My favourite Dr Seuss quotes.

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I think the world would be a better place if we replaced all the self-help books with Dr Seuss.

You’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting,
So… get on your way!

A person’s a person, no matter how small.

You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose. You’re on your own. And you know what you know. And YOU are the one who’ll decide where to go. Oh the Places You’ll Go!

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,
Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.

Today you are You, that is truer than true.
There is no one alive who is Youer than You.

You’ll miss the best things if you keep your eyes shut.

I have heard there are troubles of more than one kind. Some come from ahead and some come from behind. But I’ve bought a big bat. I’m all ready you see. Now my troubles are going to have troubles with me!

Think left and think right and think low and think high.
Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!”

We are all a little weird and life’s a little weird, and when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love.

You’ll get mixed up, of course, as you already know. You’ll get mixed up with many strange birds as you go. So be sure when you step. Step with care and great tact and remember that Life’s a Great Balancing Act. Just never forget to be dexterous and deft. And never mix up your right foot with your left.

And will you succeed? Yes! You will, indeed! (98 and ¾ percent guaranteed) Kid, you’ll move mountains.

I’m afraid that sometimes you’ll play lonely games too. Games you can’t win ’cause you’ll play against you.

Onward up many a frightening creek, though your arms may get sore and your sneakers may leak. Oh! The places you’ll go!

Oh the places you’ll go! There is fun to be done! There are points to be scored. There are games to be won. And the magical things you can do with that ball will make you the winning-est winner of all.

I’m glad we had the times together just to laugh and sing a song, seems like we just got started and then before you know it, the times we had together were gone.

I want that last one read at my funeral.

Who are you?

2010 promises to be an incredible year. I am now officially employed by my own company. I can come and go as I please — as long as the work gets done… that’s an awesome situation to be in, however it is simultaneously terrifying.

The buck stops with me. There is no leave, no ‘office hours’, no room for failure. The project can’t get shut down by ‘higher-ups’ and there are no bosses to blame, no archaic “that’s-the-way-we’ve always-done-it”s to get in the way. If something isn’t 100% perfect it’s my problem and my job to fix it. The important business decisions are made by myself and the other directors. There’s a certain arrogance that is required to walk into a situation like this and even though I’m generally quite arrogant (ask my friends), I am truly humbled by it.

All these changes naturally found me updating my About Me page and I was reminded of something that I was asked by my Zen Master (yes, I had a Zen Master) a few years ago. “Who are you?”. I went through the process of listing off a bunch of traits and characteristics, eventually resorted to rattling off qualifications… The whole while he sat quietly, saying nothing. When I eventually stopped talking he again asked “Who are you?”.

“Jonathan Endersby” I replied, hoping that perhaps he had forgotten my name. “Correct!” he said happily.

At the time I didn’t get it… but over the years it has become a profoundly clear truth. Traits and characteristics are just our (very human) way of trying to identify the similarities between ourselves and other people. We do this purely for the benefit of others… We reduce ourselves to labels so that they can make assumptions about us. Obviously this isn’t a bad thing. If you’re a medical doctor it’s far easier to say “I am a doctor” than to say “I am Gregory House”… especially if someone is bleeding to death and needs help.

The important thing is to make sure that you never let those characteristics define who you are… In other words: You are You… Characteristics are just words that describe you… You must never confuse the two… If you think that the word “entrepreneurial” is a good way to describe yourself, that’s great… but be careful never to let the label have an influence over who you are or what you do. When you let your labels start to have an impact on your thoughts or actions you’re on the first step to becoming generic, boring, useless even.

Why does this matter? I believe that introspection is a very important part of life. Knowing who you really are… What you stand for, what makes you tick etc… These are the things that we should be drawing on when we need to make tough decisions. Knowing who I really was helped me get to where I am now and will continue to help me make the tough decisions I need to make in the future.

So, here’s to 2010 and knowing who you are. May they both be the start of many great things!

Learning Photography

This started as a comment on Joe’s blog post about one of the courses at the Cape Town School of Photography. I do not consider myself a good photographer by an stretch of the imagination, but I do have fun and right now I’m happy with that. One day when I live on a farm I’ll get past step 3.

