My Highlights | Between the ages of 10-12, I won the South African skateboarding championships three times. That was a definite highlight for me.
At the same age, I got my first taste of the publishing world, when a local newspaper published my three-panel comic strip for the duration of a couple of years. I got paid a whopping R50 per strip!
In my twenties and beyond, my highlights have been winning the Southern African Championships for Public Speaking, through Toastmasters International, five separate times, which is a record, and having two of my books accepted for publication by Penguin. The latest one was accepted just two weeks ago. It will be on the topic of Innovation for businesses, and has been tentatively titled ‘Relentlessly Relevant – How to Innovate.’
I’ve also had some media appearances that I was quite proud of, notably, appearances on CNBC Africa and the publication of an article in Forbes SA.
The Difference Between Good And Great | Obsession is a big part of it. If you do the thing you do because your parents thought you should, you will probably never love it. Not to the depths of your soul, in ways that drive you to constantly learn, constantly grow. But if you chose your path, and you adore the life, you will relentlessly pursue new ideas, new levels of performance and new ways of pushing the boundaries, because you want to.
Here’s an oddity; I also believe that to be excellent at your field, you have to be very interested in completely unrelated fields. People who read broadly and are generally fascinated by the world around them will tend to outperform the more narrowly focused specialists. Their total ideas-pool will be much greater.
I also believe that top performers tend to ‘go where the energy is.’ In the same way that a 20-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger realized that he couldn’t dominate the world of bodybuilding while living in Austria, and uprooted to move to California, I feel it’s important for top practitioners to go where the energy is and immerse themselves in the new.
I once attended a speakers’ conference in Dallas, Texas, for this reason. It was an expensive exercise and I could not have guaranteed in advance that the investment would be worth it. But you don’t know what you don’t know, and attending this conference lead directly to me literally doubling my income over the course of the year that followed. Go where the energy is – it’s worth it!
A Key Talent | I don’t wait. For anything. If I get an idea for a book, I will typically start writing the book that very day. I’ll be done a few months later. If I get an idea for a new presentation, or a new CD or DVD, I develop and launch it, straight away. I simply do not do long periods of wishful dreaming. I start and I push relentlessly, and I think this makes all the difference.
Principles I Live By | ‘Seek knowledge and love her.’ I believe deeply in a love of knowledge and ideas.
Tom Peters said that it is the age of ‘brainwaire,’ and he’s right. These days, the ability to think and to dream and to reason and to innovate comprise the light that rules the world.
Interestingly, there is a trend away from seeing value in studying only a narrow, finite technical skill, and toward seeing the value in liberal arts, which don’t teach you any specific technical skill, but rather ‘how to think.’ I see significant value in that outlook. Study IT and you can only become Scotty on the Starship Enterprise. But study IT and Philosophy and Leadership and Public Speaking, and you can become Captain Kirk, and give orders to the Scotties of the world.
Critical Skills I Develop | The skill-set that makes up my industry is a strange and interesting mix. I need to know how to speak in public (obviously), but I also need a penchant for writing, and an ability to spot ideas and turn them into stories or illustrations. I need a solid understanding of the corporate business environment and its needs and changing requirements. I marry theory with theatre. I have to be both professor and rock star.
How I Use My Mind | I believe that I’m quite good at seeing how principles and patterns work across disciplines. I’m interested in worlds as diverse as classical music and bodybuilding, fast cars and theatre, international politics and cartooning. The more you let your mind wander and skip across fields, the more you start to see how one idea can be used in a completely different space.
I also view most things as something of a game. I think we tend to get too operational in the things that we do – too caught up in the rules and norms – and for that reason, we lose sight of the bigger picture. Our rules become more important than our goals.
I think most human systems are merely that – systems. They are not divine commandments. They can be broken and reshaped, played with and abandoned at will. Sure, other people will fight to protect their beloved norms…but only until you are successful, at which point you morph from aberration to eccentric hero, and everyone follows.
I also have a terribly low-tolerance for self-pity and blame. I am ruthless on myself, and view my success or failure as utterly my own problem. This is not to say that I don’t work with others or enlist the help of others; that’s important too. But I do drive any new development with a mindset that says, ‘If I don’t initiate it, and do quickly, it will never happen. Start, then figure it out as you go along.’
Lessons I Have Learnt | One that pertains directly to my industry, in which I sell intangible ideas, but which also applies to most businesses is: Make your value explicit. Make it painfully, throbbingly obvious why your clients need you. Point out their own need to them, and show them how different their world will look after they have benefited from dealing with you.
I’ve also learned that we do not need to be perfectly polite, politically correct, asexual, symmetrical automatons in our public persona. In fact, quite often, the individuals and brands with the stronger, more controversial viewpoints are stronger propositions.
This is not to say that good manners don’t count – they absolutely do. But imagine a well-mannered and non-controversial Jeremy Clarkson. Or Gordon Ramsay. Or Donald Trump. Iconic public figures are iconic precisely because they are strong personalities with strong viewpoints. They combine their technical excellence with charisma. My formula for Expert Positioning is: Experts exist at the intersection of Knowledge, Personality and Publicity.
