Mid-year feast 2015

August 1, 2015 § Leave a comment

For the last five years we’ve brought together some of our food loving friends for a great feast. It all started off as a way to re-create the excesses surrounding Christmas… seeing as Christmas in the South falls in the middle of summer this is not a natural time to over indulge so we moved it to the middle of the year instead. The first installment was, predictably, a recreation of more traditional fare – turkey, gammon, Christmas cake, etc. Fun though this was it didn’t really get the creative juices going so we changed it to a multi-course meal around specific themes.

..and more

Time to indulge

Our most recent theme was Re-invent You Favourite, but over the last few years we’ve done The Seven Deadly Sins, The Seven Modern Wonders of the World, Citrus in the Garden and Blind Date (a seven course blind tasting). Below is a sampling of this year’s results.

Brendon and Heidi got us off to a great start with the re-invention of a Mexican pot pie as a soup with a pie crust on top, served with some great Mexican beer. (Unfortunately I was a bit late with the camera!)

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Second course (Salad) – Orange and mint salad cucumber and bloody Mary and a caprese salad with balsamic balls (Neil and Karen)

Mike and Nikki - Salmon tartare with gooseberry egg

Third course (Fish) – Salmon tartare with gooseberry egg and shrimp chips served with a single malt and tequila cocktail (Mike and Nikki)

Andrew and Cara - roast chicken

Fourth course (Fowl) – Roast chicken with a light red Pinot Noir (Andrew and Cara)

Sarah and Hendrik - Lemon and white wine ox tail

Fifth course (meat) – Lemon and white wine ox tail with a Semillion and Chardonnay blend (Sarah and Hendrik)

Lynn and Mike - Peppermint crisp tart as an ice cream

Sixth course (dessert) – Peppermint crisp tart as an ice cream with bubbles (Lynn and Mike)

ADD for learning

August 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

I’ve never been a great learn-by-reading person. My preferred mode of learning has always been discussion, but every now and then I have sat down and read a tome of knowledge, whether if be industrial statistics or vehicle software safety (hopefully that all makes me sound very technical;-). The worst place for me to read such a body of work has always been where I have had related articles and information close at hand. A book or article will always refer to a variety of related topics that are seemingly important to look at, just try to find some academic work titled “An introduction to xyz” and you’ll quickly find out what I mean.

Counterintuitive though it may seem, having so much information close at hand has often been to the detriment of my own learning. Well that is a bit of an over simplification – I have learnt a little about a lot of things while processing information in this way, but it is a recipe for not learning about a particular subject in depth. What happens is that I follow potential side threads, kind of in the fashion that the old game of broken telephone works. I never end up at the starting point, which in this case is the subject I started reading about.

Looking up information on the Net just facilitates this type of learning for me. Look up any technical (software) thing and you will find a plethora of related articles and blog entries about the question or subject, together with a summary article on Wikipedia that can lead you off into many many directions, and some nice answers on Stackoverflow which links to even more artciles that didn’t show up on Google’s first page. The question at the end still remains: have I found the answers I was looking for, or have I found the answers to questions that are interesting but not exactly relevant.

I guess I can call this my ADD for learning through reading. Which has the potential to derail my goal of learning more about Java servlets. So I’m trying an experiment where I try not to follow the variety of tempting paths the author throws at me, and I’ll just try to read the book sequentially. I’ll see how it goes – maybe I won’t make it all the way through, but it’ll be interesting to see how it goes.

Maybe you don’t have this problem, or maybe you get less distracted than I do, maybe you’re more disciplined, maybe you just read more interesting stuph, or maybe you’ve figured out that information overload doesn’t exist. In any case I’d love to hear what you think about this.

