Mandela: I want revenge but I want something more

There is a line in the movie Mandela, Long walk to freedom which struck for its honesty and insight. 

While still in prison and negotiating with his captors, at a point they say that he ‘surely wants revenge’. 

“I admit I want revenge”, he says, “but I want something more. I want to live without fear and hatred.”

Whether he actually said the words or they are a dramatisation created for the movie, the message is profound particularly when thinking about strategy. 

Mandela could have been caught in his emotions of hatred for what whites and apartheid had done to his people. He realised however that this would simply reverse roles. He said to his captors that if focused on revenge, then the end game would be him caught in the same prison that they were in.

An incredible insight. 

Like a good chess player, he had played out the scenarios and seen them clearer and further into the future than his enemy at the time.

Personally, by acknowledging his want for revenge and being able to put it aside, he was able to go after what he really desired, sustainable freedom for all South Africans.

He lifted the whole negotiation to a different level. 

“As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
– Nelson Mandela

“I admit I want revenge












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Insiders and outsiders

So right up front I need to declare my bias. Some of my work entails working with executive teams to figure out better strategies for their future. I have a vested interest in, and believe it makes sense to involve outsiders when wanting to think about the future in a different way.

On Friday Clem Sunter and I were chatting after his annual guest lecture to our Strategic Thinking students. We exchanged stories about how so often our clients work backwards from their expected outcome. Limiting themselves to what they believe is possible, they then describe their future. While tweaks are often considered, it takes great courage to turn hours of interesting talk into an implemented strategy that changes course for the better. 

Scenario planning provides a rich vantage point from which to look at the future, especially when change is required. This is what is exciting about the work Clem and I do. The real power of scenarios is however when they cause a stirring of emotions that compel people to think and act in a better way. We agreed that a rational argument alone is not good enough to cause change to happen.

While many of us consider ourselves to be rational, a quick glance through the hundreds of biases that are affecting us all the time, should raise some doubt as to how rational we really are. Our emotions play a much bigger role in our decision making than we would like to think.

This is why a group of business people on a particular mission benefit from having an outsider in their midst. The outsider can do many things they cannot. One of these is to question the very assumptions on which their business future is built. We are often emotionally attached to our existing ideas and only an outsider can cause us to feel uncomfortable enough to think differently. 

This is hard for insiders to do themselves. Here are three reasons why.

  1. Often it is the leaders vision that is being followed. As Daniel Kahneman describes in his interview with Charlie Rose (see video below or follow this link), leaders like the idea of rationality but resist implementing it. None of us like our views scrutinised and this is even more so if we have climbed to the highest levels in an organisation. 
  2. Insiders are also vested in the activities that have built their business thus far. ‘That’s not the way we do it around here’, is cliched but we hear it often in various guises when asking about alternative futures that haven’t as yet been considered. 
  3. The third reason is that there is an element of risk in doing things differently. Sometimes to keep going with what we know, even though we are aware of the flaws, is easier than venturing out into a new area. Comfort zone or sunk cost bias perhaps?

Outsiders can help identify a new direction and new ways of implementing. Even though the really hard work of moving in that direction is left to the insiders, without identifying what is possible, we are more likely to remain with the known.

To break out of the tried and tested we need to ask outsiders into our inner circles.


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My fascination with the Mont Fleur Scenarios

For this strategy text book that I’m contributing to I’m refreshing the work I did on my thesis a few years ago, reading up on the Mont Fleur Scenarios. All the main manner were there – Tito, Trevor and my hypothesis (when I did the thesis) was that it was at Mont Fleur in 1991/1992 that the ANC seriously changed direction on economic policy from populist to conservative.

Last year when I invited Vincent Maphai (also a Mont Fleur participant) to talk to our Business Science students at UCT, I asked him before the lecture how much of ANC economic policy had been influenced by Mont Fleur. He took a moment to think and then said although he was a humble man and he didn’t want me to think that he was inflating the story, but, and this is the big but, the ANC economic policy was effectively born at Mont Fleur.

It does make sense if you consider that a few days before his release in 1990, Nelson Mandela confirmed that

“The nationalisation of the mines, banks and monopoly industries is the policy of the ANC, and the change or modification of our views in this regard is inconceivable. Black economic empowerment is a goal we fully support and encourage, but in our situation state control of certain sectors of the economy is unavoidable.”*

This was before Mont Fleur and was certainly not the policy that the 4M’s (Mandela, Mbeki, Manuel and Mboweni) implemented. Their policy is best summed up in the cartoon below from Zapiro.

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?