Strategy and yoga

The game of chess is often rolled out as being useful for strategic thinking.

The chess requirement to think ahead and manage decisions on multiple fronts is valuable for strategists.

But the practice of yoga is more apt as both metaphor and training.

Chess masters can get obsessed with winning and losing, making it a zero sum game.

Yogi’s on the other hand spend their time challenging their awareness. Finding ways to continually improve. The winners in yoga are those who do the practice. Pushing the limits over and over again.

In the process we get to know ourselves. It is hard to be biased about our yogic abilities when we have to face them on the mat, in all their glory.

Strategists could learn from yoga that daily practice, awareness, learning and incremental improvements are more important than a fascination on competition and winning.

We can also think about Yoga as much as we want, but if we do not do the practice, nothing happens.

And the reward lies in reflection. Looking back on where we have come from provides the motivation to keep pushing the limits.

Thanks to Jarvis and the YogaSpirit team for giving me a magical place to practice and, without knowing it, the inspiration to make this connection.

Jim Harrington, world renowned Yogi showing Vashista-Padangusta on Table Mountain with Lions Head in the background

Image source: Jim Harrington Yoga

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The end of the classroom (as we know it)

The classroom as we know it is no more. It happened a while back.

When coal miners went underground, they would carry a canary in a cage. If the canary was still breathing, their air supply was good. When the canary died, they knew they didn’t have enough oxygen and were in danger. For the classroom, the emergence of the Kahn Academy a few years ago was when the canary stopped breathing.

Classroom’s used to be where we went to learn. We would find teachers there, and between the teachers, their knowledge, the pictures on the wall, the small library in the classroom and the main library down the hall, we would have all that we needed. Wherever it was, at school, at university or at the business training course or leadership development programme, the classroom was where the knowledge had been gathered. This is where we found it and where learning happened. 

With the stroke of the search engine all that changed.

An example is my daughter’s school experience. Pre Kahn Academy, the teacher would prepare the lesson by gathering information and the classroom would be used to share and tell. Children would sit in wonder and listen to the facts and figures and anecdotes. 

Since the canary died, what happens in the classroom is different. Teachers are suddenly the curator of information rather than the source of information. They are the glue that makes the information come alive, or not. 

Now, rather than her teacher arriving with all the knowledge, my daughter is required to seek out the information and together they assemble it and make sense of it under the facilitation of the teacher. This is kindergarden but the same applies in the business school. Teachers assemble a topic and rather than present the information, teachers present a core message, make it interesting, engage the participants and create an environment where learning can happen. 

The new classroom requires different skills for teachers: 

  • Rather than producer of the lesson, teachers now become directors of the lesson.
  • Questions from the teacher increase the value of the experience Telling the answer decreases it.  
  • Teachers are now more a clearinghouse for knowledge than a source of knowledge.
  • Rather than always being the person with the most knowledge in the room, teachers may need to help the person with the most knowledge to share their message. 
  • Instead of conveying the knowledge, teachers now need to make the knowledge interesting. 
  • More entertainment is needed to grab the emotional attention of the class. Reciting facts doesn’t cut it anymore. 
  • As doctors are finding with patients arriving self-diagnosed, students will know more than their teachers. Teachers need the humility to accept this and to work in collaboration with smart students. 
  • “I don’t know, let’s figure it out”, is now an acceptable approach for teachers. In the past it was a sign of an unprepared teacher.
  • Facilitators would be more a more apt name than teachers. 

With the answer to any question a smartphone and a few seconds away, we may feel we no longer need a classroom. This is wrong. The classroom will always play one crucial role that technology cannot take away and that is connection. Although technology allows us to connect, the ease with which we connect is inversely proportional to the quality of our connections. A quick text message doesn’t carry the same connection value as a face to face conversation. A Skype is useful, but not the same as a cup of coffee with a friend. Yes, it is quick, but not the same.

The classroom offers valuable human connection. Deciding how to communicate in the classroom is now as important as knowing what to communicate.

