Beauty or the beast

I was intrigued by this beautiful pattern on the beach at Vleesbaai. How was it possible that seemingly out of nowhere, the same pattern formed with every backwash phase of the swash (a turbulent layer of water that washes up on the beach after an incoming wave has broken)?

Every uprush destroyed the pattern. Every backwash created it.

Having studied physics many moons ago, I was curious to find out the underlying principles of this phenomenon. Off to Google, where I searched for “what causes diamond formed patterns on a beach”. Soon I learned that this pattern is called a “Rhomboid beach pattern”. Back to maths to re-learn that a rhombus is “a flat shape with 4 equal straight sides. A rhombus looks like a diamond.”

I was super-excited to learn that the type of swash motion that prevails is dependent on the wave conditions and the beach morphology and this can be predicted by calculating the surf similarity parameter (Guza & Inman 1975):





Hahaha, just teasing!

How easy is it not to descend into unnecessary detail and go from the beauty to the beast? From emotion to a cold formula? From just enjoying what is, to rationalising what is? From simplicity to complexity?

I tend to agree with the philosopher in the book The Courage To Be Disliked, that the world is simple… yet we are making the world complicated. He continues, “None of us live in an objective world, but instead in a subjective world that we ourselves have given meaning to. The world you see is different from the one I see, and it’s impossible to share your world with anyone else.”

How could our lives change if we did not overcomplicate it for ourselves by trying to figure everything out, looking for ‘the question behind the question’, often even expecting there to be an ulterior motive behind everything that people say or do, and then waste energy om looking for something that does not exist?

Too often we base our lives on what we think other people think of us. Is that not a slippery slope? Won’t life be simpler if we just accepted things for what they are instead of spending endless hours and energy to ‘figure things out’?

Maybe there is value in what Alan Weiss says, “Choose a few people whom you trust and admire, allow yourself to be vulnerable and listen, and turn away all unsolicited feedback, which is almost always for the sender’s ego. That’s how you grow.”

Is it worth the effort to do a Fourier analysis of beautiful Beethoven? Or to simply enjoy it?

Is it worth the effort to work out the rhomboid mathematics behind a beautiful pattern on the Vleesbaai beach? Or to simply enjoy it?

Is it worth the effort to figure out life? Or to simply enjoy it?

“Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact.

Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.”

~ Marcus Aurelius

To a simple, beautiful life!

I am enjoying a two-week working holiday at Vleesbaai, and Sunday morning Senomi, Richard and I went for a low-tide walk on the wide open beach to Boggomsbaai. When we turned back, I sat down on a rock to look out over the ocean.

A gentleman (I later learned that his name is Gerrit) walked by, pulling something that look like an “ice cream bicycle” with three fishing rods in the “ice cream box”. It was his fishing cart, complete with rods, bait, food, something to drink and the usual ‘spares’ fishermen have with them.

He stopped, left his cart about 15 meters from the water, walked up to the water, and scanned the ocean with his hand over his eyes to keep out the sun. He came back, pushed his cart for maybe 100 meters and repeated the process. He then walked back to his cart, chose a fishing rod and cast his bait into the ocean.

On my way back, I stopped and asked him if I could talk with him or if it would scare away the fish. With ‘permission granted’, I asked him about his trolley and equipment and what he was looking for as he was scanning the ocean.

He was watching the waves, the colour of patches of water then cast his bait just to the side of a ‘dam’ where there was a bigger chance to catch a fish.

And then he said something that struck me: “When nothing is happening, you pack up and move to another spot. One should not be a lazy fisherman.”

When nothing is happening, move on.

As Richard rightly pointed out later, such a “pack up and move” decision should not be based just on a whim, but on knowledge and understanding of the situation. Probably in Gerrit’s experience, after doing the things that usually lands him a fish, if nothing has happened after a while, it’s time to move on.

I’m now thinking about the times in my life that I started something, got ‘emotionally attached’ to it and then kept on hammering away when it was actually time to pack up that project and move on to something else. I wonder how much time and effort I have wasted by waiting for the fish to bite, even though all signs said, “Pack up and go milk another cow”.

