The South Africa Challenge is not only an opportunity to go out to South Africa for a two week learning experience, but further than this an opportunity to learn constantly in the build up and after the 2 weeks are over.
It is incredible how many opportunities come up when you focus and start talking about what you are trying to achieve. During the time in the run up to the South Africa Challenge I have had the opportunity to speak to and work with: South Africa Airways, Absa Bank, Hackthehackathon, Loughborough University, NACUE, Enactus, Simventure, The Durban Business club (linkedin), Accenture to name a few. However, as the saying goes it’s not “what you know, it’s who you know…” But as a good friend of mine, Mark Corbett, taught me “it’s not what you know, or who you know, it’s what you do with who you know?”. I guess this has been an area that I have not achieved as much as I might have hoped. I really have had some fantastic contacts and I don’t think I have focused enough on developing these links.
2) Just do it
As a part of the process I decided to read Tim Ferriss’s book the 5 hour work week. It has been fascinating, one of the key concepts I took from it was that often in life you need to just get on and do stuff. If you ask for permission so many people tell you the millions of reasons why something can’t be done. I often found that actually I committed to do something it happened. This was interestingly then followed on in another way from Gori in the phrase be unreasonable… It is another intruging concept that I very much look forward to learning more about from Gori.
3) Focus & passion
During the time I have been involved I have also been holding down a full time job and working on, at any one time, between 1 and 3 other startup ideas as welll as trying to keep fit and have a social life. It’s been a challenge there is no doubt about it. However, what I have found from all of them is that if I am really committed, that doesn’t mean a million hours or lots of money, and have my head really focused they tend to really push forward. Commitment is key.
Being a leader is hard. Even if everything in your life is crazy busy you still must have the time allocated to listen to your team and understand their problems. At the same time there are some key ways to minimise this:
-be proactive- take the time to prepare minutes and your thoughts before meetings as it reduces the time of the meeting so much
-Don’t be led by emails- only have the emails open twice a day max at two set times. That way you have the things you need to get done out the way before everyone else tells you what they want you to do. Often emails are much less urgent that they make out. (There are of course exceptions)
-Accessibility is a perception- it doesn’t mean you are available 24/7 to help and answer questions but that you will respond and complete your tasks in a reasonable time period.
-mission- it is almost impossible to follow someone elses mission if they don’t clearly define what it is they are trying to achieve. There needs to be clear boundaries in who is doing what so that everything gets done and you have to trust the team to complete their area and don’t cover for them if they don’t. (otherwise the problem gets worse and worse over time)
5) Be transparent
It doesn’t matter if you get stuff wrong, failure is the way we all learn and operate as human beings. The problem is that there are so many people that are willing to coast there way through life on the occasional white lie now and then. The truth is that when someone lies to you you normally know and actually would appreciate the honesty and criticism much more to your face. It is often actually miscommunication that causes breakdown from the white lies.
Culture is an incredible thing. There is something to be said for the incredible power that is the internet. We have been able to share files, phone calls and multiple emails with many parties in South Africa but the truth is to truly understand the culture you have to be there. In all of the correspondence over online methods your mind auto pilots to so many assumptions that are only actually challenged in person. The depth of understanding is the way in which i hope we will be able to make a real change in these projects.
7) Goals then Reflection
Something I have never really grasped until this project is the understanding of why you need goals. It seems so simple to me now… Without the goals no one else knows what they are working towards and the truth is you forget as well over time from all the influencers around you. Because of my lack of understanding of why I needed to set goals I had also never had the opportunity to really reflect in detail. Reflection has been such a big part of my year with so many new things and also learning to make new mistakes from the team last year rather than making the same ones again. It has also given me an opportunity to start to set new goals that I would never have thought relevant like making sure I come home on time 3 days a week so I can have more social life because then I work better at work.
And all this is before I even leave, I am sure there will be many lessons to come…