There’s an advert currently that focuses on an every-day, good-looking, well-kempt man i.e. not you, walking in the busy yet silent streets. How can this be, when simple minded viewers (this is you) can see speeding cars and people talking all around him? Because this man, dear pleb, is wearing the new noise-cancelling X1860JFW6573829-P headphones. Imagine, listening to all that silence! However, for almost the same price as those headphones, you could fly to Japan and experience all that silence for yourself.
Tokyo, a vast metropolis of fourteen million peoples living in quiet process harmony, was for a long time an itch that needed a ruddy good seeing to. Flying there on my way to the UK from Australia may well have been a long route, but absolutely worth it, although perhaps for not all the usual reasons. You see, it’s not much of a seeing place. Sydney is blessed with a glorious harbour and Opera House, Paris has its Eiffel, Barcelona it’s Gaudi, New York it’s lady justice, Tokyo it’s . . . well, you see? It doesn’t have a single monument of intrigue, but it’s a joy by a thousand niceties.
There are of course shopping centres galore, the just-about-recognisable Tokyo Tower, the famous Shibuya Crossing (ok, ok, one icon!), gaming and gadget districts, monolithic government buildings, ancient wooden Buddhist temples, manicured beautiful gardens, and a plethora of bars and restaurants illuminated by all-action dancing neon. So far, so normal. Yet it’s the little things that bewitch into finding Tokyo truly fascinating. The tiny one-chef, one waiter restaurants that specialise in only a few outstanding dishes resulting in a steady stream of clientele; the humungous underground and overground train network spanning the city making London seem like child’s scribble; the constant cycling and walking by the older generation to keep themselves trim; the adherence to cleanliness and calmness like it’s a religion; the respect given to every other human being through kindness and a welcome greeting; the quietness of children (yes, you read that correctly) and adults alike; the sheer number of people that you can squeeze on a train carriage without even a murmur of alarm; the handing out of face-towels when riding the bullet-trains to ease you into your journey (first class, I’m posh!); the fact they even have bullet trains at all, and they run on time too. It’s not so much of a seeing city, but a doing city. A city what does.
To illustrate, here’s a quick list of Japanese tech and engineering companies: Toyota, Subaru, Suzuki, Honda, Kawasaki, Mazda, Hino, Yamaha, Mitsubishi, Lexus, Nissan, Daihatsu, Sanyo, Sony, Panasonic, Toshiba, Olympus, Nikon, Canon, Sharp, Kodak, Hitachi, Fuji, Fujitsu, Nintendo, Sega, Bridgestone and Yokohama. That’s . . . that’s a lot for several countries let alone one. There is an all-pervading confidence and calm about Japan, and the ability to simply get things done.
There’s an excellent line in the film Crocodile Dundee when the hero visits America and claims, ‘imagine all these people wanting to live together. . . New York must be the friendliest place on earth!’ Come to Tokyo, forget the headphones, and relax in a thriving, bustling city of quiet wonderfulness.
Every man and his dog know I love to read, and more often than not there is a continued theme of habits, routines or advice that authors impart. Logical advice such as working hard, incessant learning and improvement, self-awareness and not being a dickhead. But it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. There is sometimes advice that makes you query if the author was smoking nail polish.
One of my recent favourites is the classic Think and Grow Rich by the slightly dubious Napoleon Hill, one of the biggest selling self-improvement books of all time. In this the protagonist lays out the successful methods of the successful, of definite goals, of desire, of positive thinking, of collaboration. All make perfect sense. There are other aspects however such as “wrong use of, and over-indulgence in sex.” What on earth is the wrong use of sex? Over-indulgence would be a fine thing, with slaps on backs all round (if you’re into that) but I cannot fathom the wrong use of sex. Bestiality? Maybe he’s referring to simply missing the hole you were aiming for, hitting a butt-cheek or a nose?
Then there’s the “inadequate supply of fresh air, due to improper breathing”. Is this related to the nose-sex? Because that would absolutely tally with the improper breathing, an unfortunate penis-lodged-in-nasal-cavity episode. And what about ‘improper breathing’? I only know one way: in; out. (Like sex, really). I breathe in, I breathe out. I can’t just breathe in; breathe in again; breathe in some more. I’ll blow a lung! Maybe he means the speed of the breathing, like an over-zealous wheezing bicycle pump? Napoleon goes on to talk about the control of “sex energy” . . . which, I don’t know, perhaps is referencing another energy bucket accessed after your usual energy reserves are depleted? Like a dessert stomach when you’ve already packed in a whole ham. Editor – you still talking about eating, right?
So, all in all dear reader, not everything I read is gold. But neither should it be. These are models and lessons from people offering advice which you can dispose of or adhere to at will. You cannot follow every golden rule. As with life, find something that works for you and be kind to yourself in doing so.
