Thursday, 18 December 2014

Lessons from the corporate jungle

This evening is a great evening for me.

It's the first evening of my 2014 holiday. My auto-responder on my work e-mail address is set to vacation mode, and now you KNOW it's game-on.

Despite that, I think I feel a bit less 'holiday-ish' than ever, and it's mostly because of the rollercoaster year I've been on.

Moving from journalism into corporate communications is no joke, trust me. In my case it was corporate communications for a multinational company, so there have been foreign languages to learn in both the real and metaphorical business sense.

This 'Weird Al' video really echoes with me right now (dare I say I feel its 'synergy'?):

I've also recently been introduced to the wonder that is Breaking Bad (three seasons down, two left!), and it's packed with really insightful philosophies.

One scene that really struck me was when Jesse was asked by his school-teacher, 'Is this the best you can do?' There was no judgement, it was just a straight-forward question.

That really got me thinking ... what IS the best I can do, and am I doing it already? At least part of this year has been so hectic because I've really tried to ensure that I push every single project I work on that little step further from 'adequate' to 'intriguing', and that requires 24/7 commitment. But is it my best?

What IS my best, and how will I know that I can achieve it? I think this is a great question to ponder over these holidays. It's not just about relaxing on the beach and watching the rest of Breaking Bad (which I'll do) ... for 2015 I really want to just build of the momentum I've created through blood, sweat and tears in 2014.

It's a challenge. It's an opportunity. It's exciting.

It's a way to look past the 'corporate jargon for jargon's sake', to the core philosophies and highly-condensed little pearls of wisdom each piece of jargon contains.

Tomorrow (Friday) is my 29th birthday. I'm looking at the sharp edge of the big 3-0 approaching, and I'm ready for it. Bring it on, life.

An awesome festive season to you, my friends and dear readers. Thanks for joining me on this journey.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Feel pulled in too many directions? Here's why.

If there's one story to read and pay attention to today, it's this one. You're welcome.

That's a great primer to this follow-up on finding your passion.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

More Things I Like...

Sometimes old memories get so fuzzy, you can't say for sure if they ARE memories or if they're day-dreams, or recollections of movies.

I had the good luck to stumble across one of those old memories for me ... for whatever reason when I first watched this movie as a kid, the opening scene really impressed itself on me.

Exotic cars, confident people, vibey song ... it has to be Rain Man, right? Right.

Join me on this trip down memory lane ... it's a goodie.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Hello 21st Century

Typing a tweet on a touchscreen phone is a chore enough, never mind a full blog post.

That said, I just had to try it at least once :) Right this minute I'm lying in bed as the typically cold Cape Town wind howls outside, and somehow I ended up discovering the dedicated Blogger app on the Google Play store.

Verdict? It works. If only I could say the same of my touchscreen. Is this seriously the best solution for communicating? Of course not! It's great for zooming and swiping though, and THAT is why we're nett consumers of information rather than producers.

Which does lead to an interesting question... if we're not producing, who makes everything we're consuming?

As far as I can tell, the answer to that is advertisers, con artists, radicals and cat owners. Not necessarily in that order.

What's more, the smart money is on them not using their phones to push their money-grubbing, religious-political cat-loving agendas on the rest of us connected-yet-disconnected masses.

I blame Steve Jobs. The iPhone and all the iClones brought us closer than ever to each other, and then cruelly installed a touch-sensitive wall of glass between us.

To update that infamous line from Speed: Reach out and touch someone, one typo at a time.

PS: Just to satisfy you 'picture is a thousand words' lot, here's also a random photo I took of Cape Town on a recent hike (Clifton beach to be precise).

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Google Inbox Invites Offered

Do you want a Google Inbox invite? I've got some and will be happy to share :) Just leave a comment or message me.

If you don't know what Google Inbox is, then don't worry ... it's only the Next Big Thing from Google's restricted-access hype marketing.

Is it worth the hype? It depends on you. It's got some nifty features, that's for sure.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

The two sides of Romania

In South Africa, you regularly find yourself saying 'Gee, Place X would be so nice, if only it wasn't for the people.'

I've often said here that there are numerous parallels for me between Romania and South Africa, and I've just come across another great example of that.

Firstly, here is more achingly beautiful drone footage, this time of Romania from the sky:

Then, of course, the flipside of that video ... introducing some people to the landscape: Romanians who don't know the name of their country (a Facebook video so Google won't embed it).

For English-speakers like me, the premise of that video is simple: the interviewer repeatedly asks all subjects what the name of the country is, and they all - bearing in mind they were selected because of this - claim to not know (listen out for 'Nu stiu' - I don't know). 

