September report from Entrepreneurs Organization Cape Town Chapter

September has been a busy month for members of the Entrepreneurs Organisation’s Cape Town Chapter. EO broke new ground when ten members of the chapter participated in the Steenberg trail run on Heritage day, but this experiment in outdoors activity did not detract from the time spent covering more familiar terrain in two very special ‘In The Boardroom' sessions. As leaders in their respective fields, Hotelier Liz McGrath and mental toughness expert Dr Steve Harris shared with us some of what it takes to be extraordinary, far exceeding the expectations of all in attendance. Mrs M, as she is affectionately known by staff at all three of her hotels, is the picture of elegance. And just like her hotels, she exudes the old-world charm that people have come to expect from this Relais & Chateaux icon. From the individually selected room décor to the award winning Greenhouse restaurant at The Cellars Hohenhort, there is very little that Mrs M isn’t involved in, and it is precisely this hands-on approach that piqued the interest of EO.

When asked about the challenges of becoming the only woman in the world to own three Hotels, McGrath highlighted the leaps and bounds that have been made in gender equality since she undertook the renovations and development of her first hotel, the Plettenberg. “Back then it was highly unusual to find a woman undertaking this kind of business alone. And even more of a challenge finding a bank who would support that kind of undertaking.”

McGrath doesn’t seem to have been daunted by the kinds of social constrictions that 1970s South Africa tried to place on her entrepreneurial spirit, however. Armed with a tireless work ethic, and a belief that when you surround yourself with a team who see your vision and can adapt as it changes, McGrath single-handedly dominated the boutique hotel market. Over time, she added both the Marine in Hermanus and the Cellars Hohenhort in Constantia to her brief. In 1998, as if to finally label that special ability which seems to make everything McGrath touches turn to gold, ‘The Collection by Liz McGrath’ was launched, the same year in which McGrath was named one of Fortune magazine’s “Women to Watch”.

Clearly, McGrath has what it takes to be not only a competitor, but a dominator of her field. Dr Steve Harris is someone else  who knows a thing or two about what it take to dominate a field, and the role of mental toughness needed to get there. Dr Harris is director of the eta, (Exercise Teachers Academy). His master's dissertation at the University of Cape Town focussed on performance improvement. His PhD followed on from this, with a thesis on mental skills that foucees on the question of mental toughness. Using sport as his area of focus, he developed a set of principles that he believes offer a way of honing one’s ability to withstand mental stress.

As we all know, mental stress is a part of everyday life, but Harris argues that by adopting a realistic approach, underpinned by skills and learnt behaviour, one can reprogramme the brain and, in the process, take the body beyond its previous boundaries. Harris refers to this as “The ability to manage the mind so that it directs energy to the right place, at the right time, for the right reason”.

Harris believes the key to harnessing this mental stamina lies in seven key areas, namely: concentration; composure; controlled aggression; confidence; calculated risk; competence; and commitment. By implementing all seven of these criteria in one’s plan towards building mental toughness, Harris directs his audience away from conventional notions of mental toughness that focus exclusively on the idea of controlled aggression, and builds a more balanced and grounded approach rooted in calmness.

“By approaching tasks with composure, you give yourself the opportunity to go from managing your mind to mastering it.” Dr Steve Harris is a living testimony to the success of this approach; he has placed himself at the centre of his experimental research, and has lived the ethos he espouses. His successes in the academic arena grow out of his devotion to investigating the collision site of body and brain; and, as EO’ers experienced, a morning spent learning from this man is time well spent.

A walkthrough of #TEDxCapeTownED for @helenzille

Dear @helenzille, #TEDxCapeTownED took place this past Saturday. You were in Soweto at the time. A total of 19 speakers spoke about a range of educational issues close to their hearts. As one of the speakers, I can say that it was an incredible experience and that the organizers, in true TED style, created a world-class platform for all participants to share their ideas.

You should have seen Xola Sdiki take the stage just after lunch. At just 18 years old, he spoke of the importance of positive peer pressure and how he is personally committed to making a real difference to his community. I asked him if he'd run for president when he was older. He said he wouldn't, but I know I'm not the only one who really hopes he will. The audience gave Xola a well-deserved standing ovation. I hope he changes his mind.

Moments after the event ended, I was making my way out of the 500-person strong arena when one of the speakers asked me if I had heard what Helen Zille had said? Expecting the best, I wondered what praise you might have given to the organisers or to one of the speakers for the part they had played in making a difference to education in South Africa. Regrettably, I was much mistaken.