Dealing With Doubt | By crying and rocking gently back and forth.
I’m tempted to say that all successful people started with self-doubt, fear and negativity. I think it’s actually supremely rare that a happy, well-adjusted individual, who was encouraged all the way, giddily set about becoming a massive success, sane obstacles. There are almost always elements of frustration, and sometimes they run very, very deep.
In part, my own desire to succeed in life was inspired by the social embarrassment that accompanied being the poorer family in a relatively wealthy neighbourhood.
We weren’t poverty-stricken per se, but our family went through times when the power was cut off because we couldn’t afford to pay the bills, and when the church brought food baskets to our home because there was nothing to eat.
I was young at the time, and it made a profound impression on me. I can still remember how, because my baby sister was still young, some of the church food baskets would include a small box of baby formula. I can remember looking at that baby formula and feeling vulnerable to the core of my being. It was a mixed bag of emotions; on the one hand, you are grateful that someone is helping your family, on the other hand, you are terribly embarrassed that they have to.
Part of my motivation to succeed was the tension that those little boxes of baby formula created within me. I did not want my life to look like that. And I’ve fought hard to avoid it ever since.
Make no mistake, I also love what I do. I don’t operate purely out of fear or negative emotion. I adore my career today and just about everything about it. But the drive likely started there. Fear, vulnerability, embarrassment. I wanted none of it.
Resources I Use To Stay Inspired | I am a voracious reader. I’m usually reading two or three books simultaneously, and they’re always a mix of fiction, business, and general topic matter about new ideas (Malcolm Gladwell, for example).
I also recently discovered the Audible app for iPhone, and since then, I’ve become a fearsome consumer of audio books too. Listening to audio books (at gym, when I drive, in the bath), has become such an engrained part of my life that I’ve probably more than doubled the total amount of ‘reading’ that I do, as a result.
I also watch a variety of shows on DSTV, everything from CNN to Phineas & Ferb on Disney Channel (which I sometimes find the more intelligent option).
In the speaking industry, we also have access to resources through the Professional Speakers Association. Each month we get audio CD’s and magazines from the US.
My Future Dreams And Ambitions | In 2004, I placed 2nd in the Toastmasters World Championships of Public Speaking. I’d like to place 1st.
Beyond that, I’d like to do what I’m currently doing on a bigger scale. I love writing business books for Penguin Books SA. I’d love to be published globally. I am increasingly speaking all over the world. I’d love to do more of that.
The Meaning Of Life | The meaning (singular?). I think Enya said it best: ‘I walk to the horizon and there I find another.’ A singular, restrictive view of the (only) meaning of life seems to be a terrible waste of the other potential meanings of life. Life is awesome! It’s complex, theatrical, comical, astonishing, sexual, serious, big, surprising and ever-changing. Enjoy the ride! Be a grower and a creator as you go.
The Best Advice I’ve Received | It wasn’t advice so much as honest feedback. My standard seven (Grade 9) Geography teacher: “I saw the IQ test results. You are the laziest bastard in this school!” Thank you, Mrs Watzlawick.
Advice On Building Wealth | Start by reading some of the best-known books on the topic. Start with ‘Rich Dad, Poor Dad,’ for example. There are basic principles you need to understand.
Then, chase the ideas that interest you the most. For example, if you’re really interested in the notion of being your own boss, hunt for more information on the topic; books, articles, seminars. If you’re fascinated by creativity and want to know how to monetize your talent, chase that. But certainly, follow the paths that appeal to you, that make you want to learn. The outcomes will be much better than if you chased information about things that you don’t want to learn; for example; how to be an accountant as a path to riches. If it doesn’t interest you, don’t spend your life chasing it. You might get rich but you’ll also get miserable.
I Am Inspired By | Mine are an odd mix of speakers, thinkers and writers. From the world of writers, Stephen King is an obvious one for me. A less obvious one, although he’s a shining star of a thinker in my universe right now, is an author named Orscon Scott Card, and his ‘Ender’s Game’ series of books. I will read anything that comes out of that man’s brain, with awe and admiration. His fans are waiting for him to write a final book, which would tie up his entire series. If he dies before he writes that book, I’ll kill him!
In the world of thinking: Malcolm Gladwell, Seth Godin and Clem Sunter, to name a few. I also admire a fellow speaker named Gavin Symanowitz, whose articles in FinWeek are so good that I subscribed to the publication just to read his thoughts.
In the speaking world, my leading hero is probably US speaker Randy Gage. I don’t agree with all of his views, but that’s not the point, is it?
The Legacy I Would Like To Leave | I’d like to be part of the project of helping humanity to think and grow. I love free thought. I love ideas, the progress of innovation and the wonder of the human mind. I loathe orthodox thought-rules, encouragement toward sameness (think Communism or certain overly prescriptive religions), and the tendency to cling desperately to the outdated. As an example of the last, middle-class and working class families still follow industrial revolution era working norms to a degree that they are not even conscious of.