Again in South Africa there is a lot of snide humour in the urban hubs aimed at the expense of the 'uneducated masses' in the country, so this is a predicament I have a lot of empathy for. It seems that in any 'developing country' a substantial percentage of the populace gets left behind.

Before I'm accidentally guilty of entrenching the 'Romania is rural' stereotypes any further, let me balance it out with this equally-entrancing video of Bucharest shot by drones:

Thank you, Romania, for not being some two-dimensional country with a back-story nobody cares about. There's so much to this country, and I'm enjoying the journey of discovering each disparate puzzle piece.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Just when you thought you'd seen everything....

... somebody had the awesome idea of flying their drone INTO A FIREWORK DISPLAY.

And yes, it's sufficiently beautiful to make army drill sergeants cry ... profusely.

Direct YouTube link:
Background details here.

Friday, 17 October 2014

YOLO ... and other good things

Watch YouTube enough, and it will get a really spooky sense of what you like, and remind you about things you've watched a long time ago. For me, tonight, it reminded me of this awesome video, that you will click play on right now:

It is sad, it is hopeful, it is beautiful ... it is everything I love about life. And that's important to me, because ... you know ... YOLO*

*YOLO, I'm reliably informed, is how the young kids say You Only Live Once.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Cape Town Aerial Video

If you need some beauty in your life, I have this amazing aerial video of the special city I live in (for now) ... Cape Town, South Africa:

Breathtaking scenery. Check. Haunting soundtrack. Check. The perfect video? I think so.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

HelloRomania Research Project

If you've been following this blog for a while you'll already know that last year December I - and several other foreign journalists - visited Romania on a grant from the Institutul Cultural Rom├ón (Romanian Cultural Institute).

Our tasks were to produce something which highlighted some aspect of Romania's culture, and I selected to speak to Romanian journalists about the Romanian media landscape, some Romanian cultural stereotypes and their musings on Romania's perception internationally.

I met some truly fascinating people (pictured in the collage here), who were far more insightful and frank than I had any right to hope for. It led to me dusting off my academic writing for a rather lengthy project, which I've been hosting on a dedicated mini-site for the past eight months.

I am now going to be taking that website - - down, after it has served its purpose. If you've never seen it, head over there quick. If it's already down by the time you get there, I'm preserving everything here! For posterity, the project website was entitled 'The Romanian Media Landscape: Discussions With Romanian Journalists'.

Now, just because nobody can resist a good button, click here to download the full 233kb PDF (and hear some refreshingly authentic opinions about Romania!):
If you're old-school and want a link instead, here it is: [See? The button was better!]

Friday, 5 September 2014

Happy Weekend!

I uncovered this awesome old photo I took while at University:

It sums up my feeling to 'It's the weekend, baby!'

Friday, 22 August 2014

Steve Jobs: Here's to the crazy ones

Right up front I don't mind admitting that I've never 'gotten' the whole Apple thing, although I own an Ipod (that I was given) and did once seriously consider getting an IPhone (but went Android instead, like most of the world). That said, you may have noticed the quote from Steve Jobs I used as my description on my blog for a while...

Join me in the discovery of the speech where it's from (sourced from and apparently all Mac Word Processing software if you believe the story). It is refreshingly frank in a way that is so rare, and because I love it I'm going to preserve it here in full (because Google will NEVER die, lol): *TLDR version highlighted in yellow

Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits, the rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the ones who are crazy enough to think that they can change the world, are the ones who do.
I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I've ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That's it. No big deal. Just three stories.
The first story is about connecting the dots. I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?
It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: "We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?" They said: "Of course." My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.
And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents' savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn't see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn't interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.
It wasn't all romantic. I didn't have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends' rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:
Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating.
None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it's likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.
Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
My second story is about love and loss.
I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.
I really didn't know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down - that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.
I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.
During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple's current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.
I'm pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn't been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith. I'm convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle.
My third story is about death.
When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn't even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor's code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you'd have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.
I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I'm fine now.
This was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope it's the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:
No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.
Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.
When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960's, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.
Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish." It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.
Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.
Thank you all very much!

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Close Enough to Bucharest

It's not often you discover a gem of a song, but this little beauty played across the radio down here in fairest South Africa this afternoon and I love it! If you're my kind of crazy, you might too.

It's George Ezra, singing Budapest. And without trying too hard, you can substitute 'Bucharest' (no doubt a big part of the reason I love it).

Saturday, 2 August 2014

Is Cape Town's Best Library in Milnerton?

Back in the good old days, if I discovered something remarkable, I'd share it with you by text (assuming I knew how to write and you knew how to read), on a postcard (assuming the ship delivered it). These days we have blogs and cameraphones, so let me share one of the most remarkable discoveries of my life with you.