The classroom of the future is an environment for learning

Image source:

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Intellectual Vandalism

A friend told me about a house he was building. It took months to get it nearly complete. Lots of work by lots of people, creating something of beauty that everyone could admire. A week before completion vandals broke into the property and ripped the place to pieces, just for fun.

Vandalism sits on the opposite end of the continuum to creativity.

This story has many parallels in the world. An employee spends hours working on a new idea only for their boss to reject it without offering any suggestions for improvement.

A child spends hours on a project only for a teacher to dismiss it without proper acknowledgment.

The hallmark of intellectual vandals are those that only break down without offering an alternative. Criticism is always welcome, if constructive. Intellectual vandals seldom offer anything constructive.

Their interactions mostly consist of vigorous attempts to shoot down ideas and make them less valuable.

The destruction of ideas, thoughts and concepts is much easier than creating new thought. Vandalism is much easier than creativity. As in the example of the ‘house-breakers’, the ‘idea-breakers’ use a fraction of the energy of the creative.

Like the child who breaks down sand castles on the beach because they are more beautiful than hers, the intellectual vandal looks to bring all ideas down to a size that he can feel less intimidated.

SA: Best place for kids to grow up

I’ve met many people who have left South Africa or are planning to leave because of their kids. I think it’s a lousy reason. It’s seldom about the children and even if it was, it’s a mistake. Our children get more out of growing up in South Africa than they would in some safe little town in Australia.

Having two beautiful young children I can understand the dilemma. We have to balance keeping ourselves safe while not being paranoid and paralysed by fear. It’s not always easy. Despite the dilemma, South Africa offers one of the best opportunities for children to learn about the world and grow into better people.

This view only works if you can start by wondering whether life is about more than just being comfortable and safe.

The usual reasons in favour of South Africa are the warmth of our people, our lifestyle and opportunity. Brenda Weis, an American sales executive, discovered this when she visited the country in 2007 and again in 2008. She fell in love with South Africa and its people. Based on her brief visits, she has made the decision to retire here rather than in the United States. As she says, “It is a good country with great potential … and I look forward to calling it home.”

On the other side, there are of course a number of arguments why you should get on the phone to Stuttafords and start planning your emigration. That’s the usual debate though and not the point of this article.

Make me stronger
A unique aspect of our country is that, unlike other countries where you might not have to think about some of the big issues in life, South Africa forces you to take a view. More than just a view, you are often forced to look at yourself and challenge your beliefs.

Isn’t it possible that the problems we have in South Africa make us stronger? It was the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche who in 1888 said, “What does not kill me, makes me stronger.” Could this be the attraction to our country for people like Brenda Weis?

A world in one country
The nature of South Africa with it’s complex history can be seen as a microcosm for the world, with all it’s beauty and troubles. I don’t know who came up with “South Africa — A world in one country” — it is a perfect description of our land.

There are many issues which South Africa has dealt with or is dealing with which have yet to be resolved by the world at large. In many cases the world looks to South Africa for solutions and our four Nobel Peace Prize laureates are proof of the value placed on our leadership.

While race as an issue is hardly resolved (see “On being a recovering racist”) we have certainly dealt with issues in a more open and engaging manor than elsewhere in the world.

South Africa under apartheid was the cauldron of race relations for the world and while countries such as America abolished their own form of apartheid many years before, the issue is far from resolved.

There have been at least two racist right-wing plots to kill Barack Obama, simply because he is black and the president. Clearly all is not well in the land of the free and the home of the brave, the country which first coined the term race riot and where Los Angeles erupted in 1992 as South Africa was negotiating its transition to a non-racial democracy. Europe has similar issues with a growing right-wing movement.

Race in South Africa is real. We haven’t stopped talking about it, which is healthy. We don’t all agree and that’s fine. It’s explicit, it’s messy, it’s in our faces and we have to deal with it. And we will. And the world can learn from our experiences while we will be better prepared for a world facing similar issues.

Shifting Power
China is growing faster than America. At some point, it’s likely China will be a bigger and more powerful country than America. This is likely to cause some tension. There are other shifts in power around energy, nuclear capability, food and even water, which are likely to affect who has the biggest voice at the table.

