Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Inspiring quotes

As editor of a newsletter for a self-help support group I am always on the lookout for inspirational quotes. Apart from being space fillers, a good quotation can help to provide inspiration and motivation.

Dozens of websites serve as a source for quotes - inspirational or otherwise. Identifying those that are truly inspiring, that have some real substance and the many thousands of kitsch, corny and saccharine-filled quotes is my major problem. For every gem there are a hundred - perhaps a thousand - duds.

My favourite quote comes from quite an ancient source - the Talmud (Pirkei Avot 1:14). Written by Hillel. The translation from the Hebrew reads as follows:

"If I am not for myself, who will be?
If I am only for myself, what am I?
And if not now, when?"

Written about 2000 years ago, it encompases great wisdom about ourselves, our relationship to others and the necessity to act. The last line provides the impetus. Do it now! Driving recently on the highway I noticed a billboard advertising Johnny Walker Black Label. This happens to be one of my favourite Scotch Whiskies. I was surprised to see the words "If you are not for you, who will be for you? and if not now when?" Our favourite quotes turn up in the most unexpected places!

Now in his 90th year, Nelson Mandela continues to provide hope and inspiration around the world. One of the few great leaders of our time, his life itself is an inspiration. How many people survive 23 years of imprisonment with such dignity? How many become President yet retain such humility? Having had the pleasure of meeting him I can say that he is one of the few Gentlemen of this world. He treats every person with respect. In his 1994 book "Long Road to Freedom" he wrote:

"I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended."

If that does not inspire, what will?

Of course Sir Winston Churchill is always a great source of quotes - not all inspirational! On this very subject he had this to say:

"It is a good thing for an uneducated man to read books of quotations." Perhaps then he can make himself appear educated.

On success he comments:

"Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm."

A fact that is borne out by many successful people! How many give up after one failure?

Churchill is of course remembered most for his war-time speeches. Speeches that resounded throughout the free world in hours of great darkness. Millions listened to their radios for words of encouragement and inspiration. Words that helped to Allies to win the war against the forces of darkness.

"We shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and the oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be. We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender."

I'll end with the words of one of the top management gurus - Peter Druker. "There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all." Makes you think.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

Dealing with death

The death of someone close is one of the most traumatic experiences that we all have to face at some time in our lives. Often the response is not entirely appropriate. Friends try to offer comfort. Some take tranquilizers and try to continue with life "as normal". The "life must go on" philosophy.

The Jewish mourning process provides a model of what may be one of the healthiest ways of dealing with death. Many psychologists have pointed to this process because it correlates closely with the actual stages of grief.

The Funeral.

Burial takes place using a standard simple coffin. Usually within 24 hours. The mourners - close family members - wear old clothes to the funeral. Clothes are torn before the burial - usually the shirt over the heart. There are no flowers. Male mourners say Kaddish. Mourners are wished a long life. After the funeral the neighbours (or friends and family) provide a meal for the mourners.


Most people have heard of saying Kaddish. Kaddish is a prayer that begins at the funeral and continues at each daily service for 11 months. Written in Aramaic, the words "Yitgadal veYitkadash Sme Raba" translate to "May His Great Name be magnified and Sanctified". There is no reference to death. Allan Ginsberg, a poet of the Beat generation used this for one of his poems. He referred to Kaddish as a mantra. The purpose of Kaddish is in fact to elevate the soul. Kaddish is usually said by sons for a parent. It can only be said in a minyan a quorum of ten Jewish men.


We do not try to cheer up or comfort the mourners. They return from the funeral to the house of mourning where they sit "shiva" (seven) for seven days. Mourners sit on low chairs to signify how low they feel. Mirrors and paintings are covered and no music is allowed. Work should be avoided if at all possible. Visitors are not supposed to ask how they are. Mourners are left to experience their grief. Prohibitions include cutting of hair, shaving, and sex. On the seventh day, the mourners should get up and walk away from the house of mourning, signifying the end of this very intense stage of mourning. A 24 hour candle is burnt throughout this period. The flame of the candle represents the soul and the life of the deceased.


Once "shiva" is over, mourning continues for the "shloshim" (thirty). Work is resumed, but cutting of hair, buying new items such as clothes or furniture are not allowed. Entertainment especially music - and visiting others are also not allowed. Gifts should not be presented to mourners, though bringing food is allowed. The "shloshim" ends on the thirtieth day after death.

The Year

For parents, mourning parents continues. For any one else it has now ended. The mourning period for parents continues until a year after death. The mourning restrictions are much less severe, but typically entertainment should be avoided. Mourners may attend a wedding but should avoid the music and dancing.

Memory and acceptance

The death is commemorated every year on the date of death. A 24 hour candle is lit, and Kaddish is said once more. Honouring of parents continues after death. Over the course of the mourning period the grief fades and turns towards acceptance. Acceptance and memory. The Jewish festivals each contain a portion where the dead are remembered. The memory of the deceased is perpetuated by giving charity in their name.