If you're not in South Africa this might not seem like a big deal to you, but today I discovered the best South African municipal library I have *ever* seen: the Milnerton library

From the outside, you'll agree it's pretty unassuming. As a new arrival in Milnerton I only discovered it through Google (it's not on a main public route), and from the outside it's not exactly promising of literary delight. The context here, let's face it, is that most South African libraries are pretty depressing places, laden with ancient books (if you ever want to know how to operate Windows 1995 you're in luck), and normally poorly-lit and cramped.

I think the Milnerton Library's exterior style can best be described as 'missile-silo chic', and it even comes with one of those quaintly-lettered signboards in a font you still see gracing numerous State buildings from the 1980s. Not a good start then.

Walk inside, and you're greeted by... err, what? This wasn't expected.

Pass through the turn-style, and you enter Charlie's Chocolate Factory for book lovers. Space and light!


Display shelves!

And don't ask me WHERE they got this guy, enticing you to a themed section on Egypt.

Trust me, I could continue. The staff I dealt with were friendly and exuding a quiet aura of pride over their workplace. The computer I used to access the library catalogue actually worked, and had a conveniently placed chair to sit on. And, the most important part of all: my wife and I walked out with our arms loaded with books we actually WANTED to read, including several newer titles, rather than just grabbing the least faded titles.

It was a revelation, and simultaneously a sad indictment for what's happened to the library system in other parts of the country due to constant budget cuts and low staff morale. My deepest admiration and thanks goes to the library staff and municipality for their effort and innovation in creating this degree of order and pleasure in a chaotic environment and ... to a large extent, country.

Given how unexpected this find was I also cannot swear that Milnerton Library is the BEST library in Cape Town, or possibly even all of South Africa, but I'd be willing to take a bet on both of those scores.

PS: As a side-note, I later learned that the online catalogue system I used was known as the City of Cape Town's Online Public Access Catalogue (OPAC), and in addition to seeing whether specific titles you're interested in are available in which library, you can also renew your library books electronically. 

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Is it just me, or...

You know the difference between immaturity and maturity? It's in how you answer 'If you could be anything, what would you be?'

When you're younger, you've got a million fun answers to that question ... astronaut, geologist, rockstar. When you're older, you'd be happy to settle for 'debt-free'.

As I see it now, 'maturity' is about realising that that's not a bad answer. Contrary to what your younger you might think, you're not selling out ... just growing up.

In a way, that growing up is about discovering that although you cannot necessarily become *anything* you want to be, you CAN be and do a lot more than you'd ever be able to list (including things you're currently not even interested in).

In an environment where you can be anything, it's often easier to just  define yourself by what you don't want to be. The older you get, then, the bigger that bag of anti-definitions gets and an identity for 'you' emerges.

I like Coca Cola because I don't like all the other drinks. I watch Rules of Engagement because I don't like Idols. I don't eat peas because ... life's too short for that. Tomorrow, all of this may change: just give me a new softdrink, a new TV show and a potato.

For me, being 28 is also a really weird age: it's like I'm on a rollercoaster, just cruising slowly to a halt while approaching the crest of a steep section. You realise there's still a lot to life (this is going to speed up!), but you're pretty tired about it all and it ... just ... seems so long, and simultaneously way too short.

I mean, wasn't I meant to start saving back when I was 16 if I wanted to retire early? There goes that dream then.

For whatever reason we don't seem to be talking about these things, and I don't know why not. It's not like we don't all go through the same emotions, right?

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Tragic Comedy in Bucharest

This blog post - Exploring the disgusting bins of Bucharest’s historic centre - has to be one of the most simultaneously tragic and funny lenses on life in Romania that I have ever seen. This post is my way of encasing it in concrete (you'll get the reference after reading the post).

If you liked that, then this post from the same blog - Braving the Bucharest-Chisinau Sleeper - turns the dry humour up to 11. I nearly coughed up a lung at “Pipi nu este al meu!” Having also survived the sleeper from Bucharest to Cluj, I can definitely relate.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Why Customer-Centricity May Be Missing the Point

If you've been following this blog you'll have noticed that I've started studying Coursera's Introduction to Marketing course (I highly recommend that you sign up for it if you're interested in marketing). This has gotten me thinking a lot about marketing principles and business ethics, and I've been involved in some pretty heated debates on the Coursera course forums.

The most recent has involved the principle of customer centricity, as it was presented in the lectures by one of Wharton's professors, Peter Fader. TAKE-AWAY AT THIS POINT: it's going to be long post, but this speaks directly to what I see as the new corporate crisis evidenced in many aspects of presumed 'poor customer care'. If you're in marketing this will be of interest, and even if you're not it might be illuminating.

