Collaboration is not a dirty word

The all knowing fountain of collective knowledge that is wikipedia has an article about Collaboration. It starts with the sentence 

Collaboration is working with others to do a task and to achieve shared goals

Now, I know that we sometimes associate the word "collaborate" with evil ends, and naughty people, doing horrible things in concert. (as in 'together', not on a stage with an orchestra) . A colluding of sorts.

But for me, collaboration in business is everything. I'm a firm believer in the sound economics of value based service, and collaboration in achieving goals.
Examples of good collaborations abound in business, and while they may be (sadly) outnumbered by the more nefarious collusions that attract the attention of the ACCC, or the Competition Commission in South Africa, they should be lauded nonetheless.

Using the word collaboration openly, as I do, has resulted in some very interesting conversations. 

I have even been warned that I would be reported to the ACCC, because apparently simply saying collaborate is so dangerous that I cannot be trusted to do the right thing by myself, my employees, my clients, or anyone else in my industry (competitors or not) . 
Whatever. I rolled my eyes just there. 
Let me be clear on the meaning of the word and the context in which I use it. Collaborate is not a dirty word. 
Collaborate means to grow business success such that all participants in the supply chain benefit. 
That means : I benefit, anyone working with me will benefit, my clients will benefit,  and pretty much the whole industry benefits in some shape or form. Value is added at every stage to anyone, including those at the purchasing end of the business transaction. 
If all 4 of these are not true in some context, then it's not a true collaboration.
Let's collaborate ... C'mon ... What have you got to lose ? 

Sixto Rodriguez : life, winning and what success really is.

I think by now, we all know the story of Sixto Rodriguez. A poet, a songwriter with lyrics like Dylan, haunting melodies, infectious music that digs into your soul and never leaves. Forgotten by America, loved, adored and worshipped in South Africa. Or so the Oscar winning Documentary goes.


I grew up straddled across the end of apartheid. Half my childhood happened before it ended, and the other half happened in a bright new Rainbow Nation struggling to find its identity without imploding on itself.

Photo of Steph with Family in South Africa in 2015 - picnic venue
My Crazy Family (missing a few peeps who couldn't make it) - this is winning in my book.

For me Rodriguez was, and always will be a superstar. I reckon I could sing the words to “I Wonder” before I could talk in full sentences. My parents loved his music, my grandparents loved his music.

 When children grow up as digital natives, they do not comprehend a world where you have to wait to phone someone for any reason whatsoever, similarly for me, it just never occurred to me that there could be a world, where “Sugarman” was not as big or as popular as any song from the Rolling Stones or Beatles.

So, finally in 2012, when I watched Searching for Sugarman from my home in Melbourne Australia, I was blown away.  I could not immediately and fully process the fact,  that the man I had thought of, and known as a mega-superstar, was completely unknown in his home country until recent years.
I was using my iPad while watching the DVD to google the director and producer of the movie, convinced that this was some elaborate hoax.
And since then, I have watched as he has finally been recognised as an artist in the USA, and across other parts of the world.
I had the opportunity to see him perform live in 2014. And I was not disappointed.
There are no pyrotechnics in his show.  He has none of the trappings of being famous normally associated with musicians his age. He is also a bit frail, and reportedly suffering from eye issues, so had to be escorted onto stage.There are no props, dancers, or any other extra bits normally associated with a live performance.
And yet - it was the best live show I have ever seen. Hands down.
Rodriguez' talent is humble, and great, all at once. He stands on stage, plays his guitar, sings his songs, and for everyone, it is enough. In fact is it more than enough, it is everything.
Rodriguez teaches us, that fame corrupts. That success is a matter of opinion. And what makes us happy, gives us meaning, and fills our souls, is what we should be doing with our days, our lives and our work.
And while it sounds like the enthused ravings of an obsessed fan, just stop and consider the brilliance, sincerity, and timelessness of his music.
He has new fans now, because the album is amazing. Not because we all feel sorry for him. Empathy alone could not translate into sold out shows across the globe. Facebook likes don't pay the bills or fill stadiums.
We will never know how badly disappointed he really was all those years ago, but all of us that have tried and failed know exactly what it is to put your life-blood into something and have it come to nothing.
We all know the heartache of making something that has every bit of our soul poured into it, and then finding out that actually no-one wants it.
So finally – what Rodriguez teaches us,  is about failure. And how it's never the end.
We learn to pivot and be happy, there is always another market, a different space, and sometimes the problem is timing.
So while many people focus the sad and "lost years" of non-fame in the USA. I prefer to ponder the joy of his later years.
No matter what your age, when you pour your soul into creating something, be it music, art, a company, or a product, there is always a small part of you that will find satisfaction in the recognition of your work.
I for one, take heart from Rodriguez, that somewhere, sometime, what I do will matter, and I will make a difference. It will come.


In 1971 the USA lost out on a great talent, but it’s never too late for an American Dream apparently, and so, at the “south side of 72” in 2014, Rodriguez has finally won.

My first (failed) business.

I remember very clearly the first business I ever started.

It lasted about 6 hours I think, possibly a bit shorter than that.
I couldn't have been more than 9 or 10, definitely younger than 12 because it was in our first house , the one I was born in, until we moved when I was 12 going on 13.
It was a handmade greeting card business.
Now, I'll be the first to admit that I am not particularly arty. I have lots of creative ideas, but not too skilled in the delivery department. But I knew I could make a mean greeting card, plain and simple, Some birthday messages, congratulations,  even plain cards for your own words.
So, I tinkered around the house, appropriating card stock, cutting it down to size, writing with my koki pens ( that's a texter if you're Aussie) . Drawing and even gluing pictures from magazines on the front of the cards. I even had a range of tasteful, executive postcard sized thank you notes planned for a future expansion of the business.
When I was happy that had sufficient stock, I made a sign, and stuck it on the front gate of our property facing the road.
A couple of hours later. My mother came home from work, and my sign was pulled down. The business was over before it even made its first sale, thanks to Government Interference.
I was gutted. What? My mother couldn't see the benefits of me being financially independent ? I mean seriously. Who would want to do chores for pocket money, when I could have my own business ? The earning potential far outstripped my pocket money, which was ( in my mind ) limited by my parents willingness to part with their Rands.
In hindsight, and knowing that I grew up in the middle of the demise of apartheid, my mothers actions make sense. A little girl alone at home for a couple of hours after school, it's not the place you want to be inviting strangers in.
As I have grown in my various jobs and career path, I also see very clearly that I have always had that independent, I'll do it my way attitude. Thankfully it has not been conditioned out of me along the way.
And I have learned over the years to focus on what I am good at, instead of any random idea that might work, if only I was able to deliver the product.
If I had to give my 9 year old self any advice today, I'd tell her to rope in her arty friends to make the cards, buy them wholesale ( at a fair price) and sell them into the wealthier suburbs of Johannesburg for a good markup, get a table at one of the markets.
To any parents reading this blog :  Take heed - when your child starts making up a business, be involved,  and guide them in the market forces that surround your home. And be happy, because a 9 year old entrepreneur is inevitably going to grow up to do great things in their own life, if not the world around them as well.
Most importantly let them fail, if the idea is bad, or they have gaps in their abilities. Failure is a vitally important lesson in the entrepreneurial journey, and the sooner they learn to deal with the disappointment of not having an immediate success, the more resilient and the less entitled they will be as adults.