Excellence is the next 2 minutes

Excellence is in the current moment. What are you doing now? Do it well. If you’re working on an excel sheet, give it 100% focus to ensure it’s accurate. If you’re talking to a co-worker, give them the attention, respect and acknowledgements that will make them feel valued instead of looking bored and trying to get away from them. If you’re typing an email, give it the necessary attention to ensure it is well written, error free and clear. Every email you send gives an impression about you.

Excellence is not a long term concept. It’s the next 2 minutes.

Do you have a destination?

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Somebody drops you in a strange city you’ve never been to, gives you a vehicle and tells you to make your way to a certain landmark within the city. He explains the landmark to you and says it’s about 10km away, but gives you no instructions or directions.

Would you jump in the car and start driving, with a hope that you’d run into the landmark destination that’s been explained to you? No you wouldn’t. If you did you’d be likely to end up drifting around in circles with no clear direction, eventually running out of fuel.

Yet most of us treat our lives this way. We stumble day to day with an indefinite, simplistic idea of what we want to be or where we want to go. Is our destination a clear one of our choosing or some vague idea given to us by society? Are we driving with purpose, using the most efficient route possible, or are we being swayed by where traffic is leading us?

Life is that strange city. You’re in that car. You have a choice: Drive aimlessly towards a destination unknown to you, or use navigation tools to find your destination.

Mindfulness has a place in the office

The concept of mindfulness is often spoken about purely in spiritual terms, when in fact, it is something that is particularly relevant to your life in the business world. What is Mindfulness? The website PsychologyToday.com does a very good job of defining the concept:

Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you bymindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.

The most important aspect of Mindfulness in the business world is a continual observation of your feelings as well as what is going on around you.

Here’s an unavoidable truth about you in the working world: You’ll screw up. Sometimes you’ll make massive screw ups. Things will go wrong due to your mistakes. If you’re thinking “Nah, that won’t happen to me, I’ll avoid stupid mistakes like that”, then you’ve just made your first screw up.

Employees that constantly believe that they’ve never made the mistake and blame it on other factors when in fact they were at fault are on a straight road to nowhere, because they’re never learning. As humans we learn primarily through experience and reflection. It is also true that it is the toughest times that we learn the most. You become far more experienced on difficult projects than on easy ones. The tough client teaches you more about service than the easy one. And without mistakes we will never truly master the craft we are practising.

However, all of this learning requires you to be mindful. How did that mistake happen? How could I have done that differently? How could I have handled that impossible client in a better way? What actions and thoughts of mine led to that? Open minded self-reflection is critical in developing our careers and ourselves as people.

Knowledge is a choice: 4 basics for young employees to incorporate

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I don’t think we realise just how fortunate we are in the modern world when it comes to access to knowledge and information. Answers to almost any fact or piece of information you’d like to know are accessible within seconds on our mobile devices. It presents a great opportunity for personal and career acceleration for young employees.

The most impressive people I’ve come across in my ten years of work have had one major thing in common – they displayed an incredible depth of knowledge within their field. They had inquiring minds which allowed them to be at the forefront of what was happening in their industries and consequently could confidently navigate ways forward for their respective companies. These were people who could sit in a meeting with potential clients and could rattle off an incredible insight or piece of knowledge off the top of their head, which clearly made the client know they were dealing with someone reputable. How did they become like this? Simple. An mindset of endless learning.

As the great Albert Einstein said “Intellectual growth should commence at birth and cease only at death.” I fear a major problem with millennials freshly out of college or university is the thinking that the learning is completed, when in fact, it is only beginning. Like previous generations, Millennials new to the workplace will have to learn some things the hard way – by experience, by failure and by trial and error. However, Millennials have the major advantage over previous generations by the fact that they have the world’s information at their fingertips. Becoming a knowledge expert within their field is now a matter of choice. Everything they need to know to grow their knowledge in their role is online, free and accessible immediately. Many millennials are taking advantage of this. Not all of them do. Perhaps they need reminding of how profound this really is.