The one thing you need to understand beforehand is a rough definition (mine as I understand it) of customer centricity: 
Customer Centricity is a corporate philosophy (existing in opposition to 'product centricity') that uses detailed information about customers' buying habits and personal profiles to identify which customers have the highest Customer Lifetime Value (i.e. a measure of the total they would be likely to spend in the future with the company) and then tailors product-development and marketing activities directly at this 'high-risk, high-reward' segment of consumers (in order to retain them and attract more customers just like them), while still retaining enough of the other less-valuable customers for overall stability and as insurance if the gamble taken with the first group backfires in some way (e.g. if they change loyalty rapidly). It is argued that this approach allows companies to make smarter marketing choices by optimising their marketing spend and operational processes to extract the maximum value from the individuals who will ultimately be the most valuable to the company in the long run. 

On the face of it, it sounds like a very sensible practise, right? I however have a few cautions/objections to this, which I outlined in my forum post on the Coursera course forums this morning - copied in full below:

Ok guys, first-off a big thanks for turning this into such an engaging discussion. I realise that a lot of confusion has resulted from me trying to unpack an initial gut reaction on a logical level by responding to engagements here, but I think that the point I'm making is highly valid and I'd appreciate one last chance to present it in a more logical manner for you all. Below I'm not just going to take you through a series of Q&A, but rather a progression of realisations that depend on each other. 
Q1: Why do you say that you disagree with Professor Fader when you're not disagreeing with what he says?  
A1: In so far as Professor Fader is arguing for what I will go on to demonstrate is a sub-set of a broader whole, I am not disagreeing with his specific sub-set (which makes sense in and of itself) but rather some underlying philosophies and their ramifications on the customer experience. 
Q2: In what way is customer-centricity as outlined by Peter Fader a 'sub-set'? 
A2: I'd argue that true customer-centricity should be judged from all customers' perspectives. We're using 'customer-centricity' here to distinguish it from 'product-centricity', where companies are focusing on analysing their customers to increase their profitability, but while the central goal remains the companies' wealth and not the customer's well-being the tactic isn't so much 'customer-centric' as it is 'company-centric with insights from customers'. With this in mind, my take on customer-centricity is even MORE customer-centric in a true sense, because I'm concerned with all customers, while Peter Fader's customer centricity (*important proviso below) is a triage mechanism which focuses the maximum resources on attracting and retaining a small group of customers deemed to be valuable and gives them a better customer experience than the rest. 
Q3: Oh dear, so is this just semantics? What are those ramifications you spoke about in a real sense? 
A3: This is where it gets fun. You see, making the leap from VALUABLE customer-centricity (sub-set) to TOTAL customer-centricity (all customers) is as big a leap as the one from product centricity to customer centricity in the first place. Remember that the key point with this latter approach is that you often end up doing the very same sorts of things but with a different initial intention, so the outcomes are different? Small changes at the start - e.g. in 'initial motiviation' make a big difference later on. The defining ramification here is one of consumer trust. Can ALL consumers walk through your store's doors and trust that they will receive the best service from friendly salespeople who will advise them in their personal best interests, or is it rather a case of ALL customers walk through your doors and trust that they will receive the best service from friendly sales people IF they are categorised to be valuable customers, who will advise them in their best interests IF that advice still enables extracting the maximum profit from them later on? 
Q4: Ok, and why is corporate trust important? 
A4: We've already spoken over and over again about how consumers are getting more discerning and they need to be able to trust your brand and your company. If presented with two competing companies and the only distinguishing factor is that the one is trusted and the other isn't, consumers will always go with the one they trust. By implementing a corporate policy which only favours a limited sub-set of consumers based on what will be best for the company in the long-run, a company will at best be at risk of losing their customers' trust and at worst be vulnerable to being accused of hypocrisy (marketing messages tend to make all customers feel that they'll receive the VIP treatment when in reality only the valued sub-set do). 
Q5: So what is the alternative? 
A5: I'm not saying that 'traditional' customer-centricity is a completely bad thing, in so far as it entails actually getting to know your customer base more and figuring out how you can delight them with products which are matched to them. Where it gets to be a bad thing is where you filter out the customers you deem to be less profitable right at the start, tailoring everything only for the richest's needs.This affect is further exacerbated when you use data you gain on your customers (more than some would feel comfortable with you having in some cases) to sell to them at times when they are weak, despondent or less able to make rational decisions, solely in favour of making a sale. I'm going to call it as I see it, and that is manipulation. The real alternative here is a moderated approach: get customers buy-in to share their data with you to deliver services to them which surprise them pleasantly, and keep your focus on ALL customers equally in recognition that customers you'd skip over otherwise now may actually be great later on. Do this so that customers can genuinely trust you, not only confident that they'll attract your attention in a real manner when they exude wealth (whether physically through their clothes or intangibly through the data categories you have on them).
IMPORTANT PROVISO: Why single out Peter Fader?I have nothing against Peter Fader personally - I don't know him, apart from his words in these videos. The picture he has painted with those words in no uncertain terms paints him as an advocate of the limited form of customer-centricity, although in reality he may have all kinds of fuzzy 'be nice to all consumers' philosophies that he just hasn't shared here. I'm happy to allow for that, so when I talk about 'Peter Fader's customer-centricity' it is only as a label to distinguish it from what I'm proposing. 
CONCLUSION: Corporations have for too long run on faulty premises. We recognise on a personal level that the majority of the world is classed as poor, and therefore we are arguing (with no melodrama) against humanity when we want to pursue tactics which automatically benefit the richest people unfairly (i.e. we give them the best service before they even have to buy it from us). Another faulty premise is that permanent improvement is possible. Again we recognise individually that this is impossible, and time and again companies' management are placed under mind-bending pressure to try and deliver improving results in declining economies. Just like there will only be one winner in a race, not all companies can be winners. A final faulty premises is that the data doesn't lie. It does - too often we can see from profiles that search engines build of us based on what we search for (for example) that the picture a sub-set of our data paints about us is completely not who we are in reality, so anybody using that data to target us would make wrong decisions all day long. The bottom line is that if ALL companies switched to absolutely perfect customer centricity overnight, there would still be businesses closing down simply because there is constant competition for share-of-wallet/mind, and we'd just have shifted the goal-posts. Let's take a moment to pause sometimes and ask what will be genuinely sustainable and ethically sound, and what will earn us the unreservedly genuine trust of our staff, customers and suppliers.
Phew, that's it. I'd love to know your thoughts. Sometimes I get the feeling we're so busy trying to make the 'right' decision that we lose sight of our shared humanity and the kind of world we actually want to live in.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