Many people experience a loss and try to carry on with life as normal. Grief is suppressed. Mourning is considered to be out of step with the 21st century. Grief and mourning are a very necessary part of experiencing a loss. It is part of helping us to adjust to the new status quo, to achieve a level of acceptance and to move on

Monday, 28 July 2008

Tips for networking your way to a new job

Finding a new job is not easy. There may be times when specific skills are in short-supply and jobs are there for the taking. But most people get new and sometimes better jobs through people they know. Networking often provides the key. Networking is often the secret ingredient that lands one person that lucrative new job while an equally qualified competitor loses out.

I worked for the same company for twenty years. Although a rare practice in the modern world, I knew the business and the people. For many years a thriving company, a series of poor management decisions led the company's downfall. During this period I had neglected networking. When I was retrenched I found myself alone in the big wide world. Most of my contacts (all from the same company) were in the same boat. Many months and hundreds of job applications passed before I was able to surface. I was short listed for some positions but most applications simply disappeared into a deep black hole. When I did manage to obtain some gainful employment, it was through a friend and ex-colleague.

My friend had taken on an entrepreneurial role and was trying to establish a consulting house. I have worked as a consultant for the last six years on a wide variety of contracts. I must thank my network for introducing me to many of these.

Networking has become a necessity, essentially in a volatile environment. Almost every contract has been as a result of my network, and almost every contract helps me to build my network further. Former colleagues have provided leads and recommendations that have helped to keep me busy.

I read somewhere that most jobs are obtained through someone that you know. Someone known to the employer provides a personal recommendation. The chances of success are much greater than relying on recruitment companies. This may seem unfair, but put yourself in the employer's shoes for a moment. Who would you choose: someone that a trusted colleague can vouch for, or the candidate from the agency. We are generally more comfortable taking on a person recommended by a trusted colleague, business associate or friend. Besides, all is fair in love and war and business.

Some of my contracts (a minority) were obtained through recruitment companies. Contacts established through my various consulting contracts have led to many subsequent contracts. On one occasion, I was short-listed for a position and interviewed by a panel. A member of the panel knew me from a previous company and recommended me highly! That made the difference.

The key to successful networking is to stay in touch with people that you work with at every position. Rather than networking with everyone, I tend to network with people that I enjoyed working with. Many of these people are now friends. Others are friendly contacts. I drop them an occasional line, make the odd call and stay in touch through face book.

Networking sites can also prove valuable. I have joined the business networking site - LinkedIn. I have few contacts there and ensure that these are maintained.

My network is small but always growing. Having started my blogging career recently, I am using blog networks to help get traffic. Using MyBlogLog, I look at other people's sites. When I like the site I add myself to their community and add the blogger as a contact. Visitors to my sites are growing slowly but steadily! Adding myself to the sites is not enough. Interacting with the people achieves much more. And of course the blogs have to be of a high quality.

Social networking sites like Face Book are also useful for building networks.

The point to remember is that people are important not only in our social lives but in business as well. Many people begin their networks while at school. The British Public School networks are well known some would say notorious. "The Old School Tie" often plays a decisive role in getting the best jobs around. I was never a part of that. My network only really began growing since my role became that of an independent consultant.

Befriend as many people as possible at each company that you work for. Get to know the clients and the suppliers as well. Stay in touch after either of you leave.

Building a strong network could assure you of many opportunities and can land you in the pound seats. Most of the jobs that you get in your journey through life will be through people that you know. Make sure that your network grows from strength to strength and don't burn your bridges behind you.

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Online gambling: Could you lose everything?

Many people are able to gamble on the odd occasion and leave it at that. Many others get hooked soon after they start - perhaps follows a big win or a series of wins.

If your attempts at gambling have always resulted in losing on experiencing only the occasional small win, then you are unlikely to continue. It is possible to win large amounts of money gambling and this is primarily where gambling becomes dangerous.

Bob (not his real name) walked into a casino for the first time in his life with $200. He played blackjack. He could do nothing wrong and within a few hours had accumulated $20,000.

He was back the next day to win more. Soon the winnings were gone, and he began betting more and more to recoup his losses. He lived at the casino for the next week. Having lost all of his own money, he turned to his father for help. This also ended up at the casino. Bob came from a gambling family. His uncle had lost his entire fortune, his home, his wife and his family. Bob's father recognised the signs and took action.

When on-line gambling becomes compulsive all the same dangers are present. Gambling becomes the primary focus of life. Everything else takes second place.

In the early stages, a gambler is able to win and cash in the money. It doesn't take long before the gambler continues until he has no more access to money. Having lost his entire salary in one sitting, the gambler becomes desperate. He seeks out loans from near and far. These loans are intended to cover the shortfall in living expenses. Instead they are used for gambling.