It took approximately two decades for television to move over from black and white to colour TV. Yet it’s taken less than a decade for cellular phones to become more powerful than the combined strength all the computers that sent man to the moon for the first time. In 1956 about six men were needed to move a 5mb hard drive. Now 64 gigs sit comfortably in your pocket. It took nearly 100 years for traditional film cameras to move over to digital cameras. In contrast it’s taken just 10 years for small cameras to be obsolete, due to your smartphone being an even better option.

If you rewind a hundred years to 1917, consider for a second the trouble you’d have to go through to ascertain a simple fact, such as the land size of Switzerland. If you didn’t have an encyclopedia in your home, you’d probably have to travel (sometimes a long way) to a library to search out a book which had this information. The ordeal could take an entire day. I’ve just done this, and it took me 11 seconds.

So while experience will remain life’s greatest teacher, knowledge is a cornerstone of career growth, and the best way to set yourself apart. To young people reading this, here are four simple things to incorporate into your daily routines to grow you and your knowledge of any field of interest to you, not merely your career field.

  1. Get on Twitter

Twitter tends to carry a bad reputation – perceived as a hub of outrage, political fighting, anger and insults. Yes, all of this is true, if you choose to follow accounts that deal in that. Your Twitter experience is ultimately determined by you, and how you use it. Start by following what you’re interested in. For example, if you’re in marketing like me and want to progress your knowledge and stay up to date, go seek out the accounts of marketing publications, prominent ad agencies or marketing writers. Before you know it, you’ll be following people you didn’t even know existed.

Once you’re following these account, they’ll come up on your timeline, often retweeting other interesting tweets or articles that they have decide to share. I can guarantee that you’ll learn infinitely more from Twitter than your closed circuit of Facebook.

Being on Twitter doesn’t necessarily mean you have to tweet. I know many people who are only on Twitter to observe and learn. The choice is yours.

  1. Start Listening to Podcasts

Like Twitter, Podcasts are what you make of it. You find podcasts on literally anything you’d like to know more about or get into. I even saw the other day that a podcast performing particularly well in the downloads charts was one with two guys who sit and discuss the Gilmore Girls. Yes, really. Podcasts can range from 5 minutes, to 3 hours per episode, depending on who you listen to. You can typically search hot topics or content categories to find what you’re interested in.

The first step is downloading a podcast app. Podcast apps will aggregate all the podcasts out there and make them available for download. Examples of podcast apps are Podcast Addict, Podcast Republic, Podbean or Castbox, to name a few. Once you’ve got the app on your phone, it really is just a case of trial and error through search, to find things you enjoy or want to know more about. If you like a particular podcast, you subscribe to it. The app will then typically notify you once new episodes are uploaded of that particular podcast.

It is worth noting that this is all free. The only thing you need is a wifi connection to download the episode/s you want. You can then listen to them later on wherever you are with no connection required.

You’ll find more thorough podcast debates and interviews than you ever will on TV news. You can listen to what you’re interested in, unlike TV and radio programming. You’ll get opinions and programming that hasn’t had to be censored through the filter of mainstream media. You’ll also generally find much more authenticity on podcasting than traditional media.

  1. Watch Youtube

Yes, most of us do this already to varying degrees. However, what people don’t realise is that Youtube is probably the single greatest educational resource in the world.

Want to know how to boil an egg? There will be countless Youtube tutorials on this

Want to know how to use a drill? There will be countless Youtube tutorials on this

Want interview tips? There will be countless Youtube tutorials on this

Want to know how to do better presentations? There will be countless Youtube tutorials on this

And so on, and so forth

Aside from skills, Youtube is also an incredible resource for understanding the world. There are fantastic channels on aspects such as Space, History, Politics or Philosophy.

