Tag Archives: competition

How well do you know your brand?


LEGO advert from 1981 with text 'What it is is beautiful'

LEGO advert from 1981

I’ve sat down with first-time entrepreneurs in Cape Town, young creatives in Johannesburg as well as colleagues in a global non-profit. When I ask them to describe their brand, their response is usually a string of positive words like this:

“It’s innovative”
“It’s friendly, for everyone”
“It’s cool”
“It’s trustworthy”
“It says quality”
“It’s brave”

The problem with this is that one brand can’t be everything. You might Continue Reading…

Authenticity is the new exclusivity

In a recent Times Live article, Jackie May longs for the days before mass production ruined luxury goods by making it accessible to the middle class. Here’s an extract:

In a world of mass production, globalisation and conspicuous consumption, where access to a Louis Vuitton or a Prada handbag is no longer restricted to the super-rich, there is a nostalgia for what used to be defined as luxury.
[…] It’s a nostalgia for when consumption was less conspicuous and less prevalent, and excess not so wretched and hedonistic.

When was this pre-conspicuous era? She suggests the 19th century as the answer, a time when artisans created finely made wares for royalty and aristocrats. The only ones keeping this tradition alive now are the modern-day artisans who create “authentic” goods with their hands, independently fighting consumerism.

But hold on, wasn’t the term “conspicuous consumption” coined in the 19th century? Wasn’t it in that era of precious utensils and golden watches that Thorstein Veblen pointed out that the wealthy enjoyed these socially visible goods due to their price and scarcity? These days, gold and silver doesn’t cut it though. Even designer bags ain’t what they used to be. It doesn’t have the same meaning it once did, says May in the article, ever since “global corporations [sold it] to the middle market”. Is it possible, just maybe, that what’s been lost is not quality or tradition but the feeling of exclusivity?

It looks like the real annoyance here is that a luxury good like a Prada handbag no longer gives the owner the sense of distinction that it once did. It’s not that different from music snobs that complain when their favourite band goes mainstream.

So how’s a status-seeking individual supposed to get their exclusivity-fix these days? By buying handmade goods that are inevitably rare because they’re produced in small batches. So handmade axes, craft beer and artisanal bagels are now in.

If you’re into that “authentic” stuff, have a ball, but don’t pretend that it’s the antithesis of consumerism and status seeking. The search for authentic artisanal goods is an extension of conspicuous consumption, not its cure.


Lake of Stars could be even better


I’ve dedicated two previous blog pieces to what was cool about the Lake of Stars experience. Now in this final instalment, I’ll dish out some constructive criticism.  Here are three ways it could be even be better:

#1 Make it easier to get there

The big problem here is that flights, much like bandwidth, are still too expensive across Africa. A flight from Johannesburg to Blantyre costs R5,100. You know where else you could fly with that money? Milan.

There is hope though. 1Time has announced that it will offer flights to Kenya this year at a cheap R1,619. SAA currently offers the same flight at the might-as-well-fly-to-New-York -and-back price of R8,338. Hopefully we’ll see cheaper flights to East and West Africa in the next few years.

At half the price of a plane ticket, the festival organised a special bus from Johannesburg, but only two festival-goers made use of this. I was one of them. It was a trip full of highlights and trouble, but never dull.

I hope they don’t cancel the bus this year. If organized and promoted properly, it could become a jolly, music-filled bus ride,  similar to the MK Avontoer.

On the local level, transport could also be easier between the resorts in Mangochi .  If your lodging wasn’t at the festival site, getting home at night was tricky and unreliable. An hourly shuttle service could solve this.


#2 Make it easier to spend money

If you’re running a business, one of the things you don’t want is a shortage of ATMs and credit card facilities. There was only one ATM at the festival and when it inevitably stopped working, the only other ATM for miles was in town. To get to town, you’d have to pay for a taxi. So if you happened to be broke, as most ATM-seekers are, you’d find yourself in a proper Catch-22.

The only place I could find where you could pay for food or drink with a credit card was the Nkopola restaurant.  And even they treated a credit card transaction like a strange and inconvenient custom. Paying took a long time, and you had to do it at the front desk. Once the payment went through, a letter, not a receipt, was printed out for you to formally sign. It ultimately became amusing, something to joke about with the receptionist.


#3 Make it like Ibiza

Wait, hear me out first. I’m not suggesting it should imitate Ibiza’s electronic dance music or its island-of-vice reputation.  Lake of Stars should strive to have the cultural significance of Ibiza. In the same way Ibiza incubated the Balearic Beat in the 80s, Malawi could be the playground of an emerging sound. It could be a place where musicians showcase new material, learn from one another and compete. Sometimes, isolation breeds innovation. We’ve seen influential music scenes develop in peripheral places like Seattle, Manchester and Bellville. Let Mangochi be the next.


