Thursday, December 14, 2006

And miles to go before I sleep...

In a brief speech at the 2006 Nobel Banquet in Stockholm last Sunday, this year's chemistry laureate, Roger D. Kornberg, spoke beautifully on the joy and labour of a life devoted to the pursuit of fundamental scientific knowledge.

Towards the end of his speech, Kornberg quoted from Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost thus:

Even as we celebrate, and savor this moment, the work goes on. I am reminded of some lines from the American poet, Robert Frost. During the long, arduous effort of the past 20 years, I often repeated these lines to myself. I view them as a kind of metaphor for science and our ongoing commitment to it.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

And miles to go before I sleep, And miles to go before I sleep...For me, that refrain alone is enough to prove Frost's greatness. Such haunting beauty. I defy you to ever forget it. Frost does that to you. Speaking of haunting art, I once used that word, "haunting", to describe the effect of some piece of art, cinema or literature or music, I forget, to a friend. He seemed puzzled by this and asked: "Why would you want to be haunted?" I'm not sure what my answer was at the time, but I've just realised I should have said that haunting comes in many varieties.

Here's Frost again, at his haunting best, Fire and Ice:

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

New York Times Luxury Destination of the Year

Have a look at this:
© 2006 The New York Times Company

It's a picture from a New York Times special on the best destinations of the year 2007. Yes, 2007. (What's past is prologue, eh?) It's from the section on Luxury Destination of the Year. (Feast your eyes on a larger version here.) Can you guess where it is? I'll give you as many goes as you like. Was Zambia one of them?

That is the good work of Robin Pope Safaris in Mfuwe in the South Luangwa National Park located in the Eastern Province of Zambia. What could be better, a combination of great natural beauty and great human ingenuity? Breathtaking. Click the link to book now...:). No, they didn't pay me to say that.

Here's the full story.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Effective Executive

Drum-roll please.

It's finally here: the long-awaited exposition of the most important lessons from The Effective Executive.

First, we must set the scene. , Peter F. Drucker begins his 1987 preface to his 1966 book on the effective executive thus:
Management books usually deal with managing other people. The subject of this book is managing oneself for effectiveness. That one can truly manage other people is by no means adequately proven. But one can always manage oneself. Indeed, executives who do not manage themselves for effectiveness cannot possibly expect to manage their associates and subordinates. Management is largely by example. Executives who do not know how to make themselves effective in their own job and work set the wrong example.
Executive effectiveness, Drucker asserts, consists in certain, fairly simple, practices, none of which are inborn or are the result of special talents or personalities. In other words, effectiveness is something that has to learned and practiced until it becomes habit.

Effectiveness, i.e., getting the right things done, is what executives are paid for. Without it, there can be no performance, no matter how much intelligence, hard work, or knowledge that goes into the work.

So, what are the principles of executive effectiveness?

These will be the subject of upcoming entries.

Stay tuned.

B C Lara for President

There are few pleasures in life to equal that of watching Brian Charles Lara in full flow. Unless, of course, your team happens to be at the business end of Lara's bat, in which case there are few agonies to match.

This morning, against Pakistan, Lara made the ninth Test double hundred of his career: 216 off 262 balls; 29 boundaries (22 fours and 7 sixes). In so doing, he surpassed Sir Don Bradman's record of 18 150s and brought his total of Test runs to 11, 904. Surely, Lara will go on to become the first man to amass 12, 000 Test runs.

When he's in the zone, Lara exhibits superb technique, exquisite timing and balletic balance at the crease. And he scores so quickly he can take the game away from you before you even know what's hit you.

I've noticed that a number of my favourite sportsmen are left-handed or left-footed. Lara. McEnroe. And of course Maradona. The left-hand (or -foot) of genius, you might say.

B C Lara for President of the world.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Performance Art

I've finally got round to writing something after weeks of being "off the air". OK, the subject is football again but, hey, it's a (re)start...

To paraphrase that great intellectually challenged philosopher,Forrest Gump: football is like a box of chocolates--you never know what you're going to get. It's not for nothing that football is called the beautiful game. Sometimes you come to a football match, expecting nothing in particular, and you have the privilege of watching something extraordinarily beautiful being made right before your eyes.

Such was the case with Tuesday night's Champions League game. Arsenal, at the tail end of what's been for them a decidely lacklustre (English) Premiership season. Juventus, riding high in (Italian) Serie A, eight points ahead indeed of their nearest rivals, AC Milan.

You can see why I didn't have particularly high expectations of my team.

But this is football we're talking about here.

To a man, the Arsenal lads were absolutely outstanding!

