Get sorted with the good, old “P-K”

grew up in Pretoria in the 1990’s. In high school (which was pretty close to an Afrikaans high school and located in a typically mixed English / Afrikaans neighborhood) the term “P-K” was somehow coined. If you don’t know what that is, I am not going to explain, but suffice to say that it involves the use of the palmar manus and swinging it across the air to make contact with the buccal of the often surprised recipient, and is from Afrikaans descent.

Side effects of this phenomenon include:

  1. A sense of gratification from the provider
  2. Nasal mucus flies
  3. The observing of stellar scintillation by the recipient. And…
  4. Quite often – a sense of superb clarity on the part of the recipient

I contend that the old “P-K” offers a solution to some of the many challenges in society today. Let’s look at some hypothetical examples:

Suppose there was a teenager who did not want any discipline. His parents are divorced and he moves between them – and his grandmother, depending on whom he has most recently hurt/disappointed, and depending on where he thinks he is most likely to get his own way. His schooling is in the balance and his future looks bleaker and bleaker. Long lectures, trips to social worker and punishment don’t work. What is the solution?

Suppose also that we have a person in the position of relative authority. This person is barely literate, barely eloquent, but has incredible reach. Suppose such a person is way beyond the age where he should be reasonably acquiring new life partners, but continues to do so because he is allowed to – albeit without much regard as to what the impact of this is to those around him, or what perception about himself this could create.

This man is an adult, and he is well within his rights, but in the greater scheme of things could benefit from a wakeup call. What is the solution?

  • Give this man, and that child a “P-K!”

I am very aware of the legal limitation placed on corporal punishment, or the violation of people’s rights, so I propose a framework to make this work. Similar to the way our South African trade unions, the provider could seek a protected injunction that specifies a future date and time for the event. The “P-K” could then be administered in a safe, free and fair way that is void of any legal repercussions.

There you go – democratic, free, fair, legal and effective.

Because we’re living in a world where the protected human rights are at a tipping point – starting to make no sense, perhaps making some nasal mucus fly may pro-actively solve some contemporary challenges and impart some instantaneous enlightenment.

What some customers really feel

I saw this diagram in a journal, or a whitepaper a while ago. My sincere apologies to the author as I really can’t recall who developed it – but I think it so accurately depicted the experience of customers.

I can almost stop right here.

The reaction time in delivery in so many instances is lamentable, despicable.

There’s something honourable in wanting to be the ‘best’ company in your industry in some way – best product, best service, fastest whatever.  Roger Sant of Maritz Research argued very plainly that there is often a gap between the inter-dependent Brand promise and experience. To a customer, he states, this is unacceptable because he views the company holistically. By way of an example, Roger indicates that a service failure by a no-frills, low-cost airline is more likely to be forgiven, and will matter less than an equivalent experience of a fully-fledged national airline. The lesson here is that a company should be clear and realistic about its capacity to deliver. The company also needs the same level of clarity and realism about is quality to deliver.

The CEO of Zappos, Tony Hsieh is doing it the other way around. He states that they spend no money on marketing – instead they spend this budget to improve the customer experience, doing faster delivery to customers. This means that Zappos is not putting any brand promise out and allowing the customer experience speak for itself. This is definitely a more powerful way of going about it!

OK, OK – that’s not all that Zappos does differently. I know about the mantra “create fun with a little weirdness”, but writing about that is not the objective of this piece today. Research it out for yourself – you’ll be surprised and inspired by what else they’ve done.

Let’s get back to the picture above. When your company delivers to your customers, do you have blind spots and/or bottlenecks that hamper speedy and effective delivery to customers?

I’ve seen something incredible at a client company. They readily admit to problems and delays in customer delivery, but they were not willing to invest in infrastructure to fix the basics that would speed up this delivery. Instead, their approach has been to create different departments, each with a very senior manager and support team – to own the different aspects of the delivery chain, but within the constraints of the current infrastructure.

Fortunately for them, times are still good and money is still rolling in. This solution is extremely short-sighted and consequently, the jury is still out on the sustainability thereof. An unintended consequence of this approach has resulted in less autonomy and less empowerment for workers, and more politics overall.

I’d like to branch out on this picture above from a customer perspective and introduce the measurement of the applicability of the solution that is delivered – against the customer request. Here is an example to illustrate the importance of this.