I think the best way to learn is to:

  1. Learn the absolute basics of photography – Buy a book on photography… If the book pre-dates digital it’s a good thing!.
  2. Figure out how the basic photography concepts map to your camera.
  3. Take lots of pictures. Set yourself goals like “Today I’m going to take pictures of straight lines” etc.
  4. Repeat step number 3 for 6 months to a year.
  5. Consider going on an advanced course but it must be a *photography* course, not a DSLR course… Aspiring writers don’t go on MS Word courses, neither should you.
  6. Try and find people on websites like flickr whose stuff you really like and examine it in depth… figure out exactly what it is about a certain photograph that you like. Try remember that stuff next time you’re taking photographs.
  7. Start critiquing your photographs. A tiny bit of over exposure, slightly off composition etc. If you can, get other photographers to do the same for you… unfortunately you might not agree with what they have to say… everyone has their own style.
  8. Apply the critique and tighten up your technique.
  9. Ask yourself the question: Am I trying to be a photographer or take photographs that capture something, say something, do something?
  10. Do whatever it is that makes step 9 a reality.

Murray and Goethe

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, the providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets: “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!

– W. H. Murray

ps. I’m engaged 🙂

Let The Police Eat Cake

A few months ago we had some hassles in Obs with criminals stealing car wheels. Eventually it was happening almost nightly. The Neighbourhood Watch (I’m a member, how responsible of me!) started ramping up their patrolling and putting pressure on the police to catch the guys. Within a few days a sharp eyed policeman spotted something trying to hide next to a car with a wheel spanner in his hand. Within minutes they had 4 guys in custody… I was out on a patrol at the time, ironically one road up from where the guys were eventually caught. That night at the Woodstock police station I promised to organise some cake for the police to say thanks.

I pinged a few of the more active neighbourhood watchers and a few agreed to help out financially… Then I though about Charly’s! If you want awesome cake you have to go to Charly’s, but it’s not cheap. I mailed Charly’s and asked if they’d be willing to give us a discount for a good cause. To my surprise they said they’d give us cake for free!  This was brilliant. We used the additional funds to buy other stuff like samoosas and coke etc. To our absolute surprise, when we went to go and collect the cake they had even decorated each one with a police theme!

All in all a nice little party (we actually had two parties to cover both shifts). A big thank you to Charly’s and the other ONW members who helped out.

cake_burglerP4160050cake_detail

The coming revolution…

The internet, for all it’s vices, has made the world an incredibly small place. I buy books from Seattle, business cards from London and storage space from San Diego. I chat with friends in New Zealand, India, Finland and Joburg on a daily basis. At ground level the online economy seems pretty stable. Online businesses are lean, mean, fighting machines forged in the dot-bomb furnace. Compared to the sumo wrestling auto industry we’re Ethiopian long distance runners. (Enough with the analogies now)

The offline world however is in a crisis, big corporations are falling over on a weekly basis… most of them failing due to fat cat, short sighted management, while others are just innocent victims of the carpet bombing that is this economic train wreck.

Then I read things like this. George Oates, one of the key people and designer at Flickr, got let go by Yahoo, who bought flickr a few years ago. It’s not so much the fact that they let George go, but rather they way they did it… Basically getting her manager to call her while she was overseas and read a message to her from a scripted “cheers” letter. Her blog post about the ordeal is brutal. Within 14 hours of the call she had lost all her privileged access to all that was flickr; something that had been the centre of her life for many many years.

George’s story is the logical conclusion of the ‘corporatised’ world that we’ve all bought into… and I think the world is starting to see the folly in supporting a system that can turn around and kick you out when you least expect or deserve it.

I have this sense that people are starting to dislike, and distrust, big corporations. In the 50’s and 60’s corporations were the saviours of the failing economy, hell, if you could work for a corporation you were sitting pretty… Working for a corporation meant you had a stable job and even though all you got for 50 years of service was a hundred dollar watch (who needs a watch when you’re retired anyway?), you were happy to have had the job.

But the world is different now, for whatever reasons people expect more from life than just ‘having a job’. We want to have fun, be challenged, enjoy working, laugh, be successful and get home on time to have make supper for our smiling kids and watch 30 Rock on Tivo.

So where does this leave the workforce? Well, the internet is making *not* working for a corporation easier and easier. Now days your small print shop in a side street of London can turn into an international brand with customers from Tibet to Texas, but, most importantly, that small print shop doesn’t need to become a overweight corporation in order to carry on being successful. It’s the long tail global customer effect. Hell, you could sell clothing for conjoined twins on the internet and still swing a profit.