In South Africa we’ve recently shifted power quite significantly and quickly. In the late 1980’s the National Party saw that their model was flawed and effectively negotiated themselves out of power, avoiding a meltdown and providing an opportunity of a more peaceful and prosperous future.

The ANC was founded in 1912 as a collective of Africans resisting initially colonisation and later Afrikaner nationalism. In 1990 they suddenly found their cause removed and they were thrust into power and have been reinventing themselves ever since.

This shift takes some adjusting on all fronts. It’s not just about politicians and leaders. Living in South Africa, you and I have faced issues as a result of this change in power that the rest of the world hasn’t since World War II.

Dealing with the bad guys
Fifteen years before terrorists flew airplanes into the World Trade Centre and shocked America to its core, we were already dealing with the reality of armoured vehicles cruising our neighbourhoods and bombs exploding in restaurants as people fought for their causes.

You may remember the bombing of the Wimpy in Benoni in 1988. That year there were more than 100 incidents of attack and counter-attack scattered across our country while the nationalist army and Umkhonto we Sizwe fought their war. As civilians we learned to live in this environment.

Without being paranoid, there will always be bad guys. It’s not doom and gloom, it is just reality. People fight and people get hurt, they always have. Better to have strategies for dealing with it than looking for a place to put your head in the sand.

South Africans have moved beyond being paralysed by the actions of the bad guys. From neighbourhood watches to private security, we have organised ourselves to live despite the threat.

Life would be better if we didn’t have to look over our shoulders, but we do. The New York, London, Madrid and Mumbai attacks illustrate that nowhere is safe and our only error is to believe that somehow, we can insulate ourselves from “the bad guys”.

The great deciders
The shifting of power and global terrorism are big macro issues, and while interesting, they are not as real as the conversations and interactions we have on a daily basis. We are the people on the ground, living our lives in our neighbourhoods and offices. We are the citizens who live and work, raise families, have friends and find meaning in our everyday existence.

This existence in South Africa, is at a different intensity level to other countries. Irrespective of who you are and who I am, we have been challenged since 1990 to review, perhaps change, but at least look at our beliefs around some big issues.

Race, crime, community, citizenship, religion, politics, education and health are some of the topics that we have had to examine. Even if we haven’t changed our minds, we are forced to make decisions.

Many of us have had to look life and death situations squarely in the face, either ourselves or among our family and friends. We have to decide how we let it affect us.

Politically, it doesn’t matter whether we supported the Communists or the AWB, or somewhere in between, we have had to examine our position as things around us have changed.

What feels normal to us is certainly not normal for much of the world. While the daily papers in Helsinki are scratching around for a motor accident to put on the front page, journalists in South Africa seldom have a slow news day.

In South Africa we live in rich contrasts. There is not much that is just average. Life is mostly on the ends of continuum rather than the middle.

We have to think, reflect and grapple with life. As anyone who has bungi jumped, rock climbed, skydived or done something putting their lives in danger will attest, there is nothing that makes us feel as alive as facing death. In South Africa we get to think about this more often than most.

Admittedly, we may be a little far on the “wild west” side of the continuum and I don’t believe we should be fighting for our lives every day. I do however appreciate having to deal with sometimes complex — but always real — issues. I feel richer, stronger and more ready for the issues that we are faced with in the wider world.

When visiting Australia I’ve seen the apparent idyllic lifestyle so often talked about. Gas barbecues, which are never vandalised, are available in the parks for free. Everyone drives at the speed limit. Rules are obeyed and everyone lives happily ever after.

In Sydney I was apprehended by a local who stopped me from jay walking, a term I was vaguely familiar with. I was confused. We stood staring at a red man on a pole without a car in site.

My friend Neil had a similar but much more hilarious experience at the WACA after a cricket game. You can read his column entitled “One foot in, one foot out” (and look at the photo).

So would I rather my children grew up in Australia where rules are strict and govern just about every aspect of my life? It’s safe, but we might just die of boredom (suicide rates are up). Or live in South Africa where life is definitely more dangerous but I feel challenged and alive every day?

The issues we grapple with are deep and meaningful and matter in the world. They are seldom petty. I feel eternally grateful for the challenges and mind changing experiences that have influenced me.