*Post-Post – Just did some googling, sex transmutation energy is apparently a thing. Who knew!?
I generally avoid chest-beating, die-for-the-jersey, more-than-a-game schtick that comes with patriotic books, odes to a sporting code, conduct or nation. I have an inherent distrust of fundamentalism, a thinly veiled mask of self-deceit. It’s with some hesitation then that I approached a book about the New Zealand rugby team, Legacy, by James Kerr. It’s first few pages talk of beating the Welsh rugby team. Its last few pages talk about beating the Welsh rugby team. Needless to say, I hate this bloody book. Which isn’t to say it’s not good. It is!
Kerr relates culture and leadership back into the corporate world where those two quintessential elements are often left wanting in my opinion. They become so diluted with growth (making money) or cost reduction (saving money) that culture can fuck right off. Whilst leadership obsession is quite rightly through continuous, incessant improvement, a leader works for the team not the other way around. Leaders take care of their team like they take care of their family. Culling one of your family to save costs is madness. You win together, you lose together. And to paraphrase the New Zealand Team, ‘no dickheads allowed.’
Culture in an organisation or a team can, to quote Kerr again, be summed up by the Greek proverb: “a society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they will never see”. You plant seeds for the fruit you may never eat, you make improvements today that you may never see the benefit of. But the next generation will. We make things better incrementally. Our actions today will echo beyond our time. Apparently women can also plant trees, but who knew?!
And by the way, this book costs nothing. Enter stage-left BorrowBox, an app that lets you borrow ebooks for free from your local library. I take it all back, there is a God!
Other nuggets for the week:
Finishing the thoroughly excellent The Magic of Thinking BIG this week I started a book about the New Zealand rugby team, Legacy, by James Kerr. Not my usual ardour, I admit, as I generally avoid chest-beating, die-for-the-jersey, more-than-a-game schtick. It’s first few pages talk of NZ beating the Welsh. Twats. Will leave that write up for next week when I’ve calmed down.
Reminiscing on David Schwartz tome, I think I can summarise in one sentence: you are what you eat. However, it’s not quite what you think. The book only mentions food in the context that Mr Smith’s wife will be preparing some for dinner (it was written in 1959 so don’t expect progressive). The core message is instead that you need to consume success, you’re a product of the environment you choose for yourself:
The best term out of the lot is one I will hold dear for a long time: psychological sunshine. Pack your environment with positivity that stimulate your mental health, enhance your down-time and make the most of the moments with those you love.
What is so wonderful about this advice is that almost every self-improvement book is knocking on the same door: whether it’s Tony Robbins; Tim Ferriss; James Altichur; Peter Thiel; James Allen; anyone ever; they all have the same basic advice – get rid of the distractions, build routine, get better at what you do, work smarter, and work your ass off. Oh, and get all the free education you can get! Smartly still offers free on-line MBA’s, what you got to lose?
I love seeing people develop and then flourish with their new ideas, confidence and skills. One of the first steps though is simply getting organised: preparation is everything. As the saying goes, every over-night success is ten years in the making. Unfortunately, being organised is more prevalent in one sex than the other: holding my hands up for this absolutely sexist comment <it’s ok, am not about to start the racist’s self-denial sentence starting with “I’m not racist but . . .”>, it seems to me that young women in business at the same age as young men not only seem more driven but far more organised. They are hungry, eager to prove themselves and, although perhaps less confident (call that a thousand years of patriarchy!) they are far humbler. In essence, they kill it.
To get my mentees on the right path, we arrange half an hour on a Monday to review their schedule for that week. For me, I usually try to do this on a Friday, which occasionally results in working a little on weekends, but it gives my brain a little time to prepare. If you’re a regular reader (hi mum!), you know my brain needs all the help it can get. In our 30 minutes we do the simple things first:
For me, there’s nothing worse than the ‘Christ, I still haven’t done that!’ thought that happens mid-week. In this I have a tradition: after the ‘kerrrrissttt!’ thought, my brain reasons that I need tea to prepare for the event. 'Just brew it, you can work whilst it brews!' cries the hamster of my mind. But even that is the procrastination side kicking in, so I reject my mind’s overtures: ‘Make the phone call, then have the tea as a reward – you’re going to need it after the call anyway!’. Tackle the tough stuff first.
You may not have ever heard of Ted Sorenson, but I doubt there’s a human being alive in the Western world that hasn’t heard one of his speeches. Ted passes credit, of course, to JFK, but the line is thus: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country." In terms of relevance in business, this is akin to one of the Ten Commandments.
