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Google Maps, the Ulysses Pact and Major Milestones

Years ago, I torpedoed my relationship with my then-girlfriend by taking her on a driving holiday to Spain. This was pre-GPS. And let me tell you: major cities in Spain are hard to navigate, have no parking and are guaranteed to hurry your ailing romance to oblivion if you don’t have a strong map game.   

Maps hey. They are powerful things. The ability to plot your route, to decide which markers will show you you are on the right track, to determine your speed and fuel required between locations. It might be that, in today’s world of Google Maps, we have lost quite a bit of our ability to think ahead. On the other hand, many more relationships are probably surviving road trips in Spain.  


But I digress. I’m about the same age as Silicon Valley tech titan (ex Paypal Mafia) Sequoia Capital managing partner Roelof Botha. Only, that year when I was goofing around at res, drinking too much and playing table tennis, he was already putting Post-Its up all over his room to remind him of the bigger goal. I scraped through varsity, he crushed Actuarial Science, and it was the first of many victories that would see him to the top of the venture capital world. He describes those Post-Its as his version of the Ulysses Pact – the things he needed to do, day by day, week by week, to keep him on the straight and narrow. Much like Ulysses had his sailors tie him to the post so he wouldn’t jump into the ocean after the sirens.  


Holding ourselves – and each other – accountable... that's the trick. It goes to the heart of the 4 Disciplines of Execution, where setting those primary objectives – those WIGs (Wildly Important Goals) is what informs all other actions. For Elon Musk, it was to get Tesla production up to 5000 units per week to save the company from bankruptcy (he did). For Mark Zuckerberg, it was to adopt mobile as a primary platform for Facebook before they went public. For our president, it’s probably to keep the lights on all through April and May before the elections.   


But my personal favourite is the Rassie Erasmus WIG. Win the World Cup. Sure? But what do we need to do first? Well, to hit all our primary directives – Results, Transformation, and most importantly public perception – we need to beat the All Blacks in New Zealand. They’ll start to believe. Then we can start planning for the World Cup win.   


And so they did. Here’s how I think it went, where an American business guru came to Rassie in his dreams, as per an excerpt from my new book, the Bomb Squad OS:  


This time, there were two guys. They said hi, and the Coach was relieved to find that, in addition to another American, the other man seemed to be South African.  


He knew it was a dream, so he decided to have some fun.  


“So, which ghosts are you?” he asked.  


“No boet, we are very much alive,” said the South African. “So this is pretty weird for us too. You’re dreaming. We’re dreaming. It’s a trip.”  


The Coach frowned. “Why are the two of you here?”  


“Well,” said the American. “We’re both guys with famous ancestors. My dad was Stephen, the guy you met before. My name is Sean. I also wrote a book, but mine was more about business.”  


The Coach nodded. He turned to the other guy, the South African. Although, as the guy spoke, there was also a slight American accent to him.  


“And you?”  


A rueful smile. “My grandfather was pretty famous. A politician in South Africa during the Apartheid era. Many people loved him. A lot of people hated him. My name is Roelof.”  


The Coach wondered who that was. But, before he could ask the question, Sean cut in: “You might wonder why we are here?”  


“Sure. The previous guys that were here gave me some very good tips. Paint the big picture, foster a culture of ownership. I assume you’re here to give me more advice.”  


“Not advice so much as an experience share,” answered Roelof. “We’re both businessmen, but unlike your previous visitors, we didn’t start the businesses we run. However, we did manage to take them to the next level.”  


“How did you do that?” asked the Coach.  


Roelof looked at Sean, who said: “I ran with the idea that, once you have figured out your important goals, and you have the right culture… you need to put markers on the ground. Measure progress regularly, in a way that is action-based. I call them lead measures.”  


Roelof added, “In the venture capital business I run, we call it a pre-parade. Every company we back, every project we do, we try to imagine what all the wins along the way should look like. And then we drive towards reaching those milestones.” He gave the Coach a direct look. “I love South African rugby, always have. Still do, even though I now live in America. What do you think your milestones are going to be?”  


The Coach didn’t hesitate. “We need to win the home series against England to build confidence. And we absolutely need to beat the All Blacks away from home. If we don’t do those two things, the team will not believe they can win the World Cup.”  


“Anything else?” asked Roelof.   


“Well, thinking ahead…” the Coach could see it. “Next year, we need to win the Rugby Championship. Oh, and I need to play a game against Japan before the World Cup Tournament. They beat us last time, and we don’t want to face them again in their home country in a knock-out game. We need to build our confidence and erode theirs before the tournament starts.”  


“Sounds like you have some markers in place,” said Sean. “Now, how are you going to make sure the team understands this, and that everyone is focused on executing these lead measures?”  


“I’m going to put up a roadmap!” said the Coach.    

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