Working in a very international environment in my mid twenties, South Africans were always revered for their resourcefulness and ability to engage in a broad range of issues. South African business people are revered for similar qualities today. Could it be as a result of the issues we face at home that make the rest of the world look tame by comparison.

Life is difficult
Talking about this with my friend Rob over breakfast the other day, I thought of the opening paragraph of M Scott Peck’s best selling book, The Road Less Travelled, which states;

“Life is difficult

This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult — once we truly understand and accept it — then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

South Africa offers some of the best opportunities to deal with difficulty and transcend it. It’s not for sissy’s, but the rewards are high.

For my kids, I believe I would be doing them a disservice to take them away from this rich and rewarding life that we lead.

Either you are looking for what is good about the country and you will find more than ample evidence, or you are looking for what is wrong with the country and again you will discover enough to fuel dinner party conversation with doom and gloom stories. Either way, what you look for you will see.

I’m off to Australia for a holiday in a few weeks and while looking forward to the trip and seeing family and friends, I’m not looking forward to the feeling of pulling on a straight jacket as I walk out of the airport.

It leaves me longing to be cut off by a taxi. Just to feel alive.

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Conscious Incompetence

Elizabeth Kubler Ross describes our learning going through four stages

  • Unconscious Incompetence (i.e. we don’t know what we don’t know)
  • Conscious Incompetence (i.e. we now know that we don’t know)
  • Conscious Competence (i.e. we are competent but only if we are paying attention)
  • Unconscious Competence (i.e. we are competent and don’t even need to think about it)

Whenever I explain this to clients I use the example of driving a car as it is a pretty universal experience and allows us to easily understand the four stages above. My kindergarten daughter is blissfully unaware that there is such a thing as learning to drive a car and she is not aware that she is incompetent when it comes to driving a car.

This will all change when she turns 17, and starts to practice towards her drivers licence. She will quickly realise, or become conscious, that she is incompetent in the area of driving and will need to practice in order to become competent.

At the point where she is driving, perhaps still with some supervision, she will be consciously competent. Competent in driving but having to concentrate and think about what she is doing. ‘Push the clutch in, change the gear, turn the corner’ – all very conscious and deliberate steps hence conscious competence.

Once she has been driving for a few years she will forget all about that and like most people who have driven for a while will reach a stage where if asked a question such as ‘what gear where you in when you turned the corner?’ would probably look blankly at the questioner because the act of driving has become completely unconscious.

If you think about it, you’ll find that whenever you learn something new you go through this process. From working on a computer to public speaking, it starts unconscious, becomes consciously uncomfortable and with practice gets more comfortable and less conscious.

I posted about my experiences in the cockpit (Learning to Fly – October 2007) where I went through this process and this last week I had a similar experience. I asked a swim coach at my gym to look at my stroke and give me some advice.

I think I’m a reasonable swimmer. I swam 1:08 in the Ironman last year which I was happy with. After 10 minutes in the pool this week, I realised how much more I could learn. I wasn’t maximizing my stroke at the end, pushing back with my hand as I’m reaching forward with my other hand. My kicking was a bit erratic and could be harder. I was breathing on every 3rd stroke and was recommended to breath on every 5th. And lastly I wasn’t reaching far enough forward with my arms.

Within 20 minutes of trying out these new techniques, I could see that I could improve – tangible evidence was 16 strokes across the pool instead of 20/22 when I started. However, I did feel a bit like a swimming klutz. I couldn’t get my feet to kick at the same time as breathing and while I was concentrating on getting one thing right, the others would slip. This as a result of becoming conscious about my incompetence.

I found it incredibly humbling and I am very thankful that I can still learn new things. In fact I find it incredibly exciting that I could become a better swimmer in my 40’s than I ever was in my teens. I always thought I was late developer. Yoga is a bit like that. My teacher for many year Ysette Myers used to always say she was only a beginner despite having taught yoga for 27 years.

My other insight was that it’s impossible to get to the unconscious competence stage without first moving through the other stages. Some of them may go quicker but I need to master them all before I can really call myself competent.

