing in this book, let it be this: Strangers are not easy… We think we can easily see into the hearts of others based on the flimsiest of clues.

  • “We have people struggling when when they have months to understand a stranger. We have people struggling when they they meet someone only once, and people struggling when they return to the stranger again and again. They struggle with assessing a stranger’s honesty. They struggle with a stranger’s character. They struggle with a stranger’s intent. It’s a mess.”
  • “Transparency is the idea that people’s behaviour and demeanor, they way they represent themselves on the outside, provides an authentic and reliable window into the way they feel on the inside. It is the second of the crucial tools we use to make sense of strangers. When we don’t know someone, or can’t communicate with them, or don’t have the time to understand them properly, we believe we can make sense of them through their behavior and demeanor.”
  • “Why can’t we tell when the stranger in front of us is lying to our face?”

  • “Christmas is always a bad time: the terrible false jollity that comes out at you from every side, braying about goodwill and peace and family fun, makes loneliness and depression particularly hard to bear.”
  • Poets die young. That is not just a cliche. The life expectancy of poets, as a group, trails playwrights, novelists, and non-fiction writers by a considerable margin. They have higher rates of “emotional disorders” than actors, musicians, composers, and novelists.”
  • “We should also accept the limits of our ability to decipher strangers.”

  • “Because we don’t know how to talk to strangers, what do we do when things go awry with strangers? We blame the stranger”

Source of credit

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If, when working with you, you let them take as much credit as they want…They will always come back to you and work with you because you are the source of credit and they want more.

No one is walking around thinking ‘Ya know what, I’ve been given enough credit for my work.’

So let them have it.

The long play that starts working in your favor is that you will be able to choose who you get to work with.

Finances: Are you penetrating or skimming?

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There are two strategies to apply when setting your prices: Price skimming vs. Price Penetration

Price penetration is when you charge a low price, in the beginning, to derive maximum sales volume from the price-sensitive customers.

Price skimming is when you set high price to attract buyers with a strong desire for the product and then gradually reduce the price to attract the next and subsequent layers of the market.

When you adopt price skimming, you are likely to have fewer clients [less volumes], but that’s okay because your high prices will compensate for less transactions.

Ship manufacturers will be happy if they sell about 1 or 2 ships per year because ships are high margins low volumes products.

When you adopt a price penetration strategy, you are in the volumes game.

Since you are charging low prices which will result in low margins, you will have to push more volumes so that you can make decent sales amounts.

The biggest mistake I see entrepreneurs and I have made before is to use low prices as a competitive advantage.

When I charge a car wash at R40, my competitor next door can easily charge R35 because he wants to compete.

Next week, a new competitor comes along and because he wants to compete with us, he charges R30 because to get clients…. and so on and so forth….

Then it becomes a race to the bottom.

Someone else is always willing to go a rand lower than you are in order to compete.

The problem with the race to the bottom is that you might win [and be bankrupt]. 

Every great brand [even those with low prices] is known for something other than how cheap they are.

In the long run, to be the cheapest is a refuge for people who do not have the flair to design something worth paying for, and who do not have the guts to point to their product or their service and say:

“This is not the cheapest, but it is worth it.”

Finances: Price is perception

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One over-looked factor when discussing finances is setting your selling price.

How do you set your selling price?

When doing an event, what informs your ticket prices?

When sewing a custom-made dress, why sell it at that price?

When writing a book, producing music, painting artwork, why that selling price?

When drafting a proposal for consultancy work, what informs your hourly rates?

When I ask entrepreneurs what informs their selling price? The common answer is:

“I’m charging according to what my competitors are charging.”

This may not be inherently wrong, [if you are selling a commodity] but your competitors may not be aligned to your business goals.

So, what is selling price actually?

Accountants will tell you that selling price is cost price of manufacturing or acquiring a product plus a percentage of profit margin.

However, customers don’t care about your costs, they look at your product and they attach value.

To customers:

Price is the perception of value you will derive from a product.

When you visits other markets [especially informal markets] you will realise that most stalls don’t have price tags.

Price is a negotiation between the buyer and seller’s perception of value.

So when the buyer asks:

“How much is this?” 

She has opened the negotiation.

The answer often tends to be hazy and ultimately the seller will respond with a question:

“How much do you have?”

The test is that of the buyer’s perception, what is her perception of value for the product?

The supplier knows her price, but the test is what is the price the buyer is willing to pay?

It is more about perceptions and value than it is about numbers?

Understand your value and then charge accordingly.

Finances: Wearing diamonds or digging for diamonds?

Once we have acquired the discipline to manage our personal finances, we can replicate that discipline to our business finances.

Let’s use a painfully simple example. Your business is to buy and sell juices.

Let’s say you buy one juice at R30, and sell it at say R50. So you make a profit of R20 per juice.

Does this mean you are running a profitable business?

No.

Juice R
Selling Price R 50.00
Cost Price R 30.00
Gross Profit R 20.00

Yes it is great to have a profit of R20 per juice, but is it enough?

The mistake that entrepreneurs make is to mistake a profitable product for a profitable business.

Having a profitable product, is not the same as having a profitable business.