I know you tweet a lot, so I'll remind you of what you wrote:

“@helenzille: Except 4 Ian Scott, pedestrian quality at #TEDxCTED. The big challenge is fixing teaching in most schools, time management and good texts.”

Thanks for weighing in. Ian Scott was great, and his message of curriculum change was well received. And I agree - fixing teaching has to be a primary focus.

Malinga Nopote told us her story of becoming the principal at Sinenjongo High School in Joe Slovo in 2010 and related how, in 2 short years, she succeeded in taking the matric pass rate from 44% to 88%. She concluded by asking all principals working in the townships to roll up their sleeves and do the work necessary to change lives. I wish we could roll her out over all our township schools. Imagine the impact that more teachers like her would have countrywide!

These days time management is key to most business functions so I wholeheartedly agree with your concern and, as for good texts, if we could just get good textbooks into every high school learner’s hands, we'd make a monumental difference to our country's future.

As you weren’t able to attend the event, I wanted to give you a better picture of some of the ideas that were shared on Saturday.

Murray Gibbon opened the South African education debate by describing the importance of partnerships in education, with a specific focus on how Westerford High School has been an invaluable partner to Claremont High School and their success. It would be difficult to overstate the value of such support in educational terms.

Prof. Tim Noakes shared his deep understanding of sports science to confirm a major insight - people need coaches who believe in them. This was a theme that many other speakers emphasised in a range of educational contexts, including the crucial role that teachers, parents and peers can play in the educational development and social well-being of learners.

John Gilmour electrified the audience with his vulnerable, honest account of lessons he learned by realising he was wrong: that we can no longer ignore emotional health in our blind obsession with cognition. His personal account served not only to illuminate the awkward and frequently ignored question of listening and responding to students on a basic emotional level, but also provided a guiding light in the fight to deal with the underlying malaise in education which runs far deeper than poor academic performance.

Leigh Meinert emphasised the importance of education with soul and offered three ways in which this could make a material difference in education. She argued that such an approach would help students and educators find their passion and purpose; that it asks powerful questions with fewer (but better and more meaningful) answers; and that it helps teachers to become mentors.

Jos Dirx’s passionate talk on the harmful psychological effects of gender stereotyping emphasised the value of using sport as an empowerment tool. Through sport, girls are given the opportunity to acquire essential social skills like leadership to uplift themselves.

Prof. Laura Czerniewicz, head of UCT’s Centre for Open Education, exposed a fact: we need legislation to support the movement to allow open access to information resources that have become unaffordable and unsustainable.

Christoph Hagspihl is completing a Masters in mathematics. He has elected to teach at Mfuleni High School for a year before taking up a position at a large corporation. His message of passion: “teaching has changed my life”. He argues that graduates should be made to teach at underprivileged schools to circumvent the teaching crisis.

Louise Van Rhyn runs Symphonia, a programme that partners school principals with business leaders with the aim of allowing both sides to learn from each other. She brought some members of the audience to tears towards the end of her talk.

Rich Mulholland used offbeat humour to put across a serious message, namely, that the average useful span of employment is getting shorter. He argued that only focused, relevant and continuous learning provides an effective means to adapt to this new trend. His call for degrees to have a shelf life created some needed controversy.

Craig Charnock energized the audience with his Kwaito music video, “quite a white ou,” and gave the audience a mini-Xhosa lesson, calling on Mandela’s appeal that we should learn each other’s languages as the best way to promote transformation.

The final speaker, Dr Mamphela Ramphele, likened our current education crisis to that of a sinking ship and raised points not dissimilar to DA policy, namely, to scrap the SETAs that have suffocated our artisan and apprenticeship programmes.

At the end, audience members were asked to place their nametags in one of four boxes to rate the event. I was one of the last to exit and the only box brimming with plastic cards was the one that said “outstanding” on the front.

I hope this gives you a better idea of the power of #TEDxCTED. I'd hate for you to think it was pedestrian. Unless, of course, you're referring to the way everyone got to the event? The first few videos from the event are now available at http://tedxcapetowned.org/videos.

Next time, i'd like to suggest that you attend if you'd like a shot at participating instead of making empty comments under the pretense that Twitter let you into the intimacy of an event that was as powerful as this one.

The next local TED event is on the 21st of July in Cape Town. It's within walking distance.

Regards, @sampaddock

My first blog post... and it's about time!

Well... my blog is set up and ready to go. Having been engaged with the Internet since 1996, and having built 3 businesses on the back of it, I am a little embarrassed at how long it has taken me to get a personal blog up and running. My intention is to use it as "My Home on the Web". I will use it to aggregate content I post on social networks, publish articles on a variety of subjects that interest me and generally have a bit of fun. Boom!