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The Argus, Winning Conditions & Stacking the Bench

Everyone is talking politics. In South Africa, our beloved JZ has turned against his comrades. In the US, two great-grandfathers are going to duke it out for the right to have their hand on the world’s most destructive trigger. I’m reminded that whoever runs the world’s most powerful country matters, and partially because, like what happened with Trump, they get to “stack the bench” to influence decades of policy and decisions in the highest courts.  


Stacking the bench. It feels like a good metaphor to make sure you have the right team in place to influence the outcome you are looking for. Like this last weekend. I did my 20th Cape Town Cycle Tour, formerly known as the Argus. And I didn’t stack the bench. I didn’t have a buddy to ride with, I didn’t get away in an early group to avoid the headwinds for the first half, and I eased off on the diet in the last month, which meant a couple of kilos crept back.  


I had a great race, regardless. And it was because I shifted my winning condition to allow for what was reasonable given the day, given the wind, given the resources at hand. I felt strong, I had a good time… and you know what? Along the way I caught up with a few mates and colleagues, my family was there to greet me at the end, and Cape Town showed off all the reasons why the Germans start buying houses on a day like that day. Instead of a 3:30 neighbourhood, I did a 3:50. And that was just fine by me.  


You know who else was good at shifting winning conditions? The late Steve Jobs.   


When he returned to Apple, one of the first things he did was to renegotiate the top talent’s share option contracts to allow for the lower share price that resulted from years of company mismanagement. It wasn’t their fault that their options were worthless, and he needed to keep them to save the business. He bullied through the changes, fixed Apple and proceeded to turn it into one of the world’s most valuable companies. And most of those people became millionaires as well, and rightly so.  


Talking about Jobs and stacking the bench, here is a sneak peek at the first chapter of my new book, The Bomb Squad OS. It’s kind of Good to Great meets 7 Habits meets Rassie’s autobiography meets a Christmas Carol. There are business case studies, a deep dive into what made the Springboks and other top teams work, and even some made-up dream conversations. It’s a lot of fun to write, and I bet you’re going to enjoy reading it too. 

The man in the black turtleneck and blue jeans seemed vaguely familiar. The Coach couldn’t place him. He also wasn’t quite sure where he was – it was a rugby pitch, but it seemed to stand alone in an unfamiliar alien landscape. It definitely wasn’t the pitch at Limerick in Ireland, the club he currently called home.  


The other man came closer. “Hi Coach,” he said, in an American accent.  


Suddenly, the coach recognized him. “You’re…” he stammered.  


“Yes, I am,” said the American. “And if you’re wondering what I’m doing here: Yes, I am still not alive anymore. And yes, this is a dream.”  


The Coach looked around again. He really shouldn’t have had that second Guinness, he thought. But, ever the pragmatist, he faced his companion again.  


“What do I call you?” he asked.  


“Call me Steve,” came the answer.  


“Why are you here?” the Coach asked, wondering at the absurdity of it.  


“Let’s take a walk,” answered Steve.   


They walked toward the goalposts, their feet crunching on the soft grass. It felt very very real, thought The Coach.  


“I am here to help you make up your mind,” said Steve. “You have a crossroad ahead of you – return to fulfill your life’s work, or stay here in relative comfort and security.”  


“You’re not wrong,” answered the Coach. “The people in Ireland, at this club, have been incredibly good to me. Back home in South Africa, it’s messy. The team is not performing, everyone is at each other’s throats, and remember, they didn’t want me on the last round.”  


Steve nodded. “I can relate.” He stopped in front of the goalposts. “You know my history. I was asked to leave the company I had started, and years later, when it was all but about to go bankrupt and go under, they begged me to come back. It wasn’t an easy decision to make. But it was the right one.”  


“How did you know it was the right one at the time?” asked the Coach.  


“I didn’t. But I could see what they were doing wrong. I knew I could fix it. And I felt a strong sense of purpose and responsibility to do so.”  


The Coach was feeling the excitement build. “Yes! Yes! I feel exactly the same way. It’s so obvious to me… why is it not obvious to them?”  


“Because it might be simple, but it’s not easy. It will require you to give heart and soul to the cause. It will cost you personally, it will cost your family, it will cost your friends. You will all have to give so much. But, Coach, trust me. It’s worth it.”  


The Coach looked up at the clear blue sky.   


“The first thing I’m going to do is to fix the culture,” he murmured, as if to himself. When he brought his gaze back to his surroundings, Steve was no longer there.  


It was time to wake up.  

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