What is a profitable business?

Let’s say you have the following fixed operating costs in order to run your business per month:

Fixed Operating Costs R
Salaries R 15,000
Rent R 5,000
Insurance R 1,500
Marketing R 500
Total R 22,000

So what will it take for the business to be a profitable business?

If the business is profitable, you are wearing diamonds [You are doing very well, your finances are looking good]

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If the business is not profitable, you are digging for diamonds. [You are sweating, working very hard]

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How many juices should the business sell before it is profitable? [Meaning how many R30 profits/per units do we need to cover all the business expenses?]

Let’s say we sell 500 juices in a month? Is this amount enough to cover all our business expenses?

When selling 500 juices
Juice R 500 units

[R x Units]

Selling Price R 50.00 R 25,000
Cost Price R 30.00 R 15,000
Gross Profit R 20.00 R 10,000
Fixed Operating Costs R
Salaries R 15,000
Rent R 5,000
Insurance R 1,500
Marketing R 500
Total Expenses R 22,000
Loss – R 12,000

Selling 500 juices per month does not cover all the business expenses.

Yes the product is profitable at R20 per juice, but the business is not profitable because at 500 juices, we make a loss of R12,000.

AT 500 juices, you are digging for diamonds.

What happens when we decide to sell 1100 juices?

When selling 1100 juices
Juice R 1100 units

[R x Units]

Selling Price R 50.00 R 55,000
Cost Price R 30.00 R 33,000
Gross Profit R 20.00 R 22,000
Fixed Operating Costs R
Salaries R 15,000
Rent R 5,000
Insurance R 1,500
Marketing R 500
Total R 22,000
Profit/Loss

When we sell 1100 juices we break even. Business covers all the expenses for the month.

Unfortunately a lot of business suffer financially because they don’t know their break-even and as a result, the owners are busy selling juices [500 units] but are frustrated when the business is not making unaware that they are not selling enough to cover the total operating costs of the business.

Knowing the difference between a profitable product and a profitable business and understanding the break-even target for your business will help you better managed your finances.

What if we set our target to sell 2000 juices per month?

When selling 2000 juices per month
Juice R 2000 units

[R x Units]

Selling Price R 50.00 R 100,000
Cost Price R 30.00 R 60,000
Gross Profit R 20.00 R 40,000
Fixed Operating Costs R
Salaries R 15,000
Rent R 5,000
Insurance R 1,500
Marketing R 500
Total R 22,000
Profit/Loss R 18,000

When we set a target of selling 2000 per month, we make a profit of R18,000 for that month. We are really wearing diamonds at this rate.

It is important to understand what amount of juices should we sell in order for us to be profitable.

Understanding a break-even point for your business is a scoreboard that informs you if you are winning or losing this finance game.

Finances: What’s your capacity?

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There is a leadership principle by John Maxwell called the Law of the Lid.

This principle talks about your capacity to lead people.

If your capacity to lead is low, the lower your lid, the few or no person you can lead.

If your capacity to lead is high, the higher your lid, the more people you can lead.

So here is an example:

If your capacity [lid] is to lead 10 people and you are given 100 to lead, 90 people will leave you.

However, if your capacity [lid] is to lead 100 people, and you are given 10 people to lead, 90 people will join you, because you have the capacity to grow from 10 to 100.

I think the same principle applies to your finances.

You financial lid determines the amount of money you can manage.

If your financial capacity [lid] is R10,000 and you are given R1 million. You will squander R990,000 before you even start thinking about budgeting.

If you financial capacity [lid] is R1 million and you are given R10,000, you will grow it to R1 million because you have the capacity a million.

This is why those who win the Lotto, or get financial windfall, always lose their fortunes over time because they do not have the financial capacity of millions but of thousands.

This is why some sports stars, entertainers, politicians who get paid millions lose them once they retire, because they have low financial lids.

To those who have low financial lids, too much money gives them itchy hands.

They are uncomfortable with too much money in their accounts because they are not used to it, it makes them excited and the natural thing that first comes to mind is to spend it.

Those with high financial lids, money is not an emotion, instead it is a tool they use to get to the next level.

The good news is that you can increase your lid, through training, mentorship, reading books, attending financial seminars, developing the habits that will increase your financial lid.

The idea is not to win big on schemes, the idea is to increase your capacity with the little you have to grow it to be big.

Financial independence does not start with having lots of money, it starts with having lots of capacity to manage money. It is a skill thing.

If you have a high financial lid, you will attract more money, if you have a low lid, you will lose excess beyond your lid.

You want to be financially independent? Grow your financial capacity [lid].

If you struggle to manage small amounts, it is going to be difficult to manage large sums.

If you are given R100, are you able to grow it?

Are you a multiplier, not a subtractor?

Be someone who grows things, not who spends things. Be a net producer, not consumer.

What is your financial lid?

 

 

Finances: Personal issues

Borrowing money makes you a slave of the lender

Business finances are a reflection of the personal finances of the founder.

If you are unable to manage your personal finances, it is going to be a challenge to manage your business finances.

Just like Lotto winners, entrepreneurs believe that their personal financial problems will be go away once their businesses thrive.