What a game and what a player that young man Fabregas is! Juventus, the mighty Juventus, were made to look like a bunch of tottering old-age pensioners. They were completely and utterly outplayed.

A statement of the literal scoreline "Arsenal 2, Juventus 0" is, in truth, extremely misleading. To put it like that would be to that Arsenal simply beat Juventus by two goals to nil. But that would very far from the truth. The gulf between the performances of the two teams in not one that can be quantified. Qualitative descriptions too are inadequate since the English Language does not have words to describe what happens on Tuesday night.

Unluckily for Juventus, the Arsenal team that showed up to play them was in invincible form. The game they played was one of breathtaking beauty, performance art if you will. Arsenal, and Arsenal alone, were the story of this game, from first to last.

There've been moments this season when I've doubted Arsene Wenger's strategy with the current Arsenal team, but I have to be honest and say that the man has been totally vindicated. What a manager.

Bring on next season please.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Vive Les Cannoniers!

Last night, Arsenal Football Club, otherwise known as the Gunners, scored a famous victory in a famous football stadium, the Bernabeu in Madrid. They, we, defeated Real Madrid 1-nil in the first leg of the knockout stages on the 2005/2006 Champions League.

It was a great game and a good result for us. But we need to finish off the job in the second leg at Highbury.

Thierry Henry was, well, Thierry Henry. What more can we can we say?

But spare a thought, also, for the man who IMHO has been far and away Arsenal's best and most consistent player this season: the goalkeeper Jens Lehmann. I had my doubts about Lehmann initially and I must admit they have lingered over the years. But this season he has laid all my doubts to rest. For good.

Surely he will be Gemany's first choice goalie in the World Cup laterthis year. Anything less will be a travesty.

Lehmann had a great game last night--once again this season.

In this sort of form, Lehmann may just be what Arsenal need to win their first European Cup.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Re: Zambian Budget Out Today

Today, Mr. Ng'andu Magande, Zambia's Finance Minister and chief architect of the country's economic resurgence, is to present what is perhaps his most important budget speech to date. The country's economic performance has improved steadily during his tenure. He has exercised commendable fiscal discipline and managed to steer the country to a programme of substantial debt relief. The mining industry, still the mainstay of Zambia's economy, has experienced tremendous growth in the last four or five years. Copper mining, the largest sector of the mining industry, has benefitted from privatisation, foreign investment and soaring international copper prices. The key economic indicators look very promising indeed.

But there are threats.

2006 is an election year in Zambia with all the attendant temptations for fiscal indiscipline that that entails. The strengthened local currency has posed a considerable challenge to Zambian exporters. International oil prices, a key factor in the country's economic performance, are extremely high, and may rise even higher this year. While the Zambian economy has been liberalised, a significant local entrepreneurial class has not emerged. There are a combination of factors behind this, too involved to go into here in any detail, but some are historical (e.g., Zambia was a socialist country until as recently as 1991) and some are environmental (e.g., the enormous financial interest rates which made it nigh on impossible for entrepreneurs to access credit).

I believe the key challenge before Mr. Magande and his team at the Ministry of Finance is to stimulate private enterprise in Zambia, for instance by lowering taxes significantly across the board. I'll have more to say on this post-Budget.

Incidentally, the Zambian budget was one of the breaking news stories featured on BusinessWeek Online today.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Peter F. Drucker

Drucker, Peter Ferdinand.

Born November 19, 1909, in Vienna, Austria; Died November 11, 2005, in Claremont, California. He described himself simply as a writer, a teacher and a consultant. There must be precious few autobiographical statements quite as wide of the mark as this one. Not that anything in the statement is false--quite the opposite. Drucker's skill as a writer, his power as a teacher, and his wisdom as a consultant, were justly renowned. No, he certainly was a great writer, a great teacher and a great consultant.

But Drucker was far more than that. Incalculably more.

Peter F. Drucker was, and is, the single most important management and social thinker of the last 100 years. And not only are his ideas important, they are also deeply influential.

Drucker is to management and social philosophy what Shakespeare is to the English Language. It is literally impossible to escape his influence--that influence is always there, whether one realises it or not, or agrees with it or not.

Drucker wrote 38 books. According to my latest count, I have read 25 of them. I have also read numerous other writings by and on Drucker.

If I had to choose one book by Drucker to recommend to someone new to the corpus, it would have to be The Effective Executive, first published in 1966. Despite the fact that the book is 40 years old, it has lost none of its power, freshness and relevance. I've lost count of the number of times I've read this book. It's the sort of book you have to keep and read (not just refer to) over and over again. I intend to devote several of my upcoming posts to discussing the ideas presented in this great book.