My fisherman ‘namealike’ has taught me this lesson on Sunday: “If nothing is happening, pack up and move on”. One should not be lazy at recognising and discarding an unproductive fishing hole.

And, dare I add, one should not shy away from going KWINK every now and then, KWINK being the acronym for the question “Knowing What I Now Know”. Applying KWINK to any current situation we find ourselves in, requires us to answer… Knowing What I Now Know, would I have __________________ (fill in the gap, e.g. invested in xyz; started a business; studied law… ) again? With the knowledge I have now, would I choose to make the same decisions? (Think Brexit…) If the answer is ‘no’ pack up and move on as soon as you can.

Or change the bait?

“Cry me a river, build a bridge, and get over it.”
~ Justin Timberlake

Warm regards from a sunny Vleesbaai.

Sunday felt like the first real day of spring and I went down to the promenade to celebrate. It was good to see that everything was still in good shape after the winter.

People walking and jogging, cyclists cycling, waves crashing over the rocks and seagulls taking an early-morning bath.
I enjoyed watching them fly in, settle down, have a drink form the stream of fresh water flowing into the ocean and then take a bath. You can see the bathing performance in this 14 second video.

I shared the video with a few people on social media, saying “This is how one makes ripples”. Marlene responded, saying that the ripples we make can expand much further than we would think and that we should not underestimate the effects of our deeds and words. So true.

On the other hand, if the birds would have stayed on the rocks surrounding the bathing area, and never entered the water, there would be no ripples.

If we stay on “our rocks” and don’t engage in some ‘bathing’ in the pond of our choice, then we won’t make any ripples. We will have no impact. The environment where we could have had an impact would have been poorer.

In our organisations, do we jump in and make a contribution, even make waves, or do we rather play it safe and not rock the boat?

Would the world not be much poorer if the likes of Nelson Mandela, Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, Thomas Watson, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, Helen Keller and so many more, would have stayed safely on their rocks and out of the water? Did they make only perfect ripples? Were they perfect human beings? Probably not. No one can be.

But we still feel the impact of their contributions today.

Shall we join the seagulls in the pool of life and make our waves?

Or let the world forever miss out on what could have been?

“A ship is safe in harbour, but that’s not what ships are for.”
~ Johyn A Shedd

What’s in a word?

You may know that my job on the planet to be on the lookout for ways of getting the right things done with as little effort as possible – and when I come across something of value, I like to share that with as many people as possible. So, I was happy when I revisited something I came across many years ago.

It’s the ancient practice of ‘two heads are better than one’.  For example, you are a member of a small group of people who get together regularly, and you bring a problem or a challenge to the group when you are in the ‘hot seat’. In a supportive manner the group asks you clarifying questions, brainstorm the matter and give advice when asked for. You commit to specific actions and report back to the group at the next meeting.

I am currently facilitating a few of these ‘productivity mastermind’ groups and the results are something to write home about.  People get things done that they have been putting off for years.  I experience how people jump in and offer alternative viewpoints, help and resources. New ideas to handle a situation bubble up all the time. And it doesn’t take people away from their work – it helps them do their work better.

This is where ‘accountability’ comes in.  Some people say, ‘the group holds you accountable’.  I am not so sure that a group – or anyone else for that matter – can hold anyone accountable.  And exactly what does ‘hold accountable’ mean?

The way I see it is that making a public statement of what you are going to do leads to what we call ‘accountability’.  Unless you are going to do what you said you would do, and there may well be very good reasons why you could not do it, you will ‘look bad’ at the next meeting.  And therefore, you do it.

Is it about ‘accountability’ or is it about ’ownership’?

From the Internet I see that: “Taking ownership means standing up and announcing that you are responsible for executing a particular task or project.  Sometimes taking ownership will … mean being accountable for a project in your job description.  Taking ownership also means making an active and enthusiastic commitment.  You’re becoming the one [associated with] getting things done, with control, and with solutions.”