Ironman South Africa 2008 – Learning to do things a different way

I’ve been meaning to write this for sometime now. To be brutally honest, I didn’t want to write it until I had completed the Ironman because my nature is that I don’t like to talk about things that I don’t know for sure that I can pull off. Even on the starting line, last Sunday morning, I wasn’t sure that I would be able to manage despite the training I had done.

The fact that I was standing on the starting line at all, I told Chris while we were putting on our wet suits before the race, was because of an ex-colleague by the name of Werner. He had found the video of the 2006 Kona, Hawai Ironman World Champs and had shown me a copy. It’s hard to watch that and not get inspired. So that planted the seed but the reason I decided to do it went quite a lot deeper.

I’ve always been blessed, or sometimes I think cursed, with a more than average natural ability. So things like running and most sports come quite easily to me. What hasn’t come easily has been the the gritty determination to keep going year after year, season after season and to keep focusing on one thing.

I was the schoolboy who did almost every activity at school. I ran, swam, played hockey, rugby, cricket, badminton. table tennis, tennis, squash, cross country, rowing and in fact most sports saw me making an appearance at one time or another. Most of the coaches commented that I had good natural ability and could go very far. This was usually my cue to move on to something else.

Compare this to my partner, Gary, who will readily admit that there were many people who had more natural ability than him at cricket, but what he excelled at was the professionalism, diligence and tenacity to keep practicing and working harder than anyone else to get ahead, which he did, eventually playing more than 100 tests for South Africa.

So I decided that the way I learn best is by experience, so why not take on something that I couldn’t do on the seat of my pants. An event that without training, would flatten even the most talented athletes. The Ironman requires skills in swimming, cycling and running while most people focus only on one. The bottom line was that if I didn’t prepare with diligence and tenacity, I was going to be left lying on the side of the road.

My objective – to experience preparing for something over a long period of time, sticking with it when the going got tough and seeing it through to the end. I initially hooked onto the idea of the Ironman in 2005. I took the decision to do it at the end of 2006 and started my initial training in Jan 2007 for the April 2008 event.

My initial training was a bit all over the place and despite employing a coach, I didn’t get any real traction until late in 2007 when I locked onto the Ironman 70.3 (this is a half Ironman consisting of half of all the distances – 70.3 miles is half the total distance of 140.6 which makes a full Ironman).

Early in 2007 I went through a number of false starts where I started training, trained for about a week, caught a cold or flu, took a week off to recover and then started again. Clearly something wasn’t working.

The 70.3 was in East London in Jan 2008 and I wanted to use it as a major milestone towards my major goal. I employed the services of and set about training.

The style of training was really good for me. My natural style is “no pain – no gain” which the Mark Allen program immediately dispelled. In fact his program was counter-intuitively the opposite. While it was hard to keep to the eight sessions a week, the actual sessions were not painful at all. Through a technique where I managed my heart rate, I gradually increased my speed and my ability to exercise fast at lower and lower heart rates.

Up until the Mark Allen program, my training runs had consisted of heading out my front door and up the mountain where my hear rate quickly climbed to 150 and then averaged in the 180’s for most of the run. I now started exercising at a heart rate of no more than 133 for my long runs and was amazed as my speed gently increased while my heart rate stayed low.

Back to East London in January. The 70.3 was a tricky race because it is short enough to push quite hard and the pacing challenge is to go fast enough to do a decent time while slow enough to last for the 6 or so hours that it will take. Needless to say I ignored my heart rate goals and pushed hard in the cycle. Starting the run, my heart rate was off the charts and I didn’t give it any time to settle down, I just pushed on. Before I knew it I hit major exhaustion about 2/3 of the way through the race. My last 7km lap of the 21km run was agony as I felt nauseous and had severe cramps.

It took me a few days to reflect on the race and work out what had happened. I was happy with breaking 6 hours but wasn’t happy with how I felt at the end of the race. I was a bit confused and unsure how I would tackle double the distance.

My intention when setting out to do the Ironman was to do something different and when I got down to basics, the 70.3 wasn’t any different to how I had done previous races.