Home loan and car finance repayments are left unpaid. The gambler desperately tries to avoid creditors. Many have lost everything to gambling. Cars, homes, inheritances are all prey to gambling. Loans from loan sharps lead to worse problems. Some end up homeless.

Many gamblers do lose everything. Most do not recognise that they have a problem until the damage done is irreversible. If you suspect that you are a compulsive gambler, then seek help now.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

How to write classified ads that work

The first place to look when seeking a new pet, a second hand car or a rented appartment is the classified ads. The classified ads is an open marketplace that is often the first choice for people wishing to buy and sell a whole range of goods and services. The medium is usually very cost effective and can produce fast results.

Placing a classified ad in the newspaer of your choice is a quick and simple procedure. But responses are not always forthcoming. Before placing your advert think about what you are trying to sell, what makes it appealing and your target audience. Selecting the right publication can make a difference. In some cases a specialist magazine may be the best place to reach the target audience. Think about what it is that makes a classified advert effective. Put yourself in the buyers shoes - where would you look to find a similar item?

Next, decide on your price. What is the item worth to you? Remember that a competitively priced item will attract many more responses than one that seems expensive. Invest a few cents in marketing. $99.95 is much more appealing than $100. Retailers have used this for years for a good reason - it always works!

Some publications have specific days to advertise cars, houses or boats. A little investigation will reveal the answer. Advertise on the right days when the prospective buyers are there. You will pay the same price on any other day, but will reach a smaller audience.

Getting to the advert itself, think about the reader. People tend to skim through the adverts to find the item that they want. The key to success is to provide as much information as possible in a few words. Long classified ads are expensive and don't work.

Start with a catchy title. The title should provide some key words (no, these weren't invented for the Internet!) and appealing information to provide the reader with a reason to stop and read the rest. Examples of titles for home sales include "Inanda. Luxury mansion", "Sydenham - Renovator's Dream", "Berea, Character Home for Immediate Occupation", "Ferndale - Give the kids a chance to romp" or "Sandton bargain - be quick!"

These titles all provide a little information about the house being sold. Something that will appeal to the right buyer.

Staying with homes, the next line should provide information about the accommodation. "3 beds, 2 baths, dream kitchen, open plan living area onto patio, pool, parking for 4 cars" provides the key details. Use descriptive words to add to the appeal - "in park-like setting", "needs a little TLC" or "with spectacular view". Adjective and descriptive phrases can make all the difference.

I hardly ever follow up a classified ad that doesn't have a price, yet many classified adverts miss this key information. Having caught the reader's attention, the price is probably the main decision factor for the reader to make that call. Include the price even if you are open to offers. The abbreviations "neg." (negotiable), "ono" (or nearest offer) or "onco" (or nearest cash offer) indicate that you are willing to negotiate. You can even try the reverse - "best offer over $10 wins".

Closing with a catch phrase such as "must be seen" or "be quick" can be very effective.

Contact details are very important. I have come across many adverts that include a phone number but no name. A name provides an identity of a person. People like to have a person to contact when responding to an advert. A first name will do fine. Don't forget to provide alternative contact details - these can be very useful. A business number, home number and cell number provide a choice. If you are only available after hours then say so. The "ah" abbreviation is well recognised. A second number also provides some insurance against typing errors when your advert is published! Add an email address if you wish but most people prefer the immediacy of a phone call.

Classified ads allow anyone to advertise almost anything. Success rates are high. If you are selling a popular item, then be prepared to have your phone ringing off the hook!

Friday, 25 July 2008

Should good grades be rewarded with cash?

People achieve great things with the right incentives. Children may be able to improve their 'D' grade average to a 'B' or even an 'A' given the right encouragement. Cash incentives can work very well, but there cash for grades has its dangers.

During the 1960s Walter Mischel conducted his famous Marshmallow Experiment. Four year old children were each given a marshmallow. Those that could wait the twenty minutes to eat the marshmallow were given the promised second marshmallow. Some of the children could not wait.

The progress of these children was followed through adolescence. Those with the ability to wait twenty minutes (at the age of four) achieved better long term results than felt compelled to eat the marshmallow right away.

The ability to understand the concept of deferred gratification is what is required for children - and people in general - to achieve success. A colleague completed an accountancy degree, but did not go on to do articles (towards a CA) because of the low starting salary of an articled clerk. With the accounting degree he could start on three times the clerk's salary. Ten years later the picture is very different!

While cash for grades may provide a short-term incentive to work harder, the net effect is to reinforce the expectation of instant gratification against deferred gratification. It may help them to achieve good grades in the short term, but provides a poor life example. Children this rewarded are less likely to achieve a long term view that will provide them with a more secure future. Their orientation is likely to be grounded very much in the short term.

Children that are under-achieving at school could benefit from cash for grades. As they lack a long term view, the cash can provide a real incentive to work and to achieve. There could be a steady improvement in their grades over the years. Getting into the working habit has its own benefits. Achieving better grades has a spin-off effect of improving self-esteem.