I drive a fairly exclusive brand of motor car. At some point, I started noticing a strange knocking sound when turning the steering wheel in a certain manner. Over the last few months, I’ve constantly booked in the car to have it seen to. I’ve got no understanding of the mechanics of a motor vehicle, so I’m happy that they try whatever they have to fix it. The problem is – it has not worked and I still have the problem, AND frustratingly – each time the car goes in, they stamp the service book and capture it on their systems that the vehicle has had a full service done.

Let’s summarise the arguments (AKA fire the warning shots):

  1. From a customer perspective, some companies take unacceptably long to deliver.
  2. Delivery should have a louder voice than the brand promise.
  3. Continually review your basic infrastructure and invest to keep the basics right.
  4. Classify and resolve service failures and customer requests according to the customer’s ideal outcome. Do not into a retro-fit the solution into the parameters of current policy and process as this will inevitably lead to a solution that does not deliver according to the customer expectation.
  5. Be truthful and ethical. Do not ‘stamp the service book’ for services that did actually take place. There may be severe downstream consequences for your brand, as well as for your customers.
  6. Do not let the finance managers dictate what can, or cannot be delivered to your customers.
  7. Be innovative, more innovative, more innovative and more innovative. The best thing for innovation is innovation. Although not all innovations will be successful, the culture of innovation within the company is excellent for creating additional markets, and finding that truly spectacular next innovation.

The Truth vs Justice paradox

What is truth? What is justice? Isn’t truth supposed to set you free? Don’t we swear to “tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?”

A problem with truth is – there are many versions. Take the example of an art class sitting in a circle around an object, with the task to draw or paint a still life. If there are, say 20 artists in the group, each would have a different vantage point and would create a piece of work that represents his view, or interpretation of the object. How then, when the work is done, does anyone dare choose, out of all the drawings, the one that is the ‘truth’ – and avoid murder?

Murder – well, isn’t that the cause for this article? The courts – wow, is it not just astounding what comes from there? Most often, we could reasonably guess, there are no witnesses when a murder is committed. Then the argument in court becomes about the word of the accused vs. what the police investigators could uncover. On the one hand, a family has suffered from the early, untimely and possibly gruesome death of the loved one. On the other hand, the accused is protected by law, assumed innocent until proven guilty, offered FREE legal representation, has the possibility of being declared innocent my mis-trial, or on a technicality. The worst still – pleading insanity or getting a dose of “Shabir-Shaik-itis” (South Africans will understand)

Of course, we don’t want to bury our heads in the sand, condemn innocent men to death for crimes that they didn’t commit. The challenge is – how do we strike thie needed balance? It is often told that prisons are full of innocent men!!! All I’m saying – it makes you think. And if it doesn’t, it ought to make you think.

To me, the bottom line is this:

  1. Telling the truth, although a good ideal, does not always set you free
  2. There are different versions of the truth, with the possibility of another version of the truth can easily contradict and negate yours
  3. The South African Constitution unintentionally offers certain constitutional rights that do not seem ‘right’
  4. The law is used to interpret the ‘facts’, otherwise known as ‘the truth’, but the law only represents what is legal – not what is ‘right.’
  5. There is very little ethics in law
  6. There is very little ethics in society
  7. The law is interpreted by magistrates and judges, but with some recent topical events involving judges and their behaviour, does it really inspire confidence?

So, there is a deep link between truth, right and wrong, law, ethics and justice, but there is no golden thread running through these virtues. Therefore, the overall message is not consistent with good, clean living. When we add human greed, deception and ability to hurt, it starts to explain why there are so many problems and challenges in the world today.

As Africans, many of us belive in Ubuntu. Yet, very few of us live it. In a sense, it is understandable. We are exposed to so much negativity, that our society is de-sensitised and relieved when the violence and the problems do not affect us directly. We’re surviving, making a quick buck, dodging bullets and doing what we need to – to survive life in the concrete jungle.

President Mandela started a really great, and much needed national initiative in trying to unite the nation – The Rainbow Nation (Remember that?) So, I guess, most of us will agree that the different Presidents have presided over very different era’s that have resulted in various different national moods. For myself, I miss the President Mandela days – the nation was proud and excelled in sports, winning the African Nations Cup – even the Rugby World Cup.

We’ve been going on a vast decline in so many ways. Where is the justice in that? Perhaps it is just the new way of life where the state is so inundated with the problems of the economically unemancipated masses, that there is no time, political will, or resources to attend to the requirements, even the rights of the economically active and contributing population. Where’s the justice in that? It seems that we are in the era of cronyism, incompetence and self enrichment.