This week I was stunned to receive some unsolicited (and un-bribed, I’d add!) positive feedback from my team, which included “it didn’t feel like they worked for me, but that we were a team”. What I found so surprising is that even in terms of reporting line, the team don’t report to me at all – they report elsewhere. I’m the decision maker in a pulled-together team, but I take their advice on all things, rely upon their expertise at every turn and take their council and recommendations. Previous leaders it turned out didn’t take the same approach, didn’t get their hands dirty, and felt they needed to impress their will and authority. No matter how smart you are, there’s no way I’d take one person’s twenty years’ experience over a combined one hundred and twenty years in a diverse team.
And so, in a very short post this week for all those in leadership:
Reading is one of life’s wonderous pleasures, along with photography, fornication and tea, obviously. I’d hasten to warn against trying all four simultaneously. Let’s say the results were ‘mixed’.
In the last week I’ve picked up the quite excellent golden oldie, The Magic of Thinking BIG by David Schwartz. It’s a positive, up-beat book full of opportunity and optimism, capturing the mood of a nation at the time. With Europe and Asia still smouldering in the economic fall-out of the Second World War, there was only one winner: The Mighty United States of America™. Industry was booming, disposable income was rife, and there were products to sell! All you needed was to get out there and spruik those automobiles or encyclopedias or Coca-Cola or tuppaware and the world was yours. To do that though you had to believe in yourself, to dress the part, to look the part, to BE the part! And attend some sales seminars hosted by David Schwartz.
I’ve read one hundred pages or so and only one woman has owned a business. The book is directed purely at ‘fellows’, you see, with most women rearing the children (sounds uncomfortable) and managing the housework dutifully. It’s a mark of its era in that respect. But imagine the time when a single bread-winner could buy a house, car and account for all financials, whilst the other managed the household and gushed over Bakelite shoes and anything modestly radioactive. Halcyon days! The aspect I love most about this book is the tone, it just reads like an old advert: well hullo, look at this fellow! Young Tom here has an idea for a business, but where to begin?! After a quick chat and attending one of my seminars his mind was opened! The next day he sold a million dollars of thimbles/thumb-tacks/thumb-screws and was the envy of most men. Tom’s penis probably got bigger too. God Bless America! What can I tell you, Wales had weird adverts when I was a child, although America wasn't far behind given the below
Celebrating its sixtieth year since publishing, the book is still relevant and an absolute gold-mine of simplistic, useful guidance: have a goal; have a BIGGER goal, goddamn you!; develop regular habits; work hard; work effectively; believe in yourself; invest in yourself; risk getting out of your comfort zone; adopt a can-do attitude. David Schwartz even suggests marketing yourself to yourself, repeating your own creed to pump up your tyres. Re-sell yourself time and again, remind yourself how good you really are. In an age of crippling mental health, a bit of self-love and compassion could probably go along way indeed. If you don’t believe in yourself, how do you expect anyone else to?
And now if you’ll excuse me on this beautiful Sunday morning in Melbourne, I’m going to sprinkle a spoonful of go-get-um on my cornflakes, and get out there!! . . . right after I’ve had another cup of tea.
If you’re seeking one of those rallying calls of life affirmation, a tome that channels pure lightning into the veins with an indomitable will to overcome any obstacle at all costs, Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations ain’t it. At least, not immediately. “As often as a father kisseth his child, he should say secretly with himself, to-morrow perchance shall he die.” Uplifting, no?
The point though echoed throughout is the sentiment of permanency. All things change: enjoy life whilst we have it for tomorrow is uncertain. Not in a hedonistic way though, so put your pants back on and put the beer back in the fridge. The call is for focus, for calm, for a thirst of learning, of being a good, truthful person unto yourself and unto others. All very pedestrian, and yet extremely encouraging, like a great-grandfather providing life-advice over some Werthers originals.
Meditations are simply a collection of deliberations from the Stoic Roman Emperor, leaning on the shoulders of philosophers Socrates and Epictetus time and again. I had two versions to read: one probably more authentic yet a gruelling trudge through doths and thous and kisseths; and a more recent translated text form the NY Modern Library. In all honesty my mind foundered with the original, but I tried marrying the two at key points. For example, ‘if you were suddenly lifted up to see life from a vast height . . . you’d see how pointless it all is’ doesn’t exactly translate. In the more original text, it discusses the wonderful mutability of all things on earth and celestial. To borrow from Seneca, a muse on their shortness of life. As stated in the introduction, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, and there’s a reason why William Wallace in Braveheart doesn’t shout ‘they’ll never take our freeeedom!! . . . because freedom is all in the mind, and you’re bound to die anyway at some point . . . chaaaaarge!!'