Implementing a cash for grades scheme should be approached incrementally and with caution. Begin with a short term reward basis - e.g. per month or semester - gradually increasing the period to a year before the next cash incentive. This could help the child to achieve a more long term view.

But what happens when the cash runs out? Are we back to square one? Are the higher grades that gained them admission to a college enough? Will the young adult now be able to perform in an academic environment without frequent rewards? These are some of the questions that must be asked before embarking on such a scheme.

Rather than paying for results, parents should be assisting the child in achieving a long term view. They need to play a supportive role and discuss issues with their children. If the parents provide a stimulating environment and are working towards goals the children will probably follow. Example is the best way to lead.

Providing cash for grades may work in the short term, but it may sabotage children's ability to understand and cope with the concept of deferred gratification. The idea that better rewards can be achieved by waiting. Skills that are central to achieving success in life.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

7 good reasons to leave your current job

Recognising the right time to leave a current job is an important aspect of career management. The reasons for leaving are many and varied. It is sometimes preferable to stay with an unsatisfactory job than to be without anything. But there are times when a move is the best, perhaps the only viable option. Below are the top seven reasons - in no particular order - to leave a current job.

1. You do not fit into the organisation's culture.

Every company has its own particular culture. There are companies that run on orders from the the top while others favour employees that make their own decisions. Do you fit into the culture? Does the culture work for you and are you able to progress in your career? Many people are quite happy to be told what to do and how to do it and feel out of their depth if expected to make decisions. Others find this environment difficult to manage, and would be better of seeking an alternative job where they feel that they could make a positive contribution.

2. Conflict between you and the boss.

When every encounter with the boss is an unpleasant experience then it is time to move on. Often a conflict seems to develop between the boss and the employee. The employee feels undermined and his/her self-esteem takes a knock. This is a very definite no-win situation. As the self-esteem is destroyed, work-performance deteriorates. If you find yourself in that situation the best option is to leave and the sooner the better. In extreme cases people leave without an alternative job. While this is risky, the longer term result is often one that is more favourable.

3. You hate your work!

You always wanted to be a professional musician but were pressurised by family into going into business. You have not followed your dreams but are desperately unhappy doing what you are currently doing. This is a difficult situation, and requires some brutally honest self assessment. Are you good enough to succeed in the job of your dreams? People are usually successful when they are passionate about what they do. Are you passionate enough? Perhaps you could begin exploring your dream on a part time basis and find out where it leads.

4. You need to be independent.

Some of us are fiercely independent. We will never be happy working for a boss. We want to achieve something on our own, something that is ours and something where the rewards are greater. Starting your own business can be an excellent reason for leaving your job. Do you have an area of expertise that you can turn into profit? Is there something that you would enjoy doing seven days a week until the business has been built up? Do you have the drive to market your business to build up the customer base that it needs?

5. Your career development has come to a halt.

Your first 6 years at the company were exciting time. Beginning at a junior level, you were received frequent promotions. Your status rapidly improved. But followed the latest restructuring exercise you feel left out. Other colleagues have taken the cream jobs and opportunities for promotion are scarce. The time has come to look around and find something new. The early recognition that you received has gone, and you have lost your motivation. It is time to find a new challenge, one that will allow you to grow and develop more.

6. You have lost a political battle.

Work is often about politics. Once you have lost a major political battle at work you are unlikely to recover. Lick your wounds and move on. A new environment may be just what the doctor ordered.

7. You have become part of the furniture.

No-one notices you. Your work is taken for granted. You are "comfortable" where you are, but going nowhere fast. The time to move has passed, yet perhaps is the only choice! Find an alternative.

Microsoft's biggest blunder - the Vista distaster

Microsoft Vista has such a bad name that vendors are disregarding the order to stop selling XP.

Microsoft are trying to remedy the problem by launching an expensive advertising campaign. They are spending no less than $300 million to improve the Vista image. But Microsoft have lost sight of the reason for the bad name. Vista is full of bugs. It doesn't work properly. The simplest tasks don't work. Applications don't work. Plug and play components don't work. Things that were simple to do in XP (even in Dos) now become difficult, complex, perhaps impossible.

Many components - printers, scanners, - have been rendered useless. Vista does not have the drivers for them.

I called Microsoft a few days after buying my new notebook with Vista Business. I told them that I was not satisfied with the product. I would like to remove it from my machine and replace the operating system with Linux. The response was a very definite NO. They offered me the option to downgrade to XP for FREE - if I could supply my own disk! But even this option is not available to all. Only to those unfortunate enough to have bought the Business or Ultimate versions. Those with the cheaper versions are stuck!

What other products are we forced to buy blind and have no recourse when the product is faulty or substandard?

It is about time that software products should be returnable. WHo would have believed that a product could be so bad? At least allow us to return it within 30 days. Or provide it on a 30 or more realistically a 60 day trial.

