The French writer and playwright John Cocteau once said, ‘The poet is a liar who always speaks the truth.’ As we enter the shortest and most romantic month of the year, the inner poet in me has been roused. I am curious – can the lies in poetry reveal any truths on business?
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I walk. I walk a lot. Everyone seems to have their own style when walking. Mine is mostly a brisk kind of walk with an intense sense of purpose. But style doesn’t matter when it comes to walking – there is an incredible amount of substance in our footsteps.
The virtues of walking are extolled in writings that trace back to Classical Greece. The great physician Hippocrates, presumably an avid walker himself, left us with some profound wisdom on the subject. ‘Walking is a man’s best medicine,’ he said. I suppose the Father of Medicine had not only discovered the curative qualities of walking… but he also had an inkling of the creative power hidden in our steps.
The magic in mentoring happens behind closed doors. The mentor and mentee relationship is a deeply ‘private’ one, where in a discreet one-to-one session, master shares pearls of wisdom with his or her pupil. Personal stories are shared, picked apart, and put back together again. This ritual allows the pupil to extract the fleeting ‘secrets of success’ that are so hard to capture on one’s own. While the actual process of mentoring is shrouded in privacy, the energy created from these special relationships has tangible ‘public’ benefit.
Boisterous and unruly. Infinitely curious and serially risk-taking. They do first, ask for permission later. They’re always pushing boundaries, have abysmally poor hygiene, and are constantly in need of more and more cash. Children (ha – I had you fooled) are innately entrepreneurial.
My father often talks about an imaginary film reel. It is the private film of his day, only to be watched at bedtime, for his eyes only. He describes a projector that casts a cinema size screening of his entire day on the wall, showcasing his every action from the moment his eyes open, till his final yawn.
With consumer-based artificial intelligence (AI) applications, like Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa, robots are starting to feature in our everyday lives. From seemingly simple tasks like checking the weather, to ordering our groceries, AI has rapidly developed in sophistication in the past 36 months.
Dennis Waitley, the American best-selling author, once said 'failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end…' Failure is often misunderstood, a dirty word, only to be whispered in hushed tones. Some of those closest to me have yet to achieve their full potential because of their subconscious fear of the ‘F’ word. In certain cultures, failing is taboo and carries individual and familial shame, like a metaphorical scarlet letter burning on one’s forehead.
In the late seventeenth century, Isaac Newton famously said ‘if I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.’ He recognised a profound truth that ideas and innovations are seldom born in isolation; more often than not, they are simply iterations of those that came before them.
In high school, I was a sprinter. Metaphorically that is. I took on way too much. I wanted to make it big, and do it fast. My ambition and enthusiasm for education, sports and extracurricular activities exceeded my output levels, mainly because I was spread too thin. ‘The fruit of patience is very sweet,’ my father repeated reassuringly over breakfast as I gulped down my hot chocolate, but the Urdu proverb didn’t resonate at all with a young man eager to take on the world.
Winston Churchill once wisely said 'it's a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.' He was addressing the nation in a BBC broadcast, speculating on how Russia may or may not respond in the wake of one of the most uncertain times in recent history - World War II. Leaders are often judged by how they manage uncertainty: when the stakes are high, yet our control of the possible outcomes is limited. At times like this, working out probabilities and other forms of statistical analysis are of little use. Great leaders that have triumphed over the beast of uncertainty are often those that have relied on calculated intuition and instinct.
Legend has it that way back in third century Rome, Emperor Claudius II wished for a radical transformation of his army. While his soldiers were loyal and dedicated, he believed that they could give more. He wanted the success of the military to be each soldier's only meaningful purpose in life. Such men were hard to find; although many were passionate and had risked their lives for the Empire, the soldiers had their loved ones and family life outside of the army. The Emperor saw this as a weakness and a distraction, so he took the bold and ruthless step - and forbade marriage altogether.
Nearly everyone has boogied to the 70s disco tune "Kung Fu Fighting". The song topped the US Billboard charts in 1974, selling 11 million singles, yet Carl Douglas, the recording artist who sang and composed it, remains virtually unknown, having never been able to repeat his earlier success. He’s hardly alone. The ‘second album syndrome’, also known as ‘the sophomore slump’, is a common affliction among musicians, athletes, movie directors and entrepreneurs. But why is it so challenging to come back for the second act? What separates the ‘serial winners’ from the ‘one hit wonders’?
I worry. I worry a heck of a lot. In fact, I start my day with a healthy dose of worrying. But I don’t let my worrying break me down. While it’s typically associated with weakness and has a negative connotation in the world of business, what most people haven’t pondered is how wonderfully effective worrying can actually be. If channelled correctly it can turn into the positive energy and laser focus needed to execute your business objectives.
Andy Grove, the iconic late CEO of Intel, was a famous worrier and eloquently divulged his worrisome mantra in his bestseller, Only the Paranoid Survive.
Grizzly bears are often imagined as fearsome beasts, better known for their brawn than their brain. A brief study of their hibernating habits, however, would suggest a smarter, more strategic creature. Grizzlies go underground into cozy dens and hibernate for up to seven months in a year. During hibernation, they become hyper-efficient; their respiration decreases from six to ten breaths every minute to just one breath every forty-five seconds. They do not eat, drink, urinate, or defecate during hibernation, living off a layer of fat built up during the summer and autumn months.
Everyone sees what you appear to be; few experience what you really are.’ - Machiavelli
If the above statement is to be believed and the Underwoods and Machiavellis of this world move among us, then, sinister as it may be, the entrepreneur must learn to navigate a world in which deceit runs rampant.
Machiavelli, the much-maligned political strategist from the 15th century, remains one of the most controversial and divisive figures in the world of business today. Many a naive entrepreneur disregards the importance of karma and reputation, and reads The Prince as if it were a self-help manual.
While filming ‘Walk the Line’, the biopic about American country music star Johnny Cash, Joaquin Phoenix bewildered audiences when he actually learned to play the guitar and sing in his character’s deep, calm, bass-baritone voice. When filming the emotionally wounded and dangerously psychotic villain Commodus in The Gladiator, Joaquin carried a sword around with him everywhere, whether on or off set.
Phoenix is an aficionado of ‘method acting’, a dramatic technique in which actors try to identify as closely as possible with the character played.
Those that grow up with nothing often develop a deep-rooted drive which cannot be understood by those that haven't experienced the grit and gravel of real hardship. This is one of the central principles of frugal innovation. When the human mind is presented with constraints - financial or otherwise - we learn to access recesses of our brain never previously used.