I know, and you know that it’s a reflection of our values. This is MY truth. Where’s the justice in that? How strange. A few years ago, I could have sworn that truth IS justice. How wrong I was!

Consider the folly of optimism and beauty

So here we are – at the point where life has brought us. Undoubtedly, there have been positives, negatives, learning’s, mistakes, successes, hopes and dreams. Every step that we have been through has been a necessary, integral part of our journey to bring us to our destiny, to prepare us for something new, and to help us though life.

I myself face raising a beautiful, talented, four year old blessing of a daughter. Of course, she is constantly testing mom and I. From time to time, this raises questions within me, brings me to various points of introspection, questioning of my approach, and the overall meaning of why God has given her to us.

Lately, I’ve been overwhelmed with the thought “the folly of.” The Bible says that it “pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.” Okay – I do not intend to impose my beliefs on you. Let’s relax. But it does strike me that the uppermost purpose for living, the act of belief in your God (or higher being, whoever He may be) is associated so directly with foolishness. Is this perhaps God’s humble way to move man – with his sometimes loftiness to move towards considering the state and end his fallible, earthly existence and consider the “beyond?”

We received news this morning of a family struck with grief by passing away of their dad, Wayne. For the last two or three years, he fought with cancer and has now graciously been called away from his suffering. I met him once only – seemed a really likeable and jovial chap. I liked him. The news of his passing away has taken my mind to what is humanly the most important thing. That is significance.

I won’t claim to have any answers, or any advice, or any 5 step plan to ensure that you are the best that you can be, and that you leave everything in a better state than you find it, or that you ensure that you reach your potential by changing the world, being kind to yourself and your family. I’ll simply say this… there’s beauty in each of us, and blesses are those who discovery this, learn from it, use it and become significant.

So I want to make it my life’s sole purpose to teach our little girl optimism and love and beauty, because in the end, that what I want her to remember me for.

The scientific properties of light

My sketchy recollection of high school physical science – specifically the scientific characteristics of light – was on my mind yesterday. I juxtaposed them against the contemporary state of values and morals in South African society and thought that there are some lessons that we can take away.

In layman’s terms, let’s define some of these characteristics briefly:

  • Reflection: refers to the property where the light is reflected back to its source in the same form and intensity – like a mirror.
  • Deflection: similar to reflection, but the light does not go back towards its source. Instead, the light beam is reflected in a different direction.
  • Refraction: this is the property of light that causes it to bend due to a change in its speed. This happens when the light travels through certain chemical substances.
  • Absorption: this is the property of objects to absorb certain colours that make up white light and reflect back what is nor absorbed. For example, an object is only blue to the human eye because it has the ability to absorb the 6 of the 7 colours that make up white light, thereby reflecting the blue back to us
  • Error of parallax: this is the property of objects to appear in one place, but actually not be there. May be caused by deflection, refraction or absorption of light.

What sparked this off for me was when I heard about someone saying that the world can change in ONE minute if everyone just decided to care for the person next to them. We often hear that in order for the world to change, it needs to begin with us. I also believe that change, actually, positive change starts with the values and the beliefs and the reactions that we have to events in our lives. So, right now, I am asking myself…. “Self – how do you behave?”

Do I reflect light – and show back the truth in whatever way, shape or form that it comes to me? Perhaps I do, but is this wise and prudent, and considerate of other people’s feelings? Is it the right thing to do? Is it the wrong thing perhaps?

Perhaps, in my life, I deflect light. Perhaps I deflect things. Perhaps I handle things that come to me in such a way that I show it to others, without the source becoming aware of what I am doing.

The way I refract things in life refers to my ability to change the direction of events. This can be done to produce an even better outcome, or to eliminate unnecessary hurt to someone else. It is essentially slowing things down so that the impact is different.

Absorption means that I take in, what comes, but only reflect back what is needed. Once again, this can be absorbing the bad and returning the good. It can also be the opposite.

I’ll leave the error of parallax to a later stage.

You see – I am really trying to talk about values. And I know that peoples’ values are different – and so perhaps it should be. What I believe is evident that there is a relaxation of morals, ethics, standards, values, beliefs, care and concern in general. I hear people say things like “I have not been found guilty in a court of law!” Immediately I think that something doesn’t need to be illegal in order for it to be wrong. Basically, the law distinguishes between legal and non-legal, not between right and wrong. So just because something is legal, doesn’t mean that it is right.