After the 70.3 my body was clearly taking strain. I suffered an ankle injury doing a long run a few weeks later which niggled my running and prevented me from doing speed work for the rest of the lead up to Ironman. I also suffered a ham string injury on my bike while doing a training ride which is still with me and had me in agony on the day of the Ironman. It only hurt when I peddled, but at roughly 90 turns a minute for 6 hours, I had about 5400 jolts of pain to keep me focused :-)

I really believe that the injuries, I suffered, while not being serious enough to stop me competing, were all as a result of how I had done the 70.3. I believe I put my body under severe strain, more so than was necessary, and I wanted to know if I could do better not only in time but also in how I recovered afterwards. I still wondered how I could possibly keep going for at least another six hours, while doing another 70.3 miles. I certainly couldn’t have done it on the day that I finished the 70.3.

Leading up to the full Ironman I took some time to write down my strategy for the race. I wanted a strategy that I could refer to throughout the race and it would guide me in the decisions that I needed to make. Different decisions to the ones that I had ever taken previously.

I knew from experience that at points my brain would become fuzzy and I wouldn’t be able to think clearly. At those points, I wanted to make sure I had guidance. I decided that if I worked towards a time at any cost then I would be affecting my ability to finish the race as I could exhaust myself early in the race which would have severe consequences later.

I took a different approach by writing down my strategy. See my previous post. To summarise it consisted of:

  • Have Fun
  • Finish the race
  • Food and nutrition to sustain myself
  • Follow the plan which consisted primarily of my heart rate limits that I planned to stay within and my nutrition plan – what I was going to eat and drink in each stage – particularly the cycle which is the longest and most crucial stage.

On the day, I had taken some advice from a friend Janel who did a very impressive sub 11 hour Ironman a few years ago. She said not to get too manic at the start and in the transitions. She had walked down the beach into the water and had used the transitions to catch her breath between each stage.

Following this advice I did a good swim at 1h10mins and then climbed on my bicycle for the 180km cycle. The initial 15km’s were uphill which pushed my heart rate up above my 139 limit. I slowed down and averaged a pedestrian 19km/h to the highest point 183 metres above sea level.

From there it was downhill for a fast section before easing into undulating hills which lead out to turn point about 25km’s out. From the turn, the wind got behind us and I quickly made my way back to the start for lap two. That wasn’t so bad. My knee/hamstring injury was sore but not bad when I peddled continuously.

I’d like to say I didn’t think about anything other than what I was doing and the next lap but that would be lying. My main thought in the cycle was ‘will I be ok in the marathon’. I was constantly surprised that I was still alive as I had built up a fear of the cycle. By the time I finished the last lap and climbed off my bike to begin the run, I felt surprisingly good.

The run started well, it was a relief to be off the bicycle. I got to see some more of Dee as I came past a little slower on foot. Even stopped for a big kiss at some point. Lap two was about the hardest. Running past the finish and seeing people coming in and knowing that I still had another 28km’s to go was hard. My friend Chris had an awesome race and grew his lead as we passed each other a few times, each of us hanging in.

My legs got more and more stiff and sore but my energy was still good and I was nowhere near the sheer exhaustion that I felt when I did the half Ironman. It started getting dark as I went into the last lap and made my way out to the furthest point of the loop. It was starting to get a bit messy out there with people vomiting and lying around in pain, there days ending sooner than they had planned.

I heard the announcer and the crowds and knew that I was less than 3km’s from the end. My legs were sore and not working all that well but kept me moving forward. And then suddenly I was there, coming down the carpeted shoot and over the finish line to finish the 42km run and complete my first Ironman in 12h31.

I recovered remarkably well and after a good meal, a bath and some relaxing I was felt pretty good. It took me a day or two and the stiffness in my legs was gone.

While the Ironman was a great achievement which I feel good about, the real value I got was my learning of the real power of having a simple strategy to guide my actions. I lecture strategy to final year business science students and run scenario planning exercises for companies so I understand the importance of strategy for business. This was however different, this was my personal strategy around the event.

Now how much more powerful would that be if applied to my whole life.

Watch this space.