And “Ownership is the state of mind where you feel fully in charge and do not give any excuses (or blame anyone else) for what needs to be done.”

Maybe it’s just in my head, but ‘being held accountable’ carries a (negative) sense of ‘being judged’ and fear of looking bad, and we have to defend ourselves if we didn’t deliver.  It comes from outside.  Taking ownership, on the other hand, is an inside job.

So, here’s a question: Why are we doing what we’re doing?  Is it because we want to?  Or is it because we feel we must because of what ‘they’ will think if we don’t?

The same job still gets done in the end, but would we not enjoy getting it done more from an ownership point of view? Could it be the difference between getting it done and getting it done with a smile?

“Once people take ownership over the decision to receive feedback, they’re less defensive about it.”  ~ Adam Grant

It was just another stroll in the park on Saturday until I saw “The Dance of The Leaf”, accompanied by the staccato sounds of a small frog or two.

It was beautiful to see the leaf suspended in the air, floating around in a free-form dance.

But it didn’t make sense. There was no wind, it was not attached to anything, yet the leaf kept on dancing and did not do what leaves that are set free from their branch do, taking a dive to the ground.

When I looked up, I saw a single strand of spider silk attached to the leaf. I have no idea of how that came about; maybe the leaf fell into a spider web and the single strand was all that remained. What came before has made this performance possible, even though it is not visible at first sight.

But what I did know, is that if I broke that single “lifeline” thread, the dance would end. No more amazed passers-by, happy to have been given a rendition of The Dancie of The Leaf.

What is the spider silk that supports our life-dance? That gives us life-dance-supporting oxygen and energy?

Maybe it’s invisible, even to us. Maybe it’s something we “fell into” without knowing it, like our families. Or something our father, mother, teacher or friend has said to us way back. Or the sense of fulfilment we have when we achieve something.

Maybe it’s visible and tangible. The support of someone whose help for. The people that studied with us to achieve a certain qualification. Our books. The smile of someone we compliment. The applause that follows our interaction with family, friends and colleagues. The exhilaration of freefall skydiving. A morning on the beach or in Kirstenbosch…

We can only sustain it if we can find it and “see” it.

And when we find it, cherish it.

And when we cannot find it, and we need support, to ask for it.

Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It’s just a realisation that we understand something we are struggling with or acknowledging that we do have a shortcoming and need help to achieve what we want to.


We all understand the importance of asking for help, but those who achieve big things are the ones who accept it when it’s offered.
~ Simon Sinek

Let’s ask for and accept help, shall we?

PS: On a serious note, to quote from the LifeLine web page: People call (011 422 4242 or 0861 322 322) the counselling line regarding many things; from feeling lonely and needing a friendly ear to listen to, needing support and guidance on social issues like alcohol and drug abuse, violence and victimization, physical and psychological illness, stress, bereavement and loss, suicidal ideation, retrenchment, unemployment effecting either themselves, family members or friends and many other issues.

Can we really separate what happens ‘at work’ from the rest of our lives?

This question came to mind as I looked at this fence that separated two areas in Kirstenbosch. On the one side was the garden and about 10 meters away, on the other side was Ficus Road, leading from the main entrance to the parking lot.

On one side it was tranquil, and one could enjoy freedom of movement without the risk of being run over by a car. On the other side, although it was still part of the bigger Kirstenbosch, one would have to be more careful.

Uncle G gives this legalese-like definition of a fence: “A lawful fence is a good, substantial, sufficient, and well suited barrier that is sufficient to prevent animals from escaping property and to protect the property from trespassers.”

A fence is a visual screen to mark the boundary between properties, and between private and public space.

The fence in the picture succeeded in keeping me on the one side and discouraged me from climbing over it by baring its fangs in the shape of sharp metal points on top. But this fence is not a “sufficient and well-suited barrier” to prevent small animals from moving from one space to the other. Or maybe even large animals like elephants.

The plants around the fence do not care about the fence either – in places even using it as a trellis to support their growth into new space, far away from the ground.