If I had to choose one article by Drucker to recommend to someone, it would be Managing Oneself, first published in 1999 in the Harvard Business Review.

Drucker is one of the most quotable thinkers you'll ever encounter. Here are just three of my favourite Drucker quotations to illustrate my point:

"The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn't being said."

""I never predict. I just look out the window and see what's visible—but not yet seen."

"[Drucker was asked] Looking back on your career, is there anything you wish you had done that you weren't able to do?

[Drucker answered] Yes, quite a few things. There are many books I could have written that are better than the ones I actually wrote. My best book would have been one titled Managing Ignorance, and I'm very sorry I didn't write it. "

That's quite an answer coming from the man who coined the terms "knowledge work" and "knowledge worker", which underly the notions of the "knowledge economy" and "knowledge management".

His work is full of such gems.

Drucker's gone, but his influence will endure.

A couple of extra goodies:

-- You can hear the great man himself in this radio interview that he gave in late 2004.

-- Drucker's grandson writes an interesting blog.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Mr. Incredible

Steve Jobs made the cover of the current issue of BusinessWeek after his spectacular sale of Pixar to Disney for a total value of US$ 7.4 billion. I use the word spectacular deliberately: How else could you describe such a feat when Jobs bought the company from George Lucas for "only" US$ 10 million in 1986? No wonder the cover depicts him as a Mr. Incredible-like cartoon. A triple allusion to the man himself, one of Pixar's recent hits, and the Disney connection, I suppose. Cool.

Oh, and in the process he became Disney's largest shareholder and got a seat on the Board. Not a bad 20 years' work. Yup--20 years. Well, if this stuff was easy, we'd all be billionaires.

For some vintage Jobs, I highly recommend his commencement address given at Stanford University last year.

A Clash of Visions

Last week two global organisations with sharply contrasting views of how to deal with the world and all its challenges held their annual conferences--simultaneously:

The World Economic Forum and The World Social Forum.

Draw your own conclusions.

Too Little, Too Late

Zambia won it's third and final match against South Africa in the 2006 African Cup of Nations, 1-nil. It was scant consolation after the team was ignominiously ejected from the competition after a 2-1 loss to Guinea in the second match.

Many Zambian fans are calling for blood. A sacrifice to propitiate the Zambian football gods. The de facto coach and the erstwhile star player heads the list of the most popular sacrificial candidates.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Don't Be Evil?

The true test of corporate values isn't what's in a company's annual report or on its website. The true test is how a company behaves on a daily basis and how it responds in times of crisis. In business, as in politics, Harold Macmillan's famous words about what's liable to scupper the best laid plans ("Events, dear boy, events.") hold true. Recent events have presented such a test to Google in the form of the Google China censorship brouhaha (Deliciously weird word that, isn't it?). In particular, Google's actions in relation to its corporate motto, "Don't Be Evil", have been the subject of much discussion and criticism, as a quick search with, yes, you guessed it, Google will reveal.

According to one report from the just-ended 2006 World Economic Forum meeting, Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, explained his company's actions as follows:

"We concluded that although we weren't wild about the restrictions, it was even worse to not try to serve those users at all. We actually did an evil scale and decided not to serve at all was worse evil."

Which is fair enough I suppose.

One can't help wondering though, what would Google do if say a Southern African government took a similar line to that of the Chinese goverment? That's not as farfetched as it sounds. There is such a thing as Google Zambia, for instance.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Zambia: Over and Out

The Zambia National Football team was yesterday eliminated from the 2006 Africa Cup of Nations. They lost 2-1 to Guinea, their second defeat in as many games. The result of Zambia's third (and last) match against South Africa, which has also been bundled out of the tournament after suffering two straight, will be purely academic.

They started well enough, playing good, attacking football. Their industry paid dividends in the 33rd minute: a headed goal by Elijah Tana, the captain, from a corner kick. One-nil. Unfortunately, it was not to be. In the second half, Guinea equalised from a penalty kick and then won the game with a goal scored two minutes from full time.

I can sum up the mood of the country in response to these exploits, or rather lack thereof, in a single word: angry. No. Make that two words: very angry. I think some compassionate countries around the world will very shortly be receiving desparate pleas for asylum from the 30 or so individuals in the Zambian squad. These men, and they are all men, are definitely persona non grata in Zambia. If they dare to return home, they may well become persona non exista. For any reader who at this point might be inclined to think I am engaging in any sort of incitement, I hasten to add that all of this is said in jest. However, it might be advisable for the team to stay away, for an extra week say, to let things cool down a little bit...