It’s not why you do it, it’s how

June 18, 2012 § Leave a comment

Due to my recent move from being a technical leader to a leadership facilitator I’ve wondered a lot about my conceptualisation of change and motivation in people. There are a lot of interesting threads in this regard. One of these being the difficulty people have in assimilating advice (we seem to find it a lot easier to disseminate advice;-). An interesting article by Art Markman on Psychology Today gives an interesting clue to this part of the tapestry. In the article Markman discusses how advice givers focus on the “why” while advice takers are busy with the “how”. Interestingly enough in much of the coaching I do at Aim I try to focus a lot on not giving (direct) advice but rather asking insightful questions about the challenges faced by the coachee. It is an interesting road to take because to a certain extent you avoid both – you don’t give advice that focusses either on the “why” or on the “how” but rather focus on the context of the coachee. Of course it also facilitates a kind of process of internalisation of the answers that is immensely valuable.

The other interesting thread that comes out of coaching is the idea of someone’s attitude or, in a deeper sense, thier values and the importance of dealing with thier values. There are a lot of articles and books written about the topic of bias, e.g. “anchoring bias” – the idea that priming people with certain information can change the way they respond to situations. (Interestingly enough this bias is used extensively in the Markman article and the books by Dan Ariely.) One of the insights I’m working with at the moment is that there is very little difference between a bias and a value and that to a large extend they are one and the same thing.

At Aim, and I presume at other organisations professionally involved in people change management, we understand the importance of addressing people’s value systems if you want to make change sustainable. To put it differently – if you don’t change people’s bias they will gravitate back to doing things the same way they did them in the “good old days”.

Of course it is very interesting to see articles such as the recent one in the New Yorker by Jonah Lehrer showing that smarter people’s bias’s have an even harder link to their actions. The tapestry gets even more intricate when you add the fact that the more creative people are the more likely they are to twist the truth, as explored in Dan Ariely’s new book. Maybe even as importantly creative people are even more likely to twist the truth when there is room for ambiguity. However this twisting of the truth does often show thier bias’s.

Seemingly all the threads above can be split into two types: the “why” threads focusing on your bias and values; and the “how” threads focussing on your actions and words. We need to get to the “why” threads so that we can weave a new tapestry formed out of the desired “how” threads, but the “why” threads can very easily be hidden by our sophistry. I cannot recall the number of times in which I have been asked the “why” question where I end up in a complete quandary. This quandary generally is because I realise none of my possible answers are objective. Now that I can see the link between bias and creativity I am starting to better understand why I have this problem.

So how do I get to see my own “why” threads then? I can’t approach them directly since then my brain uses all the possible ambiguity to confuse the issue, so I have to approach it obliquely. One way is to approach it by the “how”, i.e. what were my actions and what is the broader picture that my actions show. To a large extent it comes down to “actions speak louder than words”.

From my experience so far and my discussions with my colleagues it seems like finding these oblique approaches on top of understanding how people can sustainably change is one of the key arts of helping myself and other leaders develop. Of course another oblique approach is to create a space for safe meaningful play, and that this is why the EnablerTM seems to be such a successful tool in facilitating change.

Ruled by the dead

December 17, 2011 § Leave a comment

Christopher Hitchens seems to have had a few radical ideas in his time, many of which (including his support of Wolfowitz) are hard to swallow. However his theist views, or maybe rather anti-theist views, seem intriguing to say the least.

One concept I can thank him for, albeit quite ironic, is that of thanatocrazy. The idea that we are burdened by laws that were made by people long dead is worth thinking about. Why don’t our laws have expiry dates? Who says laws made a century past are still applicable to our current society? Even worse – who really benefits from these archaic laws?

A few years ago we took a holiday to Mozambique where I learnt that nobody could buy land, you could only lease it for 99 years. Given that at the time one of the issues in Cape Town was the amount of land owned by foreigners I thought this quite a novel solution to the problem. Today I wonder whether there shouldn’t be a constitutionally enforced validity period to laws. I.e. if you don’t rewrite a law within 49 years it automatically becomes invalid. It would put a greater burden on Parliament, and lead to a new set of NGOs, but it may also reduce the need for legal professionals. It might even lead to some kind of upper bound to capitalism.

Having to follow the rules of those that were long dead does leave an unsavoury taste, and I’m not sure it gets balanced out by me being able to leave an inheritance to my kids…

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