Life, Business and Coffee #15: My Theory of Nothing

I’ve been absent from your inbox for the last two weeks because I’ve been busy preparing for the London Book fair, and while I was engaged in these preparations, I was persuaded to bring the launch of my third novel  forward. So I’ve been busy editing and proofing that one too.  Apart from that, I’ve been working on a non-fiction about something I’m very passionate about – starting and managing your small business.

My book launch has been postponed to 12th May, and will be a combined launch of not one but two of my books: Continue reading “Life, Business and Coffee #15: My Theory of Nothing”

Life, Businss & Coffee #14: More BMW, Less Telkom

I’ve rebranded this newsletter “Life, Business & Coffee”, having had some time to engage with readers, managers and entrepreneurs. I hope you like new branding.

I recently had an experience with two very high profile brands – Telkom and BMW. They couldn’t have been more extreme.

I had to apply for a new telephone line for my daughter who moved into a student accommodation near TUKS. So on Sunday afternoon I googled how to apply for a new line, went onto Telkom’s mobile site, and filled in the application, which was long, tedious, and not easy on a mobile device. The end result – a confirmation screen saying someone would be in touch with me. That all seemed to work.

The next day I was lucky enough to be included in a tour of the BMW plant in Rosslyn. It was mind blowing. The Rosslyn plant is one of 10 manufacturing operations for BMW, and has been awarded the highest accolade of all the plants across all countries (including Germany) for production quality. They produce one custom built, made-to-order zero defect car every four minutes, and they export to 8 countries including Canada, USA and Australia.

What impressed me most about BMW was that, although the brand is German, the South African plant has been able to surpass German engineering when it comes to zero defect manufacture. Each car on the production line is pre-sold, which means that every vehicle coming off that production line is made to order. That’s the embodiment of mass customization right there. The same production line produces left and right hand drive, with or without sun roof, every engine spec, every available factory fitted add-on, and every colour combination, both inside and out. When you do the permutations, there probably aren’t even two identical cars coming off that production line in a day. Every one is made to a specific customers specification.

When I arrived home that same day, I saw an email from Telkom:

“Dear Customer

Thank you for your online application. We have tried contacting you, however were unable to get hold of you.

If you would like us to contact you again, please visit, to reapply.



I think there was one missed call on my cell, and no voice messages. Not even my name was personalized on their generic, standardized rejection letter. Clearly they send these out often. If only they adopted to the 20 Rule.

Telkom sells even less of a product variety than BMW, and they couldn’t care less whether they gain or lose a customer. Where BMW make it extremely simple for customers to get exactly what they want, Telkom makes it impossible just to do business. Where BMW is all about the customer, Telkom is all about Telkom. The contrast paints an interesting picture. Both have taken technology that originated outside SA, but one has surpassed its creator and put SA on the global map as a force to reckoned with, and the other has rested on its monopolistic laurels and left the door open a tiny crack just in case customers can squeeze through.

The lesson? To survive and excel in business, be more like the customer obsessed BMW and less like the Customer Comes Last Telkom.

Begrudgingly I’m going back online to redo an application I’ve already done once which the geniuses at Telkom have discarded. I thought Telkom had the word “business” in one of its tag lines.

A visit to my Almer Mater

This past week I’ve been sharing a lot about the power of vision. I’ve shared my story in previous newsletters, and I spoke on the Cliff Central show about the powerful part that vision has played in the growth of Imagin8, and my own personal achievements, but the most rewarding was to talk to a group of Matric boys from my old school, KIng Edward VII. 

The session was hosted after school, and was entirely voluntary, so I really expected a handful of boys to attend. But the room was packed full of young men at the threshold of a critical point in their lives. What they decide to do next year makes a huge impact on their lives. 

After the talk, A number of boys said that my story had inspired them, and some stayed afterwards to ask questions and chat. One or two emailed me about their hopes and dreams in the hours after the session, and some of their questions and comments inspired me.  

Newsletter#13: Working on the business vs working in the business


You can tell the difference between people who are passionate about their business, whether those are big or small businesses. Small business has one advantage over big business – the owner is closer to all activities than the CEO of a big company. If the owner is passionate, this rubs off on everyone.

This week I stayed in a large hotel in Cape Town. Usually I choose small b&b’s and guesthouses because I like to feel the local flavour of the area and I’ve always experienced that more in small owner-run places. But this week I was lecturing and stayed on in the hotel where the conference was hosted. I was pleasantly surprised because the place ran like well oiled machine.  Staff were so friendly I wanted to take them home with me. People couldn’t do enough. Everybody went the extra mile without being asked. The only real chaos was when 400 people descended on the breakfast buffet between 7:00am and 7:45am before the start of the many simultaneous conferences during the week. How did the GM get everything so right?

Continue reading “Newsletter#13: Working on the business vs working in the business”

Newsletter #12: How Coffee Solves Problems (and an empty fridge)


Immersion: Becoming drenched in the situation to experience it completely.

It’s a beautiful clear day, 28 degrees, and there’s a slight breeze in the air to take the edge off the heat. Perfect beach weather. So, sitting on your patio, sipping your morning coffee, you decide to spend the day at the beach.  You can almost feel the sand between your toes, and you can hear the sound of the waves lapping up on the beach. Then you get a phone call, and suddenly the day runs away from you and you don’t actually get a chance to spend the day on the beach. So you console yourself with the thought that you had your moment when you imagined your day in the sun, but is it really the same?

We adopt a similar superficial approach to solving problems in our work and businesses lives too. We identify the problem, think up a solution, and we’re happy that we’ve considered everything and so we begin to solve what we think is the problem.

Continue reading “Newsletter #12: How Coffee Solves Problems (and an empty fridge)”

Newsletter #11: The Question is the Answer

Asking the right questions is more important than finding perfect answers to the wrong ones.

Over the last two weeks, I’ve spent some time coaching entrepreneurs. These business owners face very different challenges, but at the heart the search for the right answers lies a profound reality:  When you continually throw solutions at a problem that never goes away, you’re trying to solve the wrong problem.

Continue reading “Newsletter #11: The Question is the Answer”

Newsletter #10: Passion in Business

I don’t know about you, but I’ve already had a great start to 2016.

During December I decided to enter Lost Soul into a screenplay competition, so I spent my December holidays learning about writing screenplays. The first thing I did on 1st January was to convert the last 10 pages of the novel to the screenplay. Now I have a 190-page screenplay to reduce to 120 pages. I’m learning from the best – JJ Abrahams (Alias, and Star Wars VII), as well as the writers of the Walking Dead.   They say “do something that scares you.” I feel well out of my comfort zone.

Continue reading “Newsletter #10: Passion in Business”