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Billionaire Success Secrets

A good friend of mine pointed me in the direction of the Trump University website. Yes, that Trump, the one worth US$2.7 billion (according to Forbes Magazine) and the star of the reality show The Apprentice. (Side note: Is there a more ironical term than "reality show"?) The Donald has started an online company to shares the secrets of success with the world. For a fee, of course. However, some of the material is free and pretty darn good actually: see for instance the Newsletters, Ask Mr. Trump and Trump Audio sections. There's some priceless stuff in them thar links. Enjoy.

The late great Peter F. Drucker predicted the imminent rise of online education. Considering his incredible batting average as far as predicting future trends, or as he modestly called it "looking out of the window", is concerned, I wouldn't bet against him.

Another Glorious Defeat by Zambia...

Although Zambia is constitutionally a Christian nation, the national religion is football (or soccer to my North American friends). So, fittingly, last Sunday, the whole nation was at worship before the Shrine of ZNBC. The occasion was Zambia's first game in the ongoing Africa Cup of Nations, Africa's premier football championship being contested in Egypt by the continent's 16 leading footballing nations.

It was, once again, another glorious defeat by Zambia. Our opponents were Tunisia. We received a 4-1 drubbing at their merciless hands (or, more accurately, feet). Tunisia played well, very well; they will be a handful for any team in the World Cup coming up later this year. Quite against the initial run of play, Zambia snatched the first goal in the 9th minute through James Chamanga, a pacy and skillful striker who, along with the goalkeeper George Kolala, was a revelation in this game. It was as though the prayers of all the faithful had been answered. Unfortunately, it was not to last. I think it's fair to say that after that Tunisia dominated the game, scoring an equaliser in the 36th minute, and then three further goals in the second half, although, ironically, we played better in the second half. Ho hum. As I said, it was another glorious defeat. Our next game is on Thursday against Guinea. If we lose that game, we're pretty much sunk and the collective pronoun in the nation's speech will shift imperceptibly from "we" to "they". Sorry boys, if you don't perform, you're on your own.

But we live in hope. Such is the masochistic lot of the Zambian football fan(atic).

I've been impressed with the quality of the football in the championship. African football has certainly come a long way. I'm sure fans all over the world are enjoying this feast of football. No wonder MTN, the mobile communications giant with global aspirations but (so far) a largely pan-African footprint, seized the opportunity to sponsor the competition. It'll do their global brand recognition a power of good.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Perfect for Biltong

Does the world really need another blog? Isn't this really just another instance of self-indulgent online narcissism? Does this blog really have anything new to say?

The short answers are: yes; no; and yes.

The longer answers are:

Yes, the world really does need another blog. The more the merrier, I say. But wait a minute, you say, what about information overload? Well, what about it? Quality outs. Cream always rises to the top. And a host of similar cliches I could throw at you, all containing the proverbial kernel of truth. Point being, it doesn't take the good citizens of the web long to distinguish the pointed from the pointless. At least, it shouldn't.

No, this really isn't just another instance of self-indulgent online narcissism. I hope to cover a great many other topics besides those surrounding the individual yours truly refers to by the vertical pronoun. Naturally, a little navel-gazing will be unavoidable from time to time, but even then I hope it will be free of the odour of self-indulgence. One can but try. We'll see.

Yes, this blog really does have something new to say. Or perhaps more accurately: something new to see. For I write, as it happens, from deepest, darkest Africa. Lusaka, Zambia, to be precise. (Lusaka being the capital city of the said Southern African country, Zambia.) Living here, you can't help but have something new to see. If you did (live here, that is) you'd know exactly what I mean. So perhaps this little blog of mine will give you a glimpse of what it's like to live in, and see from, this most intriguing and beguiling part of the world.

Finally, a word about the title of this blog.

Biltong is a South(ern) African delicacy or snack: it's essentially strips of dried, seasoned meat. The "South(ern)" is to account for the fact that although this delicacy originated in South Africa, it has spread and is enjoyed over much of the rest of Southern Africa, Zambia included.

The term "Perfect for Biltong" was coined by Augustine Lungu, a versatile Zambian actor and comedian who has played the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, among others. He used the term in a humourous television ad to describe a particularly healthy herd of beef cattle. What exactly was being advertised I don't quite recall, but anyhow, after this ad went on the air, the phrase "perfect for biltong" became popular in Zambia to describe anything that was extremely well suited (perfect indeed) for some given purpose (the production of biltong, for instance).

This blog lays no claim to perfection. And, alas, the marvels of contemporary web technology have not yet caught up with Star Trek's replicator, so, sadly, I am unable to share with you the culinary pleasures of real biltong.

Rather, we shall have to be content to merely aim for perfection. And make do with the metaphorical equivalent of biltong: strips of fine, dry, seasoned blogtong, as it were.

Here goes.