I for one have installed Linux on my machine and I intend making a strong move away from MS.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

A look at successful Internet business models

Some of the Internet's most successful business models have grown from almost nothing to being economic giants in the world economy.

Google - basically a search engine - has become a huge business earning millions of dollars in profits. Examining Google closely reveals that the company offers a range of services. Most of these are free. Every webmaster and blogger is familiar with Adsense which provides web site owners with the opportunity to add advertising to their site. This is supplemented with Adwords - a facility for businesses to advertise on a wide range of websites that publish relevant material. Both of these services use the key word concept. Advertising relates to the content of the page on which it is placed. Advertisers only pay for actual clicks on the adverts. Google also offer referral ads where payment only becomes due on a successful subscription.

One of the oldest Internet businesses is Originally known as Internet sellers of books, now sell a whole range of products. Many of their sales come from the many affiliate sites that advertise and promote their products. At the beginning of its life, was able to offer its products at lower prices than retail outlets. There was no need to hold large amounts of stock, to maintain showrooms and so on. Their prices are still competitive and now supplies books, CDs, DVDs and a range of other products at the click of a mouse. entered the Internet with its then new marketing and sales strategy before the Internet had become an acceptable medium for purchasing goods and services.

Some of the biggest Internet money spinners are on-line casinos. Many of these operate illegally and their trustworthiness may be questionable. These simply produce casino games in electronic form that allows punters to play anything from blackjack and roulette to a whole range of slot machines. With costs much lower than in a plush walk-in casino and the odds very firmly in their favour, on-line casino's are a huge success in the Internet business.

Porn sites also have a ready audience. Many curious viewers are able to enter this world through the privacy of their own computer.

Dating sites have also become successful. Free membership is offered allowing for the posting of a profile and photos. The member can browse through the other members' profiles and select favourites. But if the member wants to contact another member then a subscription is required. The subscription income is supplemented by advertising. Some dating sites rely purely on the advertising revenue and do remarkably well!

These are just a tiny selection of successful Internet business models. Others include Ebay where members can buy and sell goods and services using an on-line auction mechanism, Yahoo which is similar to Google in many ways. There are even blogs that achieve financial success even if these are only a fraction of the bloggers on the Web. Advertising for most is essential - often using Google as the medium. Many recruit affiliates to bring the traffic and achieve sales.

Many other models exist and Internet scams abound. But it seems that all successful Internet businesses have one thing in common - heavy traffic to the site.

Should employers monitor employees' Internet use?

Employers are often faced with a difficult choice. Allow free access to the Internet to employees, or monitor usage to prevent abuse - a practice that discourages employees from using the Internet at all. One of the big advantages of allowing free access is that the Internet is a great source of information. Information that could be put to good use in the workplace. These benefits are hardly recognised.

There is no doubt that many emplyees abuse the free use of the Internet. Visits to porn sites, on-line gambling or just pointless surfing for hours on end.

The Internet has a wealth of information available on almost any topic. Information on industries, trends, best business practices, how others have solved similar problems and so on. Internet monitoring inhibits access to useful information as much as it prevents abuse.

Even where non-work related usage is concerned, there are many instances where using the Internet is more time-efficient than the alternatives. Does it really matter if the employee looks up the TV schedule on the Internet rather than referring to a newspaper or magazine? Or booking movie or theatre tickets, ordering products and services or on-line banking? Doing these on the Internet is very time-efficient and avoids the need for trips out of the office to achieve the same thing.

Then there is Facebook. Does it really matter if employees are messaging through this at work? Perhaps there could be some work related benefits? It probably uses less time than the inevitable long phone calls to and from friends and family.

Obviously, the expectation of responsible usage must be encouraged. Surfing should not be at the expense of getting work done. But there must be other ways of achieving a responsible attitude. Better leadership by management. Incentives. Productivity targets. Giving more responsibility to the employees. The relationship between employer and employees should be one of trust. Performance evaluation should be based on outputs. If the outputs are good then why worry about Internet usage?

In an age where empowerment has become a major buzz-word employees are being given more power to control the way they work and how they achieve their work related objectives. Empowerment means treating employees as adults. How can this be achieved if we treat them like children?

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Willing to kill for the cause

The president of the ANC Youth League, one Julius Malema, recently made a speech in which he said that he was willing to "kill for Jacob Zuma". The result was quite a furor. The Human Rights Commission solicited a promise that he wouldn't use the term "kill" again. All the while, Julius has protested his innocence. It wasn't meant literally. It was quoted out of context. But he has steadily defended the statement nonetheless.

But the problem does not end there. Having promised not to kill in the future, he has come out with a new term. Eliminate. The counter-revolutionary forced must be eliminated. No, he didn't mean kill. He meant Removed. But just how does he propose to eliminate these counter revolutionary forces?

In Julius Malema's view of the world, a counter revolutionary is an opponent of Jacob Zuma. The definition included many in his own party. It includes the official opposition and all the other smaller parties represented in the South African parliament. Who is left? How will they be removed? Or eliminated? Will he use a third force? What will he do when the purge is over?