If you’re using Youtube solely to watch funny cat videos or music videos, you’re doing it wrong. Treat it as an education resource, subscribe to channels that add value to you and watch yourself grow.

  1. Read Great Books

This is the one point which isn’t free. You obviously have to pay to read great books, but how you approach this depends on your mindset. You can view books as an expense, or you can view books as an investment in yourself.

When I say read great books, I’m referring to non-fiction as well as fiction. While great non-fiction teaches us about the world, great fiction often has the ability to teach us about ourselves and humanity. Learning and education isn’t limited to the outside world, a great deal should be learning about yourself.

Once I’ve identified books I’m interested in, I search for them on goodreads.com. Goodreads is a huge community of online readers who rate books they have read. Therefore you’re getting actual  ratings and reviews of people who’ve read the book you’re interested in. This is an excellent barometer on the quality and helpfulness of the book in question.

When it comes to buying books, South Africa isn’t blessed with great book physical retailers. Even Exclusive Books outlets are hard to find – and Exclusive Books are generally quite pricey. I usually shop online at Loot.co.za – they always have what I’m looking for. I’m impatient though, so waiting a week for my purchases is tough.

If finding time to read is a problem for you, consider using Audible.com. Audible is a sub-brand of Amazon.com, and is basically a large online Audiobook store. Most books of any relevance have been converted into at least one Audiobook. You sign up for a package which allows you to access and buy the books. For example, I have a package that gets me one book per month. However, I can purchase additional books over and above the package. Purchasing a book is literally one click, and you then download it onto the app. File sizes are surprisingly small. It’s not like the old days when an audiobook was a whole bunch of CD’s. The app allows you to sample the voice artist first, before purchasing. You don’t want to buy an audiobook if the voice artist’s voice annoys you.

I’ve been using Audible for around two years. If I’m not listening to podcasts I listen to my latest Audiobook download in my car every morning and afternoon drive to and from work. I find I no longer complain about traffic. Even if a drive home takes an hour and a half, the time is being used productively and I’m learning. It beats the hell out of modern commercial radio in terms of both entertainment and substance. Believe me.

I hope this information helps to some degree. My best advice is to just get into habits, and build a lot of this into daily routine. You’ll be amazed at how much you can learn in just one year.






Dostoevsky’s Demons – still hungry for destruction


Perhaps my biggest influencer in 2017 is a man who’s been dead for 136 years. Discovering the works of Fyodor Dostoevsky has been a joy seldom experienced. He’s made me consider and think about big concepts and existential issues to an extent which no other author has been able to. Perhaps another reminder that I’m living in the wrong time.

In the past week I’ve completed the novel Demons. It was one of the more difficult novels I’ve ever worked my way through, but was rewarding nonetheless, as all his works usually are. It’s a novel about an ominous group of political activists attempting to undermine and overthrow a small town’s governing class. The ‘Demons’ of the title are not ghouls or actual Demons, but ideas which possess certain people and lead to ruin. Early in the novel, one of the lead characters, Stepan Trofimovich an ageing intellectual liberal, describes what he observes with new liberals in the big city he visits. “You cannot imagine what sorrow and anger seize one’s whole soul when a great idea, which one has long and piously revered, is picked up by some bunglers and dragged into the street, to more fools like themselves, and one suddenly meets it in the flea market, unrecognizable, dirty, askew, absurdly presented, without proportion, without harmony, a toy for stupid children.” 

This was to be something of a theme through the novel, as we watch a group of nihilists, seduced by the ideals of Communism, wreak havoc in this small town in 1800’s Russia. One of the members of the group, in a confession at the end of the novel, explains exactly what they set out to do: “The systematic shaking of the foundations, for the systematic corrupting of society and all principles, in order to dishearten everyone and make a hash of everything, and society being thus loosened, ailing and limp, cynical and unbelieving, but with an infinite yearning for some guiding idea of self-preservation – to take it suddenly into their own hands.”