Unfortunately, it is not that simple.

You will have to be disciplined with your personal finances first so that you can manage your business finances in a disciplined manner.

Financial discipline starts with you the owner, and then transcends to the business.

Your business is a reflection of you. If you are sloppy with your personal finances, your business finances will also be sloppy.

If you look at corporate scandals, Enron, Barings, Steinhoff, they all have several things in common, number one being greed, closely followed by flashy lifestyles of the founders, who were excessive spenders.

If you are a spender, your business is going to be a spender.

If you are prudent with your money, your business will be prudent with it’s finances.

Work on your personal money issues, your business is not your rescue plan, your business is an extension of you.

PS: To overcome poverty, we have to eradicate a consumer mindset and develop a producer mindset.

 

Storytelling: Brief History of Clean Drinking Water

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When Hungarian scientist Ignaz Semmelweiss noticed that maternity ward doctors were killing more women when they came straight after working with cadavers, he suggested that they should wash their hands, ideally with antiseptics.

Sadly, he was endlessly ridiculed for this preposterous idea and died in an insane asylum.

Thanks to research on epidemics like cholera [by John Snow], scientists like Robert Koch and Louis Pasteur and better microscopes by the German company Zeiss glass, germ theory finally came to the mainstream.

Koch figured out how to measure the amount of bacteria in a sample of water, a huge innovation in public health.

Until then, you had to wait to see if less people died after you made a change to the water supply to judge if your experiment was successful.

Then, scientists began experimenting with Chlorine mixed in water, again decried at first.

In response, John Leal conducted one of the riskiest experiments in history by adding Chlorine into the New Jersey water supply.

He was tried in court as he was initially seen as a madman.

The results, however, proved him right.

And, his decision to not patent his innovation makes him among history’s greatest unsung heroes.

“What made John Leal’s actions very noble was the fact that he chose not to patent it. Unencumbered, chlorine adoption spread all over the world. In the US alone, it is estimated to have improved adult mortality by 46% and child mortality by early 70%. One of the givens until then was the high probability of losing a child. The people behind this revolution didn’t get rich or become famous. But, they impacted our lives in incredible ways. ” | Steven Johnson [paraphrased]


Source: How We Got To Now by Steven Johnson [History of clean water]

 

Book Review: The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker

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Has it ever crossed your mind what makes up a good and successful gathering? We spend a large part of our lives gathering with others, from Monday morning team catch-ups to Friday night cocktails, book groups, and board meetings. However, it is rare that we actually take a step back and consider what goes into a truly meaningful and exciting gathering.

When I saw her TED talk a few months ago about the 3 steps to turn everyday get-togethers into transformative gatherings, and after a friend recommendation, I knew I had to read her book.

This book is about to put together an unforgettable gathering of people, from family gatherings, to conferences.

Gatherings are not only a huge part of life, but they are a large part of simply being human. However, far too often is the time we spend actually gathering with others underwhelming and uninspiring.

It sounds straightforward, but it’s not.

In this summary of The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker, you’ll learn

  • Why taking people off the invite list might actually be the key to making your gathering successful;
  • Why not allowing guests to pour their own drinks might make for a more fun party; and
  • How to create the perfect end to a gathering.

I learned that an event starts when you send out the invite, not when people arrive to your event.

I learned that your event should not start with announcement and logistics. Instead your opening should be a kind of shock therapy.

I learned how to host an event in a way that keeps the audience glued to the event and not lose focus or be distracted.

There is more to learn from this book.

Review

9/10

Useful to those whose job it is to plan meetings, conferences, and the like and a worthy survival manual for consumers of the same.

It is has fascinating stories, great insights and I highly recommend it.

“Hosts of all kinds, this is a must-read!” — Chris Anderson, owner and curator of TED

My favourite quotes

  • “To get the group to be vulnerable, he said, we facilitators needed to share an even more personal story than we expected our clients to. We would set the depth of the group by whatever level we were willing to go to; however much we shared, they would share a little less. We had to become, in effect, participants.”
  • “In a group, if everybody thinks about the other person’s needs, everyone’s needs are actually fulfilled in the end. But if you only think about yourself, you are breaking that contract.”
  • “When Gergen hosts a panel and Q&A time comes, he often instructs the audience: “If you would, identify yourself, be fairly succinct, and remember that a question ends with a question mark.” When an audience member inevitably begins making a long statement, Gergen interrupts repeatedly if need be: “Can you put that into a question? . . . Can you put that into a question? . . . Is this leading to a question?” It may seem to some that he is being mean, but in”
  • “Your opening needs to be a kind of pleasant shock therapy. It should grab people. And in grabbing them, it should both awe the guests and honor them. It must plant in them the paradoxical feeling of being totally welcomed and deeply grateful to be there.”
  • “You may well ask, Why does my gathering have to “take a stand”? It’s not the Battle of the Alamo. I have heard this question before. Virtually every time I push my clients to go deeper with their gathering’s purpose, there is a moment when they seem to wonder if I am preparing them for World War III. Yet forcing yourself to think about your gathering as stand-taking helps you get clear on its unique purpose.”