Embarrassment hurts more than failure…

The reason most of us are so scared of failure is that it is so embarrassing.

It was embarrassing at school each time a teacher ridiculed our efforts to untangle quadratic equations, or to assemble a frog from spare parts. And even more so when Anne Waites, who we young men idolised, smiled at us in sympathy as she detailed the answer before swanning off with some fellow in Matric. Gorgeous and bright in front of a troop of besotted idjits.

After school we experience fewer embarrassing moments. By then steel shields inside our heads protect us from them. If we let our guard slip the fallout reinforces our paranoia.

By the time we become business explorers, nascent entrepreneurs, that caution paralyses us. Starting a business is a fast conveyor belt of choices to make without enough information. A cesspit of uncertainty. We’re so focused on keeping up the image of normal that we hurt ourselves.

When my fan hit the shyte in 1992 I hid away in the local Spur. They offered a bottomless coffee. They still do.

When I arrived that first day I told the young waitress I was broke, and that I would only drink coffee. For six hours. And that a few of my broke clients might visit. And that one day I would sing Spur’s praises, if I ever climbed out of the deep longdrop I was swimming in.

So, when you assure me that I can eat better elsewhere, you are right about the food. But I have never, anywhere in the world, received such a reception and such patience and, dare I say, such understanding.

During a bad week in Perth I camped out in a shopping centre with my notebook. On the third day the proprietor of a stall across the walkway stomped across to check out this commercial spy tracking his sales. And this while I paid for the refills.

Whenever life has hidden me in an eatery since then I have given tips that distress my mother. My brother once was so upset that he pocketed the note I left and replaced it with a coin. Although that might have just been his view from the bottom of another pit.

I raise this because the fear of embarrassment – not the fear of failure – is the real brake on our dreams.

That’s why I love this online lifestyle.

It costs nothing to start an online business. Which means it costs nothing to stop it. Try walking away from a lease for premises in a shopping mall and you might appreciate this.

Nobody knows what you’re doing until you are successful. Or until you’ve moved to Spain. Whichever comes first.

Isn’t life wonderful?

The Problem: Creativity and Ideas

I am not creative. I am better suited to a life as a mousepad.

Each book on creativity that I have read features a test to measure how you fare. For instance, a picture of an empty matchbox and a candle which you must rearrange into a five course dinner in three moves.

I always go hungry. Even if I cheat. These tests are not designed for lesser mortals like you or me. They are designed for college students who already know everything.

Our vision of an idea is of a lightbulb suddenly lighting up the inside our heads. Nonsense. That’s how cartoonists showed Felix the Cat having an idea in cartoons before movies had sound.

We approach “ideas” wrong. In amongst the 366,000,00 different definitions of the words are these ones that I kinda understand.

  • Creativity is the act of turning new and imaginative ideas into reality.”
  • An idea is “Something, such as a thought or conception, that is the product of mental activity.”
  • A problem, in the context above is “something that is difficult to deal with” and unrelated to either creativity or ideas.

I discussed this with 100 ninjas last night, all struggling to dream up some idea that might pay some bills.

I asked them to identify five ideas in two minutes. 25% beat the clock.

Then I asked them to list five problems they’d experienced this past week. 75% beat the clock this time. We recognise problems more easily than ideas.

We think that an “idea” pops into our heads like the sight of falling fruit led Isaac Newton to discover gravity. Nonsense. He’d wrestled for ages on the problem of why we can’t fall upwards.

An idea is just one answer to a problem we experience.

The problem leads the way. The commercial success of an idea results from how many people face the problem it solves.

Once you’ve been blessed with a problem it’s easy to find different ways of solving it. At least if you aren’t too busy bewailing your fate.

Almost everything we touch today exists because somebody solved a problem that they faced in their personal life.

The starter motor, for instance.

Owners of a 1910 Cadillac started the engine by cranking it with a handle. When the engine burst into life the crank handle reverse or fly off. This always surprised the cranker. Often fatally.

Nobody much cared. The founder of Cadillac took an interest when a friend of his died cranking. He tasked somebody to solve the problem. The problem prompted the idea of an electric starter motor to crank the engine. The 1912 Cadillac featured it.

That’s why you now start your car with a key, and I’m jolly grateful for that. Especially in the rain.

The challenges you face today are seeds of opportunity knocking at your door. You don’t know how lucky you are.

The more nightsoil in your life the more fertiliser to nurture your entrepreneurial seeds.

How wonderful is that?

Working from Home: Some Challenges

In August last year Mrs Carruthers beguiled me into bringing my office home. This would save money, she argued. And with her embarking on a three-year degree course this would mean a safe presence for the little darlings. And we could then afford to live near the school, and somewhere in her sales pitch I detected the merest hint of connubial bliss.

Well! Working from home has a downside.

The worst vocation on earth: the role of housewife. Right up there with the 12 tasks of Hercules. Especially in Norway where a domestic assistant earns R20K+ each month. We do not hire one.

Before I venture into the travails of housekeeping let me apologise to my mother and to every woman I lived with.

I am sorry for not noticing the clean kitchen every single day. I am embarrassed for not thanking you for the clean floors most days. I am sad for only noticing my clean and ironed clothes on the one day they were not clean or ironed. I apologise for leaving dishes on every surface without worrying about who would wash them. Thousands of times.

But, in my defence, and that of men in general, when the tide turns, power shifts. I noticed this when, after a year, Mrs Carruthers wondered aloud whether one of the boys had vacuumed the stairs.

I was tempted to reply “WTF. They’ve slept since Sunday. March 27th. 2013. Other than when they rose to mess in the kitchen.”

Instead, I admitted to cleaning the stairs every few days as relaxation from the rigours of my day job. She left silently to find some nail varnish.

Don’t get me wrong. I rather like her. But the person not tasked with maintaining domestic tidiness simply does not notice it.

And then, the kids. Mrs Carruthers spoke of a domestic presence. The kids regard me as a household present. Either to play with (the 9-year-old) or to clean up (the boy and the young adult). My life is complete.

My dream gift from the person with a real life in the great outdoors, or anywhere else outside: Tonight, en route home, grab a bottle of Shiraz and some sushi. Bang open the front door, rip off your clothes and yell “Come here big boy.” Your househusband will shine through the next 12 months of slave labour.

If your woman is looking after your home may I suggest that “Come here big girl” lacks the same effect? And ripping your clothes off may not be construed with quite the same enthusiasm. Paying for her night off at the Mount Nelson with room service thrown in, and yourself as an optional extra, might work better.

Failing which, walk through your home tonight and notice the work it demands. Don’t notice the stuff undone. Other than to fix it yourself. Enjoy the exercise. And say thanks. Do this every night.

If your partner holds down a fulltime job as well as doing the housework and looking after the kids, no matter how arduous you might think your work is, she (or he) is in a whole different world. Bring gifts. Lots of them.

It’s taken me 40 interesting years to learn this. You might want to save yourself the fallout.