The curse of knowledge

A little while ago my friend Liz introduced me to Dan and Chip Heath’s book ‘Made to Stick’

which is excellent for anyone wanting to learn how to tell a compelling story. I’ve started using it when I teach people about scenario planning and I’ve found it invaluable for story telling and a number of different contexts.

One of the things the authors talk about is the curse of knowledge which is an affliction suffered by many people. CEO’s trying to communicate to their employee’s, marketers talking to their customers and even parents talking to their children all wish that the listeners could understand their message better.

The curse of knowledge means that a person with knowledge in their head has a difficult time communicating it, unless they can really get inside the head of the other person.

Sounds obvious? It is but it is a blind spot which we often don’t see. To illustrate the difference between how we think people will understand us and how they really do, Elizabeth Newton used a simple but very effective experiment which you could also try. The results were starting enough to win her a PhD in Psychology.

Tappers and Listeners

What she did was have people tap a tune out on a counter using their fingers. Before she did this, she asked the “Tappers” what percentage of “Listeners” would be able to identify the tune. The “Tappers” guessed that on average 50% of the “Listeners” would guess the tune.

The result – 40%? 30%, no a dismal 2.5%, 1 “Listener” in 40 actually guessed compared to the 1 person in 2 predicted by the “Tappers”.

This illustrates how deceptive it is. We all know that when we recount our holiday stories very few people really get the same feelings that we had when we were lying on the beach in the tropics. With the help of a slide show or these days a CD full of digital photographs, we try to give our friends a better understanding of our experience.

Does it work?

If you’ve been on the other side of the holiday photo show you’ll know it doesn’t. Pictures and stories are a poor substitute for warm water and sand between our toes.

The lesson for me is, don’t assume I know what’s going on in another persons head and don’t assume that anybody knows what is going on in mine.

Warm regards


Learning to fly

What a fascinating week I have had. I recently bought a VLA (very light aircraft) with some friends and I’ve had to do a conversion so that I can fly the new type of aircraft – the Czech built Jora UA2 Special.

On Thursday this week, I had planned to fly with a friend of mine Jamie who is in the process of getting his pilots licence before doing my conversion in the afternoon. We hired a Cessna 152 from Stellenbosch Flying Club. We headed out off runway 19 and turned to the north heading for Fisantekraal airfield.

We did a couple of circuits and watching Jamie getting his head around what was going on in the cockpit while lining up for final approach was interesting for me. It took me back to when I learned to fly in the early 90’s. At the time I couldn’t get my head around the number of things going on in the cockpit as I struggled to line up all three planes and walk away from my landings.

I remember everything happening so quickly and how I struggled to coordinate my actions. I would be left of the runway and as I adjusted my flight path to correct that, I would find myself having dropped too low. When I adjusted my altitude, I would find myself right of the runway and so it continued. Very frustrating and left me with feelings of total inadequacy.

Flying with Jamie, made me feel quite proud of what I had achieved over the years, as I was able to effortlessly make corrections as I brought the plane in to land. I mentioned to James that it was a bit like driving a car. Once you get to the point when you don’t need to consciously think about what you need to do then you have arrived. Little did I know what was in store for me later in the day.

We landed back at Stellenbosch in time for some breakfast and then I was meeting up with my partner Phil to fly in our new Jora in preparation for me to do the conversion a few hours later. Sitting in the Jora, as with moving to any new plane, felt quite different.

The cockpit is open at the top to give a full overhead view, flying with a stick instead of yoke, breaks on the stick instead of the rudder pedals, throttle next to the door instead of the middle, everything was different. What it did was send me all the way back to the beginning in terms of my flying.

When it came to the landings, it felt like everything had sped up again, I couldn’t coordinate the various inputs and I felt like a complete novice. It was a humbling and wonderful learning experience for me. It really emphasized the Conscious Competence Learning Model which states that we go through 4 stages of learning:

1. Unconscious Incompetence – we don’t know what we don’t know
2. Conscious Incompetence – we know what we don’t know
3. Conscious Competence – we can function by being conscious
4. Unconscious Competence – we can do things on auto pilot (pun)

The things I notice that are different between Conscious Competence and Unconscious Competence are that everything slows down and there is a sense of time and space. Perhaps it is that the unconscious is taking care of a lot of what needs to be done, leaving the conscious with more time.