Dostoevsky’s arguments in Demons would probably remain the same today if the man were still alive. It’s seemingly a universal truth: In the absence of a greater, higher power, mankind has the tendency to be very easily seduced by political ideologies. The novel was a warning of what was to come in Russia in the early to mid 1900’s. Unfortunately, no one listened. Dostoevsky was observing the sparks that would eventually lead to Lenin, Stalin and one of the most murderous regimes in the history of the world. One of the central characters of the novel, Shatov, in observing this group of radicals in the novel, says: “They’d be the first to be unhappy if Russia somehow suddenly got reconstructed, even if it was in their own way, and somehow suddenly became rich and happy. They’d have no one to hate then, and nothing to spit on, nothing to jeer at. All that’s there is an ism”

This one quote said it all about the Bolshevik Russia that was to come. In pretty much all revolutionary communist movements, it ends up not being about equality at all. These movements are driven by hate – hate of the oppressor, of the bourgeois, hate of the system and that hate can only manifest in you once you have become possessed by ideas. That hate also doesn’t really go away once it has captured you. And once the goal is achieved – what then? When a movement is fuelled by hatred and ideology, it often ends up going over the edge.

Dostoevsky used this novel to warn that liberalism had been hijacked by a dangerous group. If he were alive today he’d be warning us about the same thing. There seems to be a movement of destruction sweeping through the world. Liberalism in the wrong hands is a slippery slope to radical fundamentalism powered by resentment.

The term “liberal” in its original form described somebody who resisted the state in order to be liberated from state control – i.e. to gain ‘liberty’. In its original form liberalism was about freedom of individuals, freedom of speech, equal opportunity and judging people on the content of their character rather than anything else. Nowadays if you identify as ‘liberal’, you most probably want larger governments, you probably want to restrict speech you don’t like, you probably have the tendency to put people in boxes based on their skin colour, gender etc, and you probably want to take away more individual rights than you’re willing to give.

20th century liberalism did an incredible amount of good in the world. There were noble causes that it fought for. Women’s rights, gay rights, non-white rights etc. Noble causes which were essential in progressing society in the right direction. But in the absence of noble causes, is it once again in danger of going over the deep end? The following are actual headlines I’ve seen in the last few months from large outlets such as the New York Times and The Guardian include the following:

“Church of Sweden to stop referring to God as ‘He’ or ‘Lord’”

“Why climate change is creating a new generation of child brides”

“Want to fight climate change? Have fewer children”

“Is it ok for my child to have white friends”

“It’s time to take the ‘great’ white men of science off their pedestals”

“Yes, we must decolonise: our teaching has to go beyond elite white men”

“Christmas is ruined by children”

“Fascism bad – Communisim good(ish)”

“It’s time to do away with the concept of manhood altogether”

The danger is that the wrong ideology is possessing liberalism once again, and has been moving towards this for the past two decades. Hardcore liberalism now seems more of an attempt at destruction – A destruction of Western Civilisation. A destruction of the traditional family structure. Destruction of law and order. A destruction of capitalism, the system that has lifted millions out of poverty and led to the great inventions of the past 200 years. Destruction of healthy cultures and identities. This is of course, underpinned by an attempted destruction of Western religion.

Is it pure co-incidence that the two biggest mass murdering regimes of the 20th century – those of Joseph Stalin and Mao Zedong, both rejected religion? Now I’m not saying that atheism equals mass murderers, that would be ridiculous. But I am saying that where Christianity is lacking there is a void in humans which could get filled by anything. Communism, after all, rejects religion. There’s a reason for this – if people are living for their faith, how can they live for the state?

“Wait a minute,” you might say. “What about all the evils of fascism!” Yes, everyone knows this. Of course fascism is bad, and always has been, with a horrifying track record. That’s just the point – fascism is just another ideology, and as soon as people are sucked into an ideology, it always becomes a dangerous ground. Also, the point I’m trying to make is that most brutal regimes in modern times have always started as liberation movements. Dostoevsky was a liberal himself. He even got arrested in his younger years and was nearly executed because of this. However, like myself now, I get the sense that he looked at liberalism at the time with a growing sense of unease.