And then we try and separate what happens ‘at work’ from the other areas of our lives? With often ill-designed and poorly constructed fences?

And we even try and compartmentalise different areas of our lives…

Nature doesn’t care about the fence I saw on the garden boundary, being constructed in the way it was and with the purpose of preventing people to exit or enter the garden at that point.

Unless we build very unnatural Berlin-like walls, and implement metaphorical watch towers, patrolling guards, spotlights and machine guns, chances are that the small things in our lives can migrate from one space to the other. And the big things in our lives can also cross our poorly constructed and badly communicated boundaries.

Maybe we could (should?) have different kinds of “sufficient and well-suited” boundaries, depending on what we want to achieve? Why spend energy and effort on constructing Trumpian borders in places where a simple single rope would be sufficient, and where it is OK – even invited – for the small things in our everyday lives to cross the boundary?

On the other hand, we should not expect a spider web to keep a trumpeting elephant out.

Boundaries are necessary and should be designed and communicated to achieve the kind of separatedness we need and want in a particular situation.

One wall does not fit all.

Wishing you a week with appropriate boundaries!

Friday was a wonderful day to enjoy the gifts of Kirstenbosch. I thought it was going to be a bit cold, but it was Goldilocks weather for this time of the year. I was surprised, when I eventually decided to go home, to see that I’ve been there for 5 hours.

The thing that struck me most was the marks left by a climbing plant that wrapped itself around the trunk of this tree. They must have been together for a pretty long time, judging by the extent of the ‘scar tissue’.

Looking upwards, it seemed as if there was still a living part of the climber attached to the tree, but I am not sure.

Be that as it may (and I stand to be corrected!) it seems that there has been a long-standing symbiotic relationship between the two entities. [Biologists and ecologists define a symbiotic relationship as an “intimate interaction between two or more species, which may or may not be beneficial to either”.]

Figuratively speaking, although we are all part of the same Homo Sapiens species, could we also be involved in symbiotic relationships with other people – which may or may not be beneficial to either?

As I understand it, the mark (scar?) on the tree is made, and left behind, whether it was a mutually beneficial relationship or not.

And even after the part of the climber that created the impact has died and is physically no longer present, the impact of the interaction remains.

It must be all of 58 years ago that Mr Bol Van Rensburg called the whole class together at my work bench in the woodwork class, showed them the part I have been working on the last 30 minutes or so, and said (I am sure he was not meaning to do any harm): “Now this is how NOT to do it!” Could not have taken him more than 10 seconds to say those words. I can still hear and feel its impact to this very day.

I remember how, at about the same time, Miss Roux’s knuckles would come down hard on my head if I made a mistake in a multiplication table.

A family member, when in primary school, had to hear from a teacher that she would never be good at maths.

Mr van Rensburg, miss Roux and the maths teacher are no longer with us, but the impressions they created, remain.

Since seeing the scarred tree on Friday, I have been thinking about what I might have said or done to other people during my life so far that could have left a scar. I will be lying if I said no scar tissue came up.

We interact with others every day. In person, by phone, instant messaging, email or online conference. We interact with ourselves.

If we want to live our best life, causing less ‘bad’ scar tissue, does it not make sense to take 5 minutes in the evening to review the day and ask “What did I do? What did I do well? What not so well? How could I improve?”. Here is a 4-minute animation that explains this better than I can. Be kind to yourself and watch it now – when you reach the page, scroll down to the video, which reflects the content of the article.

Every interaction leaves an impression, whether we want it or not. A mark. A mark that could go away after a while, or a scar that will remain long after we have left the scene.

Like the scars left behind after a once-intimate relationship between the tree and the climber.

“I make use of this opportunity, daily pleading my case at my own court. When the light has been taken away and my wife has fallen silent, aware as she is of my habit, I examine my entire day, going through what I have done and said. I conceal nothing from myself, I pass nothing by. I have nothing to fear from my errors when I can say: ‘See that you do not do this anymore. For the moment, I excuse you.’” – Seneca

Enjoy your “look over my shoulder time” tonight!