The cycle was a lot quicker because I have the base knowledge to fly one type of plane and I am converting my knowledge rather than starting from scratch. It was interesting to experience feeling incompetent in an environment where I had previously felt so competent – on the same day.

What have you learnt recently and where you could apply the Conscious Competence Learning Model?

Problems and Creations

I love the work of Robert Fritz who wrote The Path of Least Resistance which is all about finding our creativity. Fritz is a musician. He contrasts the composer of music to our lives asking if a composer about to embark on a great work looks for a problem to solve. No she builds a picture in her mind of a beautiful end result and then starts with a blank sheet of paper filling in the gaps between the current reality and the picture in her mind.

In a recent newsletter Fritz quotes Carl Jung as saying:

“All the greatest and most important problems of life are fundamentally insoluble… They can never be solved, but only outgrown. This “outgrowth” proved on further investigation to require a new level of consciousness. Some higher or wider interest appeared on the patient’s horizon, and through this broadening of his or her outlook the insoluble problem lost its urgency. It was not solved logically in its own terms but faded when confronted with a new and stronger life urge.”

I love this quote because it ties in so well with the work I have done using scenarios in Executive Coaching. Scenarios are a bit like chess, you can learn how to work with them in a few minutes but it will take a lifetime to become a master of your own scenarios.

One of the seminal works on coaching is John Whitmore’s Coaching for Performance. He has just released an updated version of his book and I’d say that it is the work that best represents my thinking about coaching. Whitmore is the originator of the GROW model for coaching. GROW stands for:

Reality or current reality
What are you going to do?

As with most powerful models, it is very simple. It is powerful in that it is a process that can be followed by individuals either on their own or with a coach. I find it useful for myself and also when working with the most senior executives.

Goal’s are self explanatory and when that is contrasted with the current Reality you have what Robert Fritz calls “structural tension”. There is tension between where I would like to be and where I am now. This is the starting point for creation.

Fritz differentiates between problem thinking and creative thinking. Unfortunately most of the world works in problem / solution mode where we see something as a problem and then set about fixing it. With this approach our level of thinking doesn’t ever raise above the level of the problem.

With creative thinking we get clear (or as clear as possible) on what our future vision is, acknowledge where we are currently and then allow our brain to kick in and find solutions drawing from a creative universe which is far greater than simply attempting to resolve a problem.

Options are the scenarios for our lives. We know what we will get if we continue with our current course. If we project forward three years, is this where we want to be? What are the biggest uncertainties we face and how do they influence the possible future stories for our lives. We are now in the creative zone where the structural tension can be released.

The What brings the process back to earth by asking, “What will you do differently now that your awareness is broader?”

This is the process of personal growth.

So in which areas of your life do you need to CREATE new solutions?

Learning from Africa

Alex Lindsay was in town a couple of weeks ago and I got to do my tourist thing taking him around the Peninsula. I was really impressed with his vision for Pixel Corps and the project he is busy with in Zimbabwe. You can follow his journey at

One of the most interesting things was his view that the people who do all those amazing Zimbabwean rock sculptures are so skilled that they can sit down in front of a computer and be modeling 3D images in a couple of days. It really struck me as such useful connection between 1st and 3rd world.

It also challenged me to think about other ways in which we can learn from African traditions. One of the most obvious is of course in the executive coaching field. I remember years ago sitting one evening with a local tribe in Namibia. We all sat in a circle drinking Mohango Beer as each person told their stories of the day, their trials and tribulations and a conversation was held to support the person.

In our world we sit down one to one and do the same thing only we call it coaching and we do it for money. The commoditising of the process is a good reflection of the world we live in – not good or bad – just that things of value need to be represented by money and packeged in a way to fit our fast moving world – ‘confirming our next session, 8h30 on the 13th’ has replaced a timeless conversation at the end of the day with the African sun setting in the distance.

The world changes and it stays the same.