Why does the law exist? Is it there to guide us? Is it there to protect us? Is it there to enable us? Loaded question, but I believe that the law is simply placing limitation on those people who are good anyway. I don’t need a law to tell me how to behave well. If I am morally upright, I’ll do that anyway. Perhaps the law tells us when we are wrong – and those of us who are morally reprehensible (in any way, shape or form) will violate the laws anyway.

The error of parallax speaks to me of a seared conscience – and of an incorrect metaphoric vision. It is that ability that we have when we see something as truth and may not even be aware of the fact that it is not. We’re seeing things that are not there, or that have shifted and we’re missing the point. We’re committing the moral error or parallax when we reflect, deflect, refract and absorb the wrong things, or in the wrong way – and when we become in tune with doing it the right way, the world may improve.

Now if we can only agree on a common, shared, positive set of beliefs, values and morals!

A Lesson learnt from Jacob Zuma

Our family visited some friends over the last weekend. As these things sometimes go, us males found ourselves chatting away, separately, about family, work, the economy, finance, life, sport and politics. The host planted an idea into my head, so admittedly this isn’t all mine. However, I did ask him for permission to use it, so here we go.

Basically we were discussing the Presidency of Jacob Zuma. When I was asked how I saw it, I mustered up a “Well, he hasn’t embarrassed us. He hasn’t been great, but he hasn’t been bad either. He has made some really funny decisions, especially lately, but at least he has been busy.

“At least he has been willing to admit to, fix mistakes that he has made.” To this, the host laughed and responded that we should all look up to Mr. Zuma because he achieved the ultimate – against so many odds.

There are many values that Mr. Zuma has that I do not share. As an example, I don’t believe in (or practice) polygamy. Also, after certain events that have happened to Mr. Zuma, – if it was me, I believe that I would have recused myself from ascending to the Presidency of South Africa.

Okay – enough with me standing on the soapbox. After all, it’s not my job to judge him. What is this column about? Well – it just so happens that Mr. Zuma has taught us all about achieving a goal, even with so much stacked up against him. Lets look at the significant events of the last few years, in approximate chronological order, with no substantive facts. I understand that:

1.     Mr. Zuma has not completed high school

2.     Mr. Zuma was imprisoned on Robben Island. Unlike some of his fellow political prisoners, he preferred to play football over studies and education

3.     Mr. Zuma has (I think) five current wives, countless children and grandchildren

4.     Mr. Zuma’s former financial advisor was imprisoned for having a ‘generally corrupt’ relationship with the then deputy President. He was fired after this ruling

5.     Mr. Zuma had unprotected intercourse with an HIV positive lady, was tried for rape, made an unfortunate ‘shower’ comment that may never be forgotten

6.     The road to Polokwane was rocky, thorny, divisive, yet Mr. Zuma won

7.     The 2010 opening of Parliament speech made by Mr. Zuma was disastrous – many friends and colleagues questioned why ‘this man’ was elected as the number 1 citizen

8.     Prior to, during and after his election, Mr. Zuma has continually made unachievable promises, and told everybody he meets just what they want to hear

Not all of these events are positive, fitting or becoming of a State President. However, the fact remains that Mr. Zuma overcame huge obstacles and difficulties to get to where he is. That in itself, deserves our respect.

So we can say what we want to about the man – whether we like him or not, whether we support him or not – he has taught us a valuable lesson that even in South Africa, anyone with the right goals and determination can succeed.

Some time ago, I remember reading about a belief that some Americans have – “The American Dream!” This belief indicates that anyone with the heart, with determination, and with hard work can succeed. I feel that it is a great belief and that it signals that anyone can grow up and become great.

In American history, we have seen this. People who grew up poor and destitute have risen up to become Presidents, world famous actors and prominent business people.

Mr. Zuma has also shown us that the spirit of “The American Dream” is alive in South Africa. He may have chosen politics as his path, and maybe in the current socio-financial-political climate, it may be an easy, rewarding path – but we should all be encouraged and enlightened to adopt a winner’s mindset.

We should go out to achieve what we want for our lives. So, it is incumbent on us parents to share such lessons with our children. Teachers, please teach this to your learners. There’s no excuse – we can all do it. Because for a man about whom many would say doesn’t have the ‘qualifications’ or the inclination to lead this country, he certainly is. What, therefore, is your, or my excuse?