Life Lessons from the Great Michael Scott

The Office was the greatest of TV shows.

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In the ridiculousness of Steve Carell’s great character, lie some true pearls of wisdom. One of my writing dreams is to actually write his fictional unpublished management book, “Somehow I Manage”. I don’t know if I’m up to the task, though.

For those unfamiliar with the show, “The Office” was a mockumentary about a series of characters working at the imaginary paper company, Dunder Mifflin. Michael Scott was the boss, and the most popular employees were Jim and Pam Halpert, Dwight Schrute, and Andy Bernard.

The show was a spin-off from a British original, made in a flash of genius by the otherwise awful Ricky Gervais.

For me, the US version was much better because it had some elements of hope in the satire of workplace culture – the British version was far more acidic in its portrayal of a boring, going-nowhere white collar work environment.

Those elements of hope in the US version truly contained some real wisdom – mostly in the form of the lead character, Michael. Continue reading

Organisations Must Have People Who Are on the Edge of Inside

How do we create organisations that inspire loyalty?

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As human beings, we need to be valued as individuals and we need to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. If an organisation can’t validate both needs, it will crumble.

The traditional churches are bleeding members. Almost everybody hates their bank. In South Africa, the ANC is falling apart. Parastatals are falling apart. Sports clubs are even dying. More and more it seems as though we live isolated lives, without our loyalty being inspired by any larger body.

In the US, the Democratic Party almost nominated a presidential candidate who is barely a Democrat (Bernie Sanders only joined the party a few months before he launched his campaign). The Republican Party actually nominated somebody who hates their party (Trump has continuously mocked the Bushes and other party leaders).

In short, trust in our social institutions is at an all-time low, and flame-throwers and outsiders are increasingly popular. Continue reading

Shining a Light on South African (In)Justice

‘I’m still in darkness.’

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This story I wrote for Leadership magazine could well be made into a film. Every now and then a story grips you emotionally, even as a supposedly dispassionate journalist. The oppression of Thembekile Molaudzi is such a story.

Just over a year ago, the editor at Leadership magazine asked me to cover Molaudzi’s release from prison after having spent 11 years incarcerated for a crime he did not commit.

What I discovered was a giant of a man (literally and spiritually), and the dogged and noble work of an amazing institution housed in the Wits school of journalism: Continue reading

Sunday’s Thought

God is not violent.

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Nor is he competitive. Rather he is Pure Being, the I AM. That which without nothing would exist.

René Girard has already appeared on this blog, in connection with the business ideas of Peter Thiel, and his strange strategy of avoiding competition. In this video below, Robert Barron, just after the death of Girard, explains just why Girard may be one of the most significant thinkers of the last century. Continue reading

The Most Dangerous Man in South Africa

Is a 19th century German philosopher.

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About a week ago, I wrote a post entitled “The ANC Will Die”. Some people told me this was a ridiculous notion. I think JZ’s proving those critics wrong today.

This week we have seen Number 1’s response to losing three major metros to the DA. He has taken charge of state owned enterprises, and is building a narrative to get rid of Pravin Gordhan, perhaps the most respected ANC leader right now internationally.

In short, he is looting our democracy.

In most normal political parties, the party structures would now just hold a vote of no confidence and move on with governing instead of these power games (which hurt the poor most of all).

But this is the problem with the ANC. The ANC is not a political party. And that’s why I am convinced they have no future. Continue reading

Live Together; Die Alone

Perhaps it is time to look at the Native American option?

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History tells us that the capitalist, industrialised, consumer culture of 20th century Europe is exceptionally powerful. Countries never seem to turn their back on it. But how much do we know of its dark side?

First of all, let me say I am really grateful for modern life. My kids get vaccinated; I can communicate with you on the Internet; eat interesting food from around the world; and generally live a more comfortable, cleaner, and safer life than even the kings of old.

But I was reading this piece from famed New York Times columnist, David Brooks, and it struck me that for all our comforts, for all our affluence, we have given up a great deal. Continue reading

The Hero with a Thousand Faces

“We men and women are all in the same boat, upon a stormy sea. We owe to each other a terrible and tragic loyalty.” GK Chesterton
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I have been overwhelmed by the response to yesterday’s post. I don’t think we realise how we all go through the same experiences and fight the same battles.

I think that’s the reason we like those novels and films concerning survivors of shipwrecks and the like. When the survivors emerge on the beach, they realise they now have a bond, they owe each other a loyalty. In the words of Jack Shepherd, the main character of ‘Lost’ (the chief inspiration for which was Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”), either they live together or they will die alone.

This resonates with us because in fact we are, in our real lives, survivors of a cosmic shipwreck. We know, deep in our bones, that something has gone wrong with this world. We all fight a war. And so we have a certain loyalty to each other: to be sympathetic, to tell our stories, to have patience.

Getting so many responses this morning to my previous post reminded me of some of the reading I have been doing to prepare for a series of lessons I am about to give to my high school students. Continue reading

Every Man Fights His Own War

‘Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.’ Carl Jung

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This post is my attempt to make sense of my life over the past few years. One fateful night in Gauteng four years ago would change me forever by casting a shadow over how I view the world. Yet in that shadow, I have found great meaning.

One of my favourite films of all time is The Thin Red Line. (Check out the trailer at the end of this post.)

It is about war, obviously. But it goes deeper than simply recounting World War II heroics, in the manner of Saving Private Ryan. (Both films would be nominated for Best Picture Oscars in 1999, and both would lose to Shakespeare in Love.)

Instead, the film meditates on the relationship between the soul, good and evil, and one’s friends and enemies.

Why is there even the possibility of war in the first place? Continue reading