Perhaps more interestingly though, the internet has made running your own company a lot easier. Re-read that last sentence. The internet has been around for almost a gabillion years now, but it seems like only in the last 5 years has the promise of “running an online business from your garage” come true.

Perhaps the supreme irony of the situation is that Yahoo itself was once a small company that got big, and in turn bought up flickr, the blood, sweat and tears of a small team, most of whom have subsequently left Yahoo or been fired. How different life would have been for all those people who gave birth to flickr, if they’d just stayed a small team who focused on being the best and staying happy while doing it…

Corporations have been holding the workforce hostage… but the distributed client base and self organisation of the internet is starting to make it harder and harder to not start your own thing, or join a small company with big vision.

Similarly customers are more and more looking for micro providers, buying local produce, supporting up and coming manufacturers and looking to identify themselves as unique by buying products that weren’t made in batches of a million. Perhaps it’s the inherent knowledge that the companies that are producing t-shirts in batches of a million are run by the same kind of people that will fire you from the very company you helped start and feel nothing while doing it.

You’re a person… let the machines be the robots. The revolution is coming, and it won’t be televised, it’ll be broadcast.

Function vs Creativity

I could go on a bit about how we spent the weekend being all domestic; doing garden work, making jam and oat cookies, fitting new bathroom fixtures and an extractor fan, but I won’t. Because none of those things matter really.

What matters is what you do, not what you have… and yes, installing an extractor fan is important, but it’s not the kind of “doing” that matters.

Compare “installing a mould reducing extractor fan” to “pouring bright coloured paint onto a large canvas”:

One is pure function while the other is pure creativity. I don’t want to get stuck in a trap of functional “doing”. I need to find some other thing to “do” with my life or little johnny will become a duller boy.

ps. The place is coming along beautifully… And I’m really enjoying the process.

Funny Moment from my Life #5694

Just came out of a meeting and noticed a new comment waiting to be moderated on one of my blog posts.

It was from a post about property that I wrote a while back. The comment seemed legit enough, a little off topic, but still legit… Then I noticed the url that the poster had used… it pointed to a joburg based property company’s website. I viewed their site and noticed that their SEO was being done by a South African SEO company… Funny that… Lets look at the poster’s email address domain… oh look, owned by the SEO company.

So I called them and asked to speak to the girl who’s name was used… I told her what had happened and asked her, very nicely, whether she thought that sort of thing was ethical.

You’ll never guess what she said.

No, it’s not ethical“… She sounded ashamed and admitted to not wanting to do that kind of thing, but not having a choice.

I hope you find a better job soon” I sheepishly suggested…

I’m not going to pretend I could ever understand what kind of situation she’s in that she feels she has to continue working for a bunch of spammers, but I sincerely hope that she gets out of there fast. Allowing your integrity to be eroded is not a healthy place for any decent human being to be in… and she sounded like a decent human being.

Just a quick thought

A friend of mine has this boss who works till 9pm most nights. She’s doesn’t have kids and she’s married to a guy who lives in Joburg. She has achieved a lot. She is an achiever. She earns a fat salary. She drives a nice car. People know her name. She’s actually a nice person too.

Now she wants my friend to work late as well. My friend isn’t happy about that.

It all depends on what your priorities are. There are no wrongs and rights here.

On saturday I’m going to remove the kitchen door that has swelled slightly and plane it down so that it doesn’t scrape on the floor any more. For some reason that is a priority for me.

On saturday evening I think we’ll end up sitting on a couch and drinking champagne (it’s the day we move in after all)… That time, with just the two of us, is a priority for me.

The difference of course is that when I’m 70 years old I’ll have the memory of that evening we sipped champagne and that day I fixed the door on my very first house. I’ll also have all those evenings where we talked rubbish while cooking supper together, watched inane tv shows and played with the cat.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’d rather have those memories than a fancy car and a list of people who know my name, but I respect any person’s decision to focus on those things.

Years ago I worked for a large travel company. There was an old lady who worked there… her job, for the previous 25 odd years, had been to travel the world and write about her adventures. One night at a company dinner she was telling us stories about all the incredible places she had been. Another woman of similar age said to her, “Oh, I wish I had lived your life, it sounds so amazing!“… To which the jaded traveler replied rather seriously “I would trade you my entire life for one week with a loving husband and children!“.

I think I was 19 at the time… Those words continue to haunt me… and guide me.