Parallels are often drawn to the more immediate natural world, in trees, as the microcosm of our own lives: a single year illustrating the growth from mere buds; the flourish and life of verdance; autumn the slow decay; eventually the leaves fluttering away into the ground as too will our own bodies, feeding nutrients needed to start new life. Despite the transience of our own existence there is a cyclical, comforting view of continuance. Life is more than ‘just us’.
“. . . according to Epicurus, atoms be the cause of all things and that life be nothing else but an accidentary confusion of things, and death nothing else, but a mere dispersion and so of all other things: what doest thou trouble thyself for?"
Perspective is a wonderful thing, and an enduring theme throughout Meditations. Since his missives castigate those seeking fame for no purpose than ‘fleeting’ immortality, the Emperor would be amused that millions still read his words almost two thousand years later. Aurelius attained his own legacy despite the intention – his Meditations were never meant to be a published work but purely for himself, and perhaps that’s what makes the writings so endearing. The naked honesty of how he viewed the world and himself, chastening himself to constantly be better. There is total conviction in self-empowerment, of taking responsibility and action above ceaseless complaining. And who can argue with that? To paraphrase:
Past and future have no hold on you, only the present, and even that can be minimised – when everything appears so unbearable, endure!
Never trust anyone that doesn’t fail. Dupe them into buying your next lottery ticket, absolutely, but trust? No chance. One of my favourite questions when conducting interviews is asking about challenges and failures, identifying within a person their own perceptions of failure and most importantly, what they did about it. I’ve only ever had one interviewee that couldn’t name their weaknesses or failures, and I was silly enough override my doubts and hire them. They were escorted from the building within a few months.
Failure is often seen as a negative, yet it’s the fuel that drives us on to try again, to make a better product, to run faster, to pass the exam. For each of those world-class athletes, Nobel-laureates and pop-idols, they only taste success by failing a thousand times. For Colonel Sanders this was literally true, failing time and time again until a restaurant bought his receipt for making KFC. Edison was the same with the lightbulb, constructing three thousand different theories. It’s the reaction to the failure that defines our character. Again, this is summed up perfectly by Walter S. Mallory:
Seneca believed that anger and frustration came from our own perception of how something should work, how something should turn out, and it not meeting our expectations. If instead we considered all possible outcomes, not just what we hoped would happen, we can prepare ourselves for our reaction to the inevitable. If it all turns out right, then it’s Caramel McFlurry’s and banoffee pie for everyone!
And yet you cannot know every possible outcome. Sometimes you just don’t know (or want to know) what will happen. You cannot even fathom all the possibilities ahead of you. Is it daunting? Not at all, it’s exciting! You don’t need to know everything; you just need to try. I constantly get asked when I travel where I’m staying, what I’m doing, a detailed view of my itinerary. The reaction is mostly the same: I have no idea. I usually book the first two nights, have an inclination of where to go, and then let the rest work itself out. It usually does, one way or another.
Let’s pretend you’re an airplane. Not one of the Boeing Max’s with the problems, or a missing Malaysia Airlines one, just a modest little plane carrying a few passengers. Each morning you get yourself prepared, inject some fuel (coffee for 90% of the universe) and you’re ready to fly! You work throughout the day taking care of all the passengers - partners, family, friends, work colleagues – but on the whole you soar though the sky, hit a little turbulence here and there, adjust for changes in the weather, but you make it back to base safely every day and land in the comfort of your own bed (or someone else’s, depends on how good your day went!). Tomorrow you’ll do it all again. Ad infinitum. Well, ad infinitum until you fall out of the sky.
Aeroplanes, like people (link!!!), need maintenance, they need care and attention, not just for your passengers but for yourself. There’s no point in exemplary upholstery and an opulent interior if outside a wing fell off. Equally, there’s little merit in a shiny exterior if the inside is like a chicken coup . . . unless you really want a business delivering high-flying chicks! Am here all week, don’t forget to tip your waitress! <Ed – we need to talk>
Essentially you need to take care of yourself: you cannot take off; mind passengers; soar all day through a cobalt sky; land safely; then rinse and repeat, without giving yourself some love. Take a break, take even ten minutes in your day to look after yourself. For those that cannot afford ten minutes, you have 1440 in a day, I’m talking about less than 1%. For those that struggle with that, try ten minutes a week . . . in the grand scheme its nothing, and yet that ten minutes may help you decide whether you’re flying in the right skies to being with. It may also end up saving your life.
To improve your mental health there are numerous sources available to help, beyondblue.org here in Australia, Mind and the NHS in the UK, and a US friend recommended mentalhealthusa.org. If you’re struggling, always reach out to your local GP, but most importantly reach out to someone. I’d also recommend headspace and buddhify apps, the latter offering excellent walking meditations, and I’m yet to walk into a lamppost this week – win!
Writing and writing...