Dostoevsky, a Russian Orthodox Christian was particularly good at portraying strong arguments contrasting his own views, sometimes even stronger than his own arguments. The prime example of this is his creation of Ivan Karamazov, in the novel The Brothers Karamazov. Whilst Ivan was a sceptic of the existence of God, he couldn’t help but feel that “In the absence of God, all is permitted.” Even though he himself wasn’t convinced on the existence of a God, he did admit that human beings in general need religion.

A few years later, Frederich Nietzsche, a philosopher heavily influenced by Dostoevsky, wrote his famous “God is Dead” line: “God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”

It’s worth noting that Nietzsche was a non-believer, yet these weren’t words of triumph. These were lines of anguish and foreboding. This was a dire warning to humanity saying that in the absence of the guiding principles of religion, what would happen to ordinary people?

Yes, there are many of you out there right now disagreeing with this, and thinking that you can live a perfectly moral and good life without religion as your guide. Yes, that might be the case, but there’s a strong chance you’re a university educated person who’s been exposed to much that has grown your mind. Consider for a moment the poor man, who’s received little to no education, who has perhaps grown up in a broken home? In the absence of religion, in this situation, who does this man turn to for moral guidance? Now picture this man standing on the brink of committing crime. If this man truly believed in judgement from a higher power, that would surely be infinitely more of a deterrent than the idea of the law. And what happens when a dangerous political movement comes along, and promises this young man that he can get things for free and now is the time to stick it to the oppressor?

It’s not just the poor, uneducated who are susceptible to fall for politicised fundamentalism. I see this with my own eyes on social media – affluent, successful people sucked into political grandstanding, endlessly spewing out their clichéd, recycled hate of something or someone, usually with an incredibly angry tone. Generally losing all sense of reason, fact and critical thought in the process. You can guarantee two things with people like this: 1. They’re non-religious. 2. They have found no purpose or meaning within themselves. They need to find it elsewhere.

As religion has declined over the past 100 years in Western countries, governments have generally increased in size, often quite dramatically. This leads to the unfortunate possibility of ordinary people, in the absence of religion, looking to large governments as their moral authority. Governments know this. They also know that the more they can get the plebs to depend on them, the more they control them. As The Grand Inquisitor in the Brothers Karamazov succinctly put it:  “For who shall reign over human beings if not those who reign over their consciences and in whose hands are their loaves.”

My feeling is that perhaps we can divide the world into two groups. In the first group are those who can live autonomously, finding meaning, morals and purpose from within – who can exist perfectly with no higher authority. And the second group – those who cannot do this, and who actually need a higher guiding power. Perhaps the most dangerous people in the world are the people in the second group who have rejected the idea of God. They easily end up possessed by something, our putting their faith in something that isn’t always entirely healthy. As Dostoevsky’s character put it, these people are susceptible to “an infinite yearning for some guiding idea”.

I don’t think I’m suggesting that religion is going to heal the world. Society has moved beyond that. What I am suggesting is that if you’re getting your opinions from your ideology you’re part of the problem, rather than the solution. If your societal viewpoints are coming from external sources, there is a strong chance that your sense of meaning, purpose and happiness are also relying on external sources. Dostoevsky’s Grand Inquisitor summed this up perfectly in a fictional conversation with Jesus: “The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.”

If Western Religion is indeed on the decline, perhaps the biggest thing we need to be teaching the next generation is to find true meaning and life purpose within themselves, and for them to understand that fulfilment and happiness comes from within. Without a strong sense of internal purpose and meaning, or without religion, anything can come fill the void of the young adult mind. 