HEaring such language from a party that produced such men of integrity and peace is disturbing. Perhaps the party is over. A new breed that do not share the same ideology are emerging. Where will it end?

Monday, 14 July 2008

When is it possible to resolve major national problems through dialogue?

After being ruled by a ruthless minority for 42 years, South Africa did the unthinkable. Nelson Mandela spoke to the oppressor. The ANC engaged in a dialogue with the National Party government - its long standing deadly enemy. The National Party talked to the ANC that had been banned for many of those years.

Deadly enemies got around the table and talked. The talking continued for the next four years resulting in a constitution that enshrines human rights and democratic elections. This was the South African miracle. Peaceful change.

Across the border to the north of South Africa, Zimbabwe is ruled by no less than a tyrant. Zanu-PF seem to believe that they have the G-d given right to rule rule forever. The democratic voice of the people has been swept aside, and Mugabe has stolen the election.

Around the world there have been calls for increased sanctions and other punitive measures. But the South African government has opposed these. Instead it is promoting a dialogue. Both sides are being encouraged to sit down and talk. They site the South African experience as a precident. But has Mugabe given up the right to a negotiated solution?

But can there be hope for a solution through dialogue when one side wants to hold all the cards? Many attempts at dialogue have failed. But there have been successes. Could the crisis in Zimbabwe be solved by talking, and when does talking become appeasement?

Friday, 11 July 2008

How to cut down on living expenses or how to survive a tough economy

Times are tough. Tighten your belts! The advice of financial advisers rings out loud and clear. Reduce debt, reduce living expenses, and tighten your belt.

The ever increasing prices of fuel and food have wreaked havoc in households around the world. The cost of simply driving to work and feeding the family has created a shortfall in disposable income that makes it difficult to keep up with car and mortgage repayments. South Africans have to face another negative financial pressure. The central bank has responded to these inflationary pressures with repeated increases in the rate of interest. It has certainly become much more difficult for the average man and woman in the street to make ends meet. How can ordinary people survive these extra costs? Already tightly squeezed, is it possible to cut living expenses even more?

What if your belt is already on the last notch? The solution is simple. Add another notch. You always wanted to be thinner. Right?

Luckily, many of us have quite an affluent lifestyle (even if we don't realise it!) so the possibilities of cutting back are abundant. We don't often realise that many regularly used items add very little value to our lives. Identify what is important and plan around keeping these.

Some years ago the local press reported widely on a prominent business woman that killed herself and her children. She had suffered a major financial setback and was about to lose her multi-million dollar home. She could not face the prospect of this loss. What she didn't realise is that money and material things come and go. Would a smaller home in a cheaper neighbourhood really have spelled the end of the world?

As long as your health is intact and you have a strong resolve to live, it is possible to recover from almost anything. Even if you don't make a full financial recovery, life can still be rich and rewarding.

Cutting down on living expenses is an option that is open to almost everyone as a solution to financial setbacks and hard times. The objective in cutting back must be to achieve the greatest possible saving by cutting back on items that don't really affect our lifestyle.

To begin, draw up a list of everything that you spend on a month to month basis. Identify the shortfall or the required saving. Examine your budget closely. What do you spend each month on sweets, crisps, fizzy drinks and cakes? Many people are taken aback when confronted with the monthly total. Smoking can be a huge expense both on a daily basis and in the long term in terms of our health and related expenses.

Review your alcohol spending. Alcohol can be a major drain on the household economy. No suggestion that you eliminate it altogether, but consider cutting back. Lunches at work can add up to a considerable sum. Consider making packed lunches instead.

Of course fuel is one of the growing expenses on our day to day lives. Limiting the fuel that we use is a priority. Plan your journeys to include everything that you need. Avoid unnecessary repeat trips to the shops and rediscover the joy of walking. Learn how to drive more economically, and make sure that your tires are inflated correctly.

There could be a lot of scope to reduce your electricity bill. Simply switch off whatever you are not using including lights, appliances and the computer. Swap your light bulbs for energy efficient equivalents that use about 10% of the power requirements. Small savings can add up to major savings over the course of a month.

Consider cutting back on entertainment. Cable or Satellite TV are expensive options. Frequent take-away meals may save on effort, but cost much more than a home cooked meal.

If these measures are not enough, then consider changing your accommodation. Could you live more cheaply elsewhere? Consider exchanging the fuel guzzling vehicle for a more economical model. Perhaps if you move closer to work you could also save on fuel. But these items are last resorts.

Avoid cashing in your investments unless doing so would eliminate debt. Eliminating debt can usually lead to a lower cost lifestyle and provides the opportunity for further investment. If you can pay off the home or car loan by cashing in investments then go ahead. The payments that are eliminated can be used to fund new investments in a fairly short space of time.