This is South Africa

Usually tourism videos about any country are pretty cringe-worthy, but South African Tourism finally knocked one out of the park. Obviously there's a LOT more to the country than this, but it's a beautiful snapshot of one possible tourist experience (with a twist at the end).

Saturday, 24 May 2014

The Perfect Business Model

Nothing in life improves consistently, no matter how much effort you put into it. Businesses, however, are expected to unfailingly deliver improvement ... better products, more customers, and most of all MORE profit. No wonder there's a vast amount of tension: managers are tasked with 'managing' the impossible.

So this got me thinking, what WOULD the best business idea look like? Here are a few thoughts:

  • It would be a business you could start up with ZERO in the way of input required - no funds needed, no special infrastructure. Just a smooth transition from 'not here' to 'here'.
  • It would obviously require NO STAFF. Staff are a minefield all of their own, with legal issues and sick days and retrenchments and health and safety and wages. Better just leave them out the picture ... maybe do leave room for like-minded individuals to volunteer their own time completely at their own risk. Is that even legal?
  • It will be ultimately FLEXIBLE. Are you making pencils today? Tomorrow you should be able to be selling coffee, or the day after that mowing lawns or stitching up patients.
  • It will be FUN. Yes, this will be a business that you will personally want to get involved in, because you enjoy it and are personally invested in it. However, that is bearing in mind...
  • ... it will be completely OBLIGATION FREE. Don't feel like work? No problem, head to the beach!
  • It will make LOADS OF MONEY. Like exponentially. You'll need to open new bank accounts just to hold all the money.
  • There will be NO RISK. Without this point, the perfect job would seem to be a life of crime, wouldn't it? However, being a criminal is a risky job - there are those police to consider, the back-stabbing from your fellow criminals, and don't even get me started on how unflattering the colour black is.
And ... *end of the road* That's how my thought process always stops, as soon as I realise that you have to HAVE something that other people want. It's right on the label: products or services. People don't give you money for nothing, or do they? Of course, money isn't the only capital worth having ... and therein lies the secret. 

What is it? I'll let you know as soon as I've successfully launched the company and copyrighted it 100 different ways! 

Friday, 23 May 2014

#WhyImVotingUKIP, Not!

I'm not going to say that I personally brought down the UKIP - it appeared from what I've seen that they are more than capable of that themselves - but I will say that it's hugely gratifying to see this awesome story with some hilarious Twitter users lampooning UKIP with the #WhyImVotingUKIP hashtag.

Two awesome examples:

This is particularly awesome because back in August last year I'd written this open letter to Nigel Farage, giving him a piece of my mind, and as far back as January last year I'd already written this piece on the UKIP's scary 'Romgarians'. I'm not saying I personally made the Internet do something awesome now, but I'm definitely a long-standing part of it!

So then, why are you #NotVotingUKIPuntilTheyStartServingFrostedMilkshakesInHell?

PS: In other news, this is what my blog's web-counter was just sitting on. What were the odds I'd be online to see it happen?