5 life lessons we can learn from playing Diablo

Sorceress next to a bell curve

1. A limit on wealth can boost generosity

The first thing that struck me when I first played Diablo II online was the generosity. It was bizarre. Players approached me, asked whether I needed weapons, and then dropped a pile of rare katars and wrist blades. They didn’t even wait to be thanked.  Someone would give away a magical helm as if it was a burden.  And in a way, it was.

You see, in Diablo, there’s a limit to how much you can own.  There’s one backpack and one treasure chest to keep your stash, so you run out of space rather quickly. If you leave something on the ground it will disappear.

As a result, advanced players give valuable items away to free up inventory space. It’s similar to tax-deductible charity donations.  When you know that you’ll have to lose a portion of your wealth anyway, it makes sense to donate it and gain goodwill.



2. Don’t spread your skills too thinly

One of the great pleasures in Diablo is the moment you gain enough experience points to level up. You can then take a break from the action to decide how you’ll invest your skill points. But it’s not an easy decision.

Each hero class has a unique skill tree with three different branches.  A Sorceress’ skill tree is for instance divided between lightning, fire and cold spells.

There’s the temptation to try out everything on the skill platter.  After using Charged Bolt for a while, you might want to see what the Firewall spell can do.  But this type of switching between disciplines leads to an ineffectual character. A Sorceress with 4 points invested in Fireball and 5 in Lightning has a weaker attack than one who put all 9 points in Lighting alone. Because only one offensive spell can be used at a time, being moderately good in two disciplines is a waste. The real world equivalent would be to gain experience in two careers paths that are unlikely to intersect.

But as in real life, there are times when past expertise support our current skill set. For example, an ex-lawyer can use that experience to become a writer of legal thrillers, while a TV presenter with an MBChB could start an educational health show. In Diablo these are known as synergies: secondary skills that boost the effectiveness of your main skill.

Putting all your experience into one skill is never possible or advisable. You might encounter a challenge where the skill you’ve focused on is ineffective.  Spreading your skills too thinly is also unwise. The first time I reached the game’s eponymous monster it was as a Druid skilled in summoning wolves, bears, ravens and poison creepers. The big boss could wipe them all out with one Fire Nova attack, so they were useless. To defeat him, I had to concentrate on shape shifting abilities and attack him as Werewolf.

So if you created a graph with attack damage as the y axis and the number of skills as the x axis, it would probably follow a bell curve. You need a handful of synergized skills, but there’s a point where investing experience into extra skills will make you a master of none.


3. Pick a companion that compliments your weaknesses

I’m currently playing the game as a Paladin using Blessed Hammer as a primary attack. It’s a powerful spell, but annoyingly imprecise. Instead of flying directly at the target, magical hammers spin out, knocking any monster that happens to stand in its spiral trajectory.  So when there’s one vampire standing in the corner of a room, it’s near impossible to get the bugger into the hammer’s flight path.

That’s why it was fun play with an ally. A friend’s Sorceress is adapted to take out immediate threats with bolts of lightning. When we encounter a horde of monsters, I create a whirlwind of hammers while she assassinates the spell casters.

Such division of labour is common among married couples. To some, it is common-sense that a wife should take care of the house and children while the husband brings home the bacon.  We obviously need to move away from this old-fashioned view because it unfairly limits the opportunities available to women. But part of the reason these gendered divisions of labour persist, as Joseph Heath points out in The Efficient Society, is that such arrangements are quite effective. Sharing duties may help couples understand each other’s problems, but specialization creates a stronger team. The key is to collectively decide on a fair division of responsibilities instead of following archaic customs.

4. People are nicer when they’re secure about their social standing

So far, no-one has called me a ‘newb’, ‘noob’ or ‘n00b’. That’s unusual in a competitive online community. In Quake or Defence of the Ancients insults like “lol stupid noob” are often thrown your way. So why haven’t I encountered this on the South African Diablo servers?

The reason, I suspect, is that the experience level of players are blatant. When you enter a game, players can immediately see that you’re a level 72 Barbarian. So there’s no reason to prove your superiority by being a douche.  I can imagine that one of the advantages of clear ranking in the military is that generals don’t have to constantly remind people of what they’ve achieved. Hierarchies can be civil. In its absence, people resort to snobbery to demonstrate their superiority.

An example that comes to mind is the local film / servicing industry. Crew member on set are unpleasant people. Their ranking changes from one shoot to the next and there’s little job security.   Because everyone’s dressed similarly and there are no desks around, impoliteness is used to establish rank. Crew members also feel the need to regularly remind others of how much experience they have. If only they could wear badges with this info on it, such unpleasantries could be avoided.

Lut Gholein Gate

5. You’ll gain no experience hanging around, admiring your possessions

There’s something immensely reassuring about playing Diablo. You know that no matter where you’re going, if you’re killing monsters, you’re on the right track. Even if you’re fighting in an area you’ve completed before, you’re comforted by the knowledge that you’re gaining experience points and making your hero stronger. It’s only when you hang around camp, which is safe from monsters, that you’re wasting time. Every small effort has worth and knowing that is a strong motivator.

So the final lesson is simple. Stop procrastinating, jump in and do it.