Cutting down on living expenses may appear to be totally impossible at first glance. Focus on what is important to you and what can be eliminated. Giving up unnecessary spending may be all that is required. Debt elimination can help a great deal towards solving financial problems. In some cases it will be necessary to make drastic changes, but do this only once you have thoroughly reviewed and adjusted your daily spending habits.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Will higher education or work experience get you ahead faster in your career?

A higher education is a key to success both within and outside of the corporate world. Some qualifications are highly sought after and rewarded. A professional degree is particularly valuable. An accounting degree leading to the professional chartered accountant qualification is particularly valuable. An MBA degree has been known to propel individuals from middle management to executive level in record time.

Work experience can and does help to move a career forward. Sometimes it is highly recognised, and there are times when an academic institution will award a degree for work experience. We've all heard about the office-boy that makes it to CEO, but this is the exception that proves the rule.

Education has almost become a necessity to advance a career. A bachelors degree, masters degree or MBA have become prerequisites for a range of jobs or occupations. A hundred years of working in the medical field is not enough to make you a doctor.

A friend and colleague worked his way through the corporate ladder to a position of Assistant General Manager over the course of twenty years. Once the company showed signs of being in trouble he was one of the first to be retrenched. He struggled to find alternative employment.

By contrast, an actuarial student entered the same business and even before completing the qualification began a rapid career rise. Within a year of qualifying, he was a general manager.

Of course a qualification in itself is no guarantee of career success. The corporate world is a very political place and you need to be a political player to climb the ladder. Other factors are at play. Performance on the job is crucial. But as a rule, those that are able to use their education effectively in their work are more successful than people that simply rely on work experience.

The value of education as a key to success is sharply evident when we look at the various professions - accountancy, law, actuarial science. A newly qualified chartered accountant can earn double the national average salary within two years of qualifying. Actuaries are amongst the highest earners in the world.

Perhaps the most important consideration is in the transferability of the skills. Twenty years experience and climbing the corporate ladder in one country does not make it easy to obtain another job. A professional qualification is a much greater help.

Wednesday, 09 July 2008

Do great writers rely more on effort or insight?

Good writing requires effort. The process of producing great writing may differ dramatically from one writer to the next. One will write in spurts and grind to a halt. Another will just carry on until the work is completed. Some may battle from sentence to sentence. The process of writing itself - particularly great writing - is a creative process. The creative process does not require effort. The creative process needs insight and inspiration.

The creative process is governed by the right hemisphere of the brain. When the right brain activity comes to the fore, the creative process becomes more or less automatic. Picasso often said that he allowed his hand to do the painting. The less thought he applied, the better the work. The right brain must be freed to produce the work.

My best work (no, I'm not suggesting that I am a great writer!) happens as a flow. When in a creative frame of mind, the effort is minimal. My best work has all been produced in this way. Once I have sufficient knowledge about the topic the effort becomes minimal. There is a difference between different types of writing - creative, academic, or writing for articles that are aimed at providing knowledge or a skill. It is when the left brain thought processes interfere that my writing suffers.

The effort required in writing lies in the development of writing skills. Learning and developing skills is a life-long process. Acquiring new knowledge, gaining insights into new topics, people and the world continues for life. This knowledge becomes internalised. Using the knowledge to write becomes a matter of intuition. Insights emerge as the creative process unfolds.

I know very little about the process followed by the great writers of the world. I can only guess at the creative process followed by writers such as Chekov, Jack London, Shakespeare or James Joyce. Reading War and Peace with its hundreds of characters and complicated story line leaves me with the distinct impression that Chekov just wrote from beginning to end. His internal knowledge of people, places and society - his vast insight - were enough to drive the entire process. Perhaps he mapped out the book before starting. Perhaps he planned the book's structure and outlined the story-line. Whatever the case, I imagine the words flowing directly from his mind to paper.

Artistic work relies on creativity. Creativity is governed by the right brain. When you start thinking too much the left brain takes over. The left brain is the logical side of the brain. We need it to function in the day to day world. When it comes to creativity the left brain has no idea. Writer's block is often a result left brain interference. The writer knows what he wants to write, but the words just don't come out right.

One way of stimulating creative right-brain activity is to listen to music while writing. It works every time. Even business reports require an element of creativity. There may be a need for a major effort in terms of gathering information, weighing up the arguments and making appropriate recommendations. Similarly, fictional works may require much detailed research. Research requires effort. Research, investigation, information gathering all require skills that reside primarily in the left brain.

The information must be processed and turned into something that the reader will want to read. No matter how much left brain activity is required to gather the information needed to facilitate the writing process, the act of writing - or more particularly the act of great writing - is a right brain process. The major problem faced lies in making the transition. Once the left brain has been active it does not easily let go. It can bring together the information required for a technical report, but the words just don't sound right. The document becomes difficult to read. Being able to switch from left brain to right brain is something that a writer must do to produce good work.