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Escaping Your Specific Closet

I've never been one to really care about peer pressure, but that's been mostly because I've never let anybody close enough to me to pressure me. I've never looked up to friends, so never felt desperate for their approval ... I understand it's not like this for everybody.

In school I was the quiet kid who fell in love with so many girls - never quite got around to telling them all - that I wasn't distracted by trivial things like friendship. Ok, I'm over-emphasising the point - I did have some great friends, but there were also plenty of times when I was 'between friends' and perfectly fine with that too.

So why that tragic bit of over-sharing? Just because it ties in with this video I'm about to share. We all go through some really confusing patches growing up, and it DOESN'T end in school ... it just keeps going. Why then do we frequently make it harder on ourselves than it really has to be, by trying to internalise some pain, or not having hard conversations we should be having?

Who better to share some amazing insights into hard conversations than this lesbian speaker at TEDx? Trust me, what she has to say will speak directly to you: Coming out of your closet: Ash Beckham at TEDxBoulder

Some key take-aways:

  • "Hard is not relative. Hard is hard."
  • "I think we all have closets. All the closet is, is a hard conversation."
  • "Sure, it would have been easy to point out where they fell short. It's a lot harder to meet them where they are and acknowledge they were trying. And what else can you ask someone to do, but try?"
  • "Apologize for what you've done, but never who you are."

Thanks for that Ash. Another reminder in this plastic world that it's ok to feel.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Hijackings in South Africa: Carjack City video

I realise I've been posting too many upbeat things on this blog, so here's a reality check I just stumbled across today.

It comes with a big disclaimer: a video like this will easily leave international visitors feeling as if South Africa is a war-zone, but it's simply not. There IS however a lot of crime, but with sensible precautions and a reasonable amount of luck you can easily live without ever coming into contact with any of it.

As proof of that, I'm 28 years old, have lived in Johannesburg for five years, and now living in Cape Town, and have never personally witnessed a car being hijacked. That being said, my first car *was* stolen out of my office parking lot in Johannesburg, but I was nowhere near it at the time and nobody saw it ... it just vanished.

Similarly, I've never been a victim of a house robbery, but places I've lived nearby have been broken into. The security arrangements where I live are definitely one of my top concerns now, and I pay more than I should on rentals just for that peace-of-mind.

You know what they say about statistics: there are lies, damn lies, and statistics. In this case I'd just ask you to put South Africa's crime figures into the context of the country's scale (we have 50 million people living here - over that probably if you count illegal immigrants) and poverty levels. I don't fear for my life every day and 90% of the time my decisions in life allow me to not have to ... other people, like those in this video, are not that fortunate.

How do we address this problem as a society and even international community? If you consider poverty on a global level, there should be a LOT more crime than there is: the fact that we can still all live relatively normal lives is actually an indicator that the majority of the world's poor people have managed to do the right thing and refuse the allure of crime. I have the deepest admiration for those people: being so poor that you cannot support your family, and yet refusing the easy ways out offered by crime shows a level of determination most people never recognise.

One criminal in the video above justifies his actions by talking about 'survival of the fittest', and that's not true. Being a criminal doesn't make you a better man than anybody else. But being a victim of crime doesn't either, nor does being an unthinking part of a capitalist system that marginalises more people than it uplifts.

This isn't going to just go away until we collectively find a sustainable manner of providing for society's most vulnerable. As for what we do about society's greediest - at all levels ... that's a thornier question. Maybe technology has a solution, and a moderated version of the Big Brother State - where the perpetrators of crime are immediately identified through monitoring and biometrics and held accountable - is the only alternative. Live in fear of Government or your fellow citizens: those are your options. Which do you choose?

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

I know I promised to not just Content Aggregate, but...

... oh please, just forgive me for posting the two most hilarious videos I've seen in a long time. You know, just to counter all the soppiness. And yes, to build off my last post, this is also part of what I like.

And yes, of course there's a second video:

Oh man, I've got serious carpet burns from ROFL in my mind.

Things I Like, Part Who's Counting Anymore?

I swear I'm getting sentimental in my old age - old age being almost 30 - but I'm starting to realise that who WE are is very much a compilation of everything we like. There's a lot of stuff that we like that we can change, or stop liking, or like even more, but sometimes some stuff will just always resonate with us.

That's what I want to share here, to brighten your day a little. Just look past the cheesy music to embrace the awesome humanity expressed in these videos:

1: Matt Harding's 2008 video:

2: Can it get better? Oh yes, it can. The 2012 video:

PS: You're never going to enjoy it unless you watch all the way to the end, and see the little nuances. Like how Matt breaks the rigid dance moves in the first video, or where his wife and his kid join him in the second video.

