My manifesto on art and life

My life is the sum of what I have created and what I will create.

If we judge everything we do as creative, we set our own bar for what we put out into the world.

Rather than setting goals, step back and evaluate what I am creating and what do I want to create. Creation is more than goals.

Collaborate with others because life is more interesting creating with people.

And more complicated.

Borrow and lend freely.

Success is judged by others. 

When I judge it myself I am mostly wrong.

How much do I care what others think?

Comparing to others limits creativity. 

All that really matters is what is left behind when I am no longer here.

My manifesto on art and life








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All time is not created equal

“Time flies”, may be one of the most cliched sayings we use.

My physiotherapist on a visit this afternoon said, “I can’t believe it is already October.”

My father regularly shakes his head in dismay that another year has passed. 

I remember my childhood friend Carol asking her mother, ‘Which corner?’ after being told that Christmas was just around the corner. Everyone laughed at the naivety of a child thinking about time in a way different to months, weeks, hours and minutes. 

But is it really naive? Is time really fixed or can we think about time in ways other than what the clock tells us?

Here are some challenging thoughts about time:

  • Why do some events feel like they have flown past while others last an eternity even though they have taken similar amounts of time?
  • How come when we really decide to do something like go to gym regularly, the time opens up and we manage it even though it felt impossible before?
  • Why do tax returns take longer to fill out than visa applications for a desired holiday?
  • Why does the first day away on holiday feel so timeless and the last day before we leave feel so lacking in enough time?
  • Does time really go slower when we are anxiously awaiting something? 
  • Or more specifically, does a watched kettle really never boil? 

Author Bondil Jonsson observes how the arrival of measured, accurate timekeeping became first our tool, and then our master.

As with everything we all have a relationship with time. Some are better than others. Is time our friend or our enemy? 

Can time be used masterfully? For many business people, the constraint of time drives us to achieve more in less. Conversely creating open space, time with no expectations, allows creativity to be fuelled. 

With time maybe it is a case of friends close and enemies closer?

Time can be our friend or our enemy
















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Reversing the logic

Because we get old we slow down and have to be less active.

When we get into our 70’s we aren’t able to ride skateboards because we may fall.

People in the late stages of their life cannot balance on slack lines. 


Stephen Jepson walks a slackline in his 70's






The video below proves this logic is faulty.

As obvious as it sounds, being active is the best way to stay active.

Often we decide that because of an injury or some other reason, we need to slow down and take things easier as we get older.

This is contrary to what our bodies are made to do, which is to move. And continue moving well into old age. 

If you need more examples then look here, herehere and here

So why is this discourse of getting old and slowing down so common? The reason is that it is pervasive and to push against it is hard. It’s easier just to agree. 

The same is true for business. There are many experts with advice on what we should or could do. However, when the music stops, it is up us to decide how we stay in the game. The critics can watch on the side and say, ‘I told you so


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Work and play

James Michener’s quote about work and play is the perfect description of a portfolio life: “The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he’s always doing both.”

Work and play







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Google Course Asks Employees to Take a Deep Breath –

Stop, Breathe, Notice, Reflect and Respond. Google’s Search Inside Yourself (SIY) internal course has already educated 1,000 of their employee’s on mindfulness. The New York Time’s takes us through some of the in’s and out’s of the approach. Eckhart Tolle would be proud. 

Google Course Asks Employees to Take a Deep Breath –

How to not get a job

The class of business science students that I teach strategy are heading out into the world in January. They have a unique outlook on life which they will need as they head into a world as uncertain today as anytime that I remember in my 44 years.

We need to stop looking businesses to work for. I meet a lot of people every month and a lot of people are asking how they will get a job or get a better job. This is the wrong question.

The right question is, ‘where can I contribute’. With contribution come rewards. Always. If I am making a real contribution I will get rewarded either financially or in some other meaningful way. I think we are conditioned to expect instant gratification – I work – you pay – at the end of the month. This is a limiting assumption and allows us to take ‘jobs’ that aren’t fulfilling for us nor valuable for our employers.

A better strategy would be to figure out how to be able to contribute until my contribution is recognized. It may take two or ten months. If I can really contribute then it is probably because the work is meaningful. If it’s meaningful I want to do it anyway and I can be patient.

In a market where ‘good jobs’ are getting scarcer looking for places to contribute opens up many more options. I can do my own business, partner with others, volunteer my time to get experience or create a joint venture with an existing business.

And if you are going to go the contribute route then make sure you do it on your own terms.

The new retirement

The old retirement worked on the basis that you work your whole life and save like mad so you can get to 60 and 65 and then hope like crazy that you don’t live longer than you have money to live because if you do you are so far out of the market that you can never recover. Keywords – mad and crazy.

The new retirement says retire today. Retire from work that is not meaningful and a life which is not balanced with the things you might think are only possible when you’re 65. It’s not true.

The new retirement works on the basis of a portfolio life starting today. Craft the elements of your life that add richness, uniqueness, meaning and fulfillment for you and the people around you. Do it starting today from within your current company and if not their, find a place where it is.

If you’re in doubt, ask your kids, they’ll help you decide whether the old retirement or the new retirement is for you.

John Baldoni’s Harvard Business Review blog warns about leaving it too late.

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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