Friday 29 October 2010

Funny Business: the book

We’ve always been taught that the world is made up of atoms. It’s not. It’s made up of stories. Think about it. Someone had to make up that story about the atoms, right? I’m not saying atoms aren’t real, but come on, when did you last see one?

Stories, on the other hand, are a real, tangible part of our everyday lives. We connect over stories, we swap and share stories, we bond over stories. Business, too, is all about the stories we tell and the stories we are told. Just look in any Annual Report, and you’ll see what I mean!

A good story, like a funny joke, is something we will always remember. We never forget a compelling punchline, and we love to hear people's reactions when we tell them our colourful tales. Inspiring people with stories is a big part of what make life magical.

In our country, we are surrounded by stories, many of them uplifting and unforgettable. The World Cup story, from earlier this year - although it seems like a decade ago now - united the nation, and captured the world's imagination. That kind of story is one in a billion.

So when Gus Silber approached me with an idea for a book that captures the lighter side of business, I got excited. Gus is a fantastic writer (he agrees) and has a sharp sense of humour and a great insight into life in general.

What started out as two bagel-eating guys talking crap about the spirit of entrepreneurship, resulted in what I believe is a very cool book of stories about business and life. It’s called Funny Business. It’s a book that explores the way the world works, how to get things done, and why stuff happens.

It’s about why people sometimes succeed against their expectations, and why people sometimes fail despite their best efforts and intentions. Talent and competence are two very different things. While many people in the world have talent and enthusiasm, a lot of them don't win, and vice versa.

Yes, a lot of people win without much talent, and with sloppy work ethics. What is the connection between being smart and winning in business? Is there a connection at all?

Universities are full of very clever Professors with no money, and the world is full of crazy characters who are loaded with money. Of course, there are also a lot of smart people who have built big businesses. But the bottom line, whether you are smart or not, is that there is one that everyone needs to succeed - luck!

Without good luck, all bets are off. The American industrialist J. Paul Getty once said the secret to success was: "You wake up early, you work hard, and you find oil."

Tomorrow you could get up in the morning, and find gold in your back yard, and the rest will be history. Of course, the more you dig, the more you have a chance to find the glory at the end of the rainbow. But one thing is for sure, if you dig for oil in the Karoo you are not going to find it.

You need the ability to recognise luck, good or bad, when it comes your way. You don't need to be a genius to build a business, but you do need luck on your side, and the good news is that luck is something you can influence. Being nice to people helps. And keeping your promises is the secret.

People who say what they mean and mean what they say always tend to be luckier than those who don't. And of course, as the saying goes, the more you practice the luckier you get. Yes, luck does favour the persistent.

Woody Allen once said that 80% of success is just showing up. You would be surprised how many people don't know how the world works. Being punctual, for example, is fundamental. Delivering and keeping your word is paramount. Being good is just good for business.

In today's world of high-tech and fast communications, so many people don't know how to get things done, especially the youth.

The youngsters of today, to a large degree, confuse Facebook with a real network, and they send SMS's rather than talking to someone over the phone. They have tons of experience behind a keyboard and have clocked up thousands of hours of screen time, but put them in a room with a bunch of non tech-savvy folk, and nothing happens.

All business is about winning and losing. An entrepreneur who has never had a setback or a loss is simply just a lucky sun of a gun. All of life's journeys are about climbing mountains, and more often than not, falling down.

Those who get back up and keep climbing often get to the summit. The key to all of this is to remember to laugh. Taking your work seriously is one thing, but taking yourself too seriously is not good for your health!

Posted by Ronnie Apteker