I like this.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Cannot connect to WiFi network? That dreaded 'Cannot Connect' error!

Has your laptop suddenly started refusing to connect to your WiFi network? I've been struggling with this for about the past two weeks without having done anything different on my side ... just one day it was working, then it wasn't. Now I have the solution, and I just had to share!

[UPDATE: It's taken a few extra months but I have a new theory. Read it below.]

A quick Google (from my phone - doh) identified that the problem may be a faulty device driver update, which I'm guessing my laptop helpfully did in the background. The solution, on Windows 7, is just this easy:
Start -> Control Panel -> Device Manager -> Network Adapters -> [Select your wifi adapter] -> Driver Tab -> Roll Back Driver.

One click of that, and everything works like an absolute charm again - no reboot or anything needed. Just in case you'd like a visual cue, it looks like this:

Thank you for fixing my Internuts, Internuts!

UPDATE: 23 July 2014.
I can't tell you how many times I'd updated my Windows software, rebooted, adjusted the power settings, and all the other tricks in the book, before finally stumbling across an all-new solution which really seems to work. I've been using an Android cellphone as a mobile wifi hotspot, and I'd started to suspect that it was the root of both my and my wife's laptops being kicked off the internet and then not letting them back-on. The solution is as weird as it is simple: just unplug the cellphone from the charger! Don't ask me why, but this results in perfectly stable wifi connections. Plug it in again, and bang ... symptoms immediately re-emerge. So it probably is some power-related issue (genius deduction there), but I don't think there's been a how-to written online that explains it. At least now there's a solution, and hopefully it helps you too.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

On Marketing and MOOCs

If you've been following this blog for a while, you'll have noticed the recent updates to my blog. One of the reasons? I've been studying a free marketing course online through Coursera.

Yes, that's right - the blog now has a new tag-line (friendlier for Google), an About page (complete with e-mail subscription form), a cleaner design (hello white space) and a raft of other minor tweaks. Ok, so it's nothing that special, but it was just a natural side-effect of what's really a fascinating course: Introduction to Marketing

This happened to be my first Coursera course, but it won't be my last! I'm a third of the way through (this course is nine weeks long), and am finding it really fascinating. The lectures are all in video form, and the quality is good - presented by the University of Pennsylvania. Best of all? I took my first quiz last night, and scored 20/20 :D Hey hey ... if you can't brag just a little on your own blog, where can you????

Long story short, I recommend that you give the world of free education a spin. It turns out that there is a surprising range of quality courses available for free, a robust student interaction on the courses' dedicated online forums, certificates to track your achievements (and even list on your CV if you want), and in Coursera's case a biometrically-linked Signature Track they keep trying to sell you for $50 (but which isn't mandatory) which helps to prove that it really was you who took the course (opinion is still divided over whether this is of any value to employers).

My favourite quote about studying: "Reading is how humans install software into their brains." That's so true, and if it can benefit your job - and many of those courses can - then so much the better!

Back to the start, what do you think of the blog updates I've made?

Monday, 5 May 2014

South African Elections 2014: Reflections on 20 years of democracy

For my international readers who might not know, Wednesday (May 7) marks South Africa's next national elections. It's particularly poignant considering that it's 20 years after the country's first democratic elections in 1994, and this is going to be our fifth election since then.

What else makes this special? Well, it will be the first South African elections without Nelson Mandela alive - and being shamelessly used in electioneering by the ANC. It will be the first democratic election where South Africans have been quite as disillusioned by the ruling party ... name your controversy and we've had it recently. The president's Nkandla scandal, e-Tolling in Gauteng, our first rolling electricity blackouts in years only a recent memory, the unfortunate rise of Julius Malema as a political force ... you name it, we have it.

Then you have the 'everyday' South African headaches: rising unemployment, lowering education standards, continuing racial tensions (stoked by Black Economic Empowerment employment policies and various politicians' calls for nationalisation and increased distribution of white-owned assets), the constantly moving crime target, corruption scandals and general maladministration.

On the one hand everybody feels quite sure that the ANC won't do as well in the next election as they'll be hoping - at least by enough to again stave off their getting a sufficient Parliamentary majority to make unilateral changes to our Constitution. It is clear that more and more former ANC voters are finally getting disillusioned: 20 years IS an awful long time to hold onto flaky electioneering promises, and Nelson Mandela has passed on and therefore the insult to him won't be as bad if you vote against HIS party.

On the other hand, however, all of the above isn't exactly the great news that it really should be for South African opposition parties. Consider, for example, that the general consensus is that while the ANC will be losing voters, those voters aren't all going to be rushing en masse to South Africa's largest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance. Still plagued by being overly 'white' - and still headed up by an elderly white lady who every so often tries to dance on public stages like a black woman, with embarrassing results - the DA isn't the home that it should be for these black voters.