Good communication – the workplace skill you can’t avoid

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Here’s a secret when it comes to climbing the career ladder, and some might say it’s an unfortunate secret: You need to be noticed. You need to make yourself heard instead of blending in with the crowd. For example, if you’re working in a group, volunteer to be the one who presents back. In group meetings, prepare well so that you can voice your sensible opinions instead of remaining in silence. To do this most effectively, you need to be a confident, decisive communicator who can get their points across clearly.

The bad news is that for many, communication is often a weakness. In some cases, communication is a frightening prospect. However, communication, like any other skill, is something that is improved through practise. Some of the best communicators in the world started out as nervous fidgety speakers with low confidence. What eventually made them more and more confident was more and more practise.

It’s probably a worthy thing to remember – if doing something in the workplace scares you, you probably need to do more of it.

Tesla CEO and multibillionaire Elon Musk is a self-proclaimed introvert. As he’s said: “I’m not a naturally extroverted person. I used to be horrendous at public speaking, and sort of shake and be unable to speak. I’ve learned not to do that.” Richard Branson has said that communication is the number one skill that any leader should possess. In his own words: “Communication levels the playing field. If you can speak well, you can outshine the competition in so many ways.

If you want to succeed in business, you need to communicate well – in a confident, concise manner. People who waffle for ages around a subject don’t endear themselves to others, and struggle to get their message across. Similarly, people who never talk are never noticed, and seldom seen as managerial material.

Unfortunately, the only way to grow in this regard is to put yourself out there. Look for opportunities where you can communicate, present or contribute more in discussions. Before you know it your nerves will decline, and you’ll have gained the positive attention of your superiors.

It is important to never forget that great communicators are great listeners, first and foremost. Make a habit of listening to understand, rather than listening to respond. Critical to effective communication skills are other non-verbal actions such as friendly, open body language, acknowledging the other person, and really thinking and evaluating what is being said.

Never let mistakes happen due to a simple lack of communication and clarity. Remember two golden rules: If something can go wrong, it will. If someone is unclear about how to do something, they’ll do it incorrectly.

Picking the moments that define your career

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An aeroplane pilot once described what being a pilot is like. He explained it as ‘hours of boredom and moments of panic’. On might argue that forging a successful career in the business world requires hours of mundane work combined with moments of brilliance. In the game of football, a great striker doesn’t pull off brilliant moments throughout the entire game. He typically works hard, makes a lot of runs, often goes unnoticed. But when it matters, he’s usually able to take his chance and score. For 89 minutes his work goes largely unnoticed, but for one minute he makes himself the hero. Your career in the workplace is much like this, in that you’ve got to know the right moments to strike, but know that you cannot do this if you don’t put the quiet, unnoticed hours in.

And no, this doesn’t mean slacking off 80% of the time when the boss isn’t looking. As you progress in your chosen field or role, you’ll encounter moments where you need to be great. There are long periods when you merely need to be competent, but there are some moments where you need to rise to the occasion. In some roles these moments may have several months or more separating them, while in other roles they may occur every week.

So what are these moments and how do you know when they are happening? Well, typically they are moments when you get a chance to present or report back on something in front of your superiors, or perhaps carry out a task or project where you will be evaluated. In short, these moments are platforms for you to impress. Let’s say you’re a Marketing Assistant and your manager asks you for a short presentation on market trends in your industry. This is once such moment. You need to put your heart and soul and best thinking into this in order to make it as good as possible, and do every time moments like this arise.

Being memorable when it matters is one of the most important things that will set you apart from colleagues and put you in line for growth in your company. Remember, employees who hide or go unnoticed also usually go unpromoted.

However, while pilots can transition into autopilot, you can’t. Remember that most little things you do well won’t necessarily gain you praise. But most little things you do badly will most likely gain you criticism, albeit sometimes silent criticism. Do everything in a manner that you’d be happy to explain or put your name alongside, even if nobody is watching and never sees it. You control how well you do certain tasks. Steve Jobs articulated this particularly well: “When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back.”