Reading about the writing process recently, one writer described the process as follows. He writes the complete story in one process without a break. He then re-reads the piece, adds to it and perhaps changes certain parts. Correct any factual errors of changes in the story-line. The second re-reading looks at the more technical writing aspects - grammatical errors, spelling, detail. A process that is similar, if not identical, to mine.

Great writing has to rely on insight. Effort may be required in collecting information. But when it comes to the actual writing, too much effort can only hamper the process.

Tuesday, 08 July 2008

Online gambling: Could you lose everything?

Many people are able to gamble on the odd occasion and leave it at that. Many others get hooked soon after they start - perhaps follows a big win or a series of wins.

If your attempts at gambling have always resulted in losing on experiencing only the occasional small win, then you are unlikely to continue. It is possible to win large amounts of money gambling and this is primarily where gambling becomes dangerous.

Bob (not his real name) walked into a casino for the first time in his life with $200. He played blackjack. He could do nothing wrong and within a few hours had accumulated $20,000.

He was back the next day to win more. Soon the winnings were gone, and he began betting more and more to recoup his losses. He lived at the casino for the next week. Having lost all of his own money, he turned to his father for help. This also ended up at the casino. Bob came from a gambling family. His uncle had lost his entire fortune, his home, his wife and his family. Bob's father recognised the signs and took action.

When on-line gambling becomes compulsive all the same dangers are present. Gambling becomes the primary focus of life. Everything else takes second place.

In the early stages, a gambler is able to win and cash in the money. It doesn't take long before the gambler continues until he has no more access to money. Having lost his entire salary in one sitting, the gambler becomes desperate. He seeks out loans from near and far. These loans are intended to cover the shortfall in living expenses. Instead they are used for gambling.

Home loan and car finance repayments are left unpaid. The gambler desperately tries to avoid creditors. Many have lost everything to gambling. Cars, homes, inheritances are all prey to gambling. Loans from loan sharps lead to worse problems. Some end up homeless.

Many gamblers do lose everything. Most do not recognise that they have a problem until the damage done is irreversible. If you suspect that you are a compulsive gambler, then seek help now.

Monday, 07 July 2008

Surviving the workplace

Do you hate your job? Are you finding it more and more difficult to survive in the work environment? No matter what you feel about how you earn a living, remeber that surviving the workplace the workplace means going along with a few simple rules.

Close your eyes for a moment and picture your favourite performer throwing a tantrum on-stage. A dancer performing with a long face.

"Sorry, I don't really feel that great today - can't do this. Try me again tomorrow". Entertainers always appear to be on top of things. The crisis at home, the near bankruptcy or the looming divorce don't come into the picture.

We may not all be entertainers, but every job has a public and professional side to it. From the time that you arrive at work until the time you leave, present yourself in a professional way both to your colleagues and to your customers. Whatever it is that you do, make sure that you do a professional job of it. The workplace is not a place for unprofessional behaviour or shoddy work.

Think about the professionals that you see from time to time. If your doctor cannot perform an examination because of her fight with the spouse last night, you will soon be making your way to another practice. We expect consistency from the people that we deal with, so this is something that we have to achieve for ourselves.

Of course what you do will influence what you have to do to ensure survival. A few simple rules can be applied to almost any work situation. Remember that your work is your stage. You can do as you please in your free time, but while at work you have to present a professional image. Find out the rules of engagement. Bend them if you must, but keep within the fold.

Dress appropriately for the job. Groom yourself. Appearance creates a first impression and a last impression. Arriving at work looking scruffy and disheveled can help you to score negative points very quickly. Rather dress ahead of the minimum dress code than below.

Learn how to separate your private and professional lives. This may seem artificial to some, but is crucial to surviving in the workplace jungle. Your personal problems belong at home. You cannot deal with them properly while at work. If you have a real crisis, a death in the family or anything that is likely to affect your ability to do your work then take time off. Cancel the concert if your voice is lost. Remember, some things are more important than work and staying away is the best way to deal with them.

Project yourself in a warm and friendly manner. This helps to get people on your side. A friendly smile makes people feel comfortable and at ease. Of course if you work at a cemetery, different rules may apply.

Be ready early. Arrive a few minutes before the starting time. Make sure that you are fresh and ready for the day. Punctuality and being prepared not only create a good impression, but help you to stay in control. Walking into a meeting ten minutes late puts you at a real disadvantage.

There are times when problems will arise. When dealing with conflict or difficult situations try to give yourself enough time to make a considered statement. Try to delay your response rather than act in the heat of the moment. Think before you talk! Sometimes we are confronted with short-tempered irrational people. If one of these is your boss, try to remove yourself for as long as possible before responding. Time cools people down and make the situation more manageable. There are also times when the best route to follow is the formal grievance procedure.

Finding time to relax and enjoy yourself in your free time is very important. Looking after your personal life will help you to look after your life at work.

Always remember that your work is your stage, and that every performance must be professional.