Rather, they're coalescing around other more radical parties, not afraid to make the very same unreal campaign promises the ANC made at the start - and still makes half-heartedly at least every four years. You know the types: more jobs (even the DA is harping on that tune ironically), more wealth (they're vague on how), and ... well, that's about it really. The most radical of these is the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF), and their entire policy is summed up in their name. They're fighting to divide by zero.

For once white South African voters aren't sure whether they'd rather see black voters leave the ANC for the EFF, thereby strengthening the 'opposition' on paper, or stay within the ANC's docile grip! Making it even worse, there's talk about the DA and EFF even considering a partnership in South Africa's province of Gauteng, which would be a massive sell-out to voters for both parties but maybe a Good Thing in the long run (if the back-room squabbling could ever be sorted out). Bearing in mind that the EFF's leader is being tried for tax evasion, and you REALLY don't want a political alliance with the guy ... especially because he's widely quoted as saying he's not against white people, he just wants their hard-earned money equally distributed.

Welcome to South Africa, twenty years on. We're still here, barring what the naysayers thought as they fled overseas in 1994 and later years. Many of us have done relatively ok, others have done a little worse, and really nobody can say that life here is definitively worse or better than in any other country in the world. At least it's not North Korea, or Ukraine, or the Sudan. The only concern, however, is that we don't have any dream that following the elections on Wednesday, we're going to have our 'Obama' moment and everything will be amazing.

There is NO party I as an educated and middle-class South African voter want to vote for, and I'm not alone. Nobody out there is really representing ME or anybody like me (and even those poorer voters who are being 'represented' aren't necessarily being represented in their best interests). The politicians are either corrupt, ignorant or just plain out of touch - and sometimes a combination of the three. South Africa has issues to solve, and nobody to solve them ... yet we're all going to take a day off work (that's the positive side, isn't it?) and dutifully stand in a long queue to make a cross for a party we reckon will be the best of bad options. This isn't the first time, nor the last.

I AM South African. It's just a pity that after 20 years we're not so much Proudly South African any more as Sadly South African, or maybe - slightly more optimistically - Hopefully South African. Here's to the next 20 years, assuming we get that much.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Country Vibes, Anyone?

If you're anything like me, it's a rare joy discovering something beautiful in a world which is increasingly dominated by negative emotions. This blog, to a large extent, is my Happy Place, and you're invited. Here's my latest discovery, after I successfully googled the lyrics I heard and loved as a backing track in a TV series:

Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros - Home

On the topic of songs about 'home', here's a chance to share a Proudly South African song: Michael Lowman's Crayon Boxes:

Now all the best songs have a moment which links to our lives, and the one above has a cool True Story for me. One afternoon while collecting my wife from work, that song was playing on my car's radio. The very second my finger hovered over 'Home' on my GPS to select it, the lyrics burst in ... "All we need is love, and a place to call home." Poignant? Why yes.

Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Your Internet is not the same as My Internet

If you're pressed for time, just jump ahead and watch this video. Seriously, it will be the best nine minutes of your life you've spent in a while:

If you do have a bit more time, it really makes you wonder what the solution to these problems are. Have we finally come full circle, where the power of the Internet isn't discovered FOR us anymore, but BY us? 

My earliest memory of the Internet is of me watching a favourite television show in the 1990s, and at the end they displayed on the screen a web address where you could go view MORE about this magical show. As a kid in the 1990s, I had no Internet-capable PC, and it wasn't until High School that I finally got access through the school computer laboratory.

For me though, the concept was a magical one. I remember chanting out that whole web address (a lengthy one), including the 'www', and annoying my mother. Here was an ADDRESS to a special place with content about this thing I love.

Maybe that's what we need again: to personally take responsibility for identifying inspiring sources of content. To click on unsubscribe links for content we don't like, giving the better content a chance to catch our attention. To actually type in specific URLs, not just Google our interests and accept whatever Google delivers to us.

I'm tired of the privacy issues online. I hate social media where I feel no need to share anything, and the people I'm following don't either. I HATE 'free' web-platforms thinking they own my content because I dared to share it through their platform.

This is me, wanting a return to the early days. Wanting to re-assert control over my content. Wanting to be a producer of quality content, not just a mindless aggregator. In short, Say No to Bad Internet.

For extra credit, here's the Veritasium video that inspired it all, and which will forever make you question the value of Facebook likes and advertising. It's amazing how people will exploit any system, and the rest of us are mired in the battle:

Sunday, 20 April 2014

More Things You Will Not See in Johannesburg

Easter Sunday morning in Cape Town, what to do, what to do? Why, visit 'the most beautiful garden in Africa', Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens,  of course!

What a great morning :)