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True Grit

I am working closely with two MDs who hardly surprisingly both feel emotionally tested by a second lockdown. They feel that they were just getting things back on track and regaining business traction when the wind was sucked from their sails again, as business activity has for the most part ground to a halt.

As one of them asked, “How much more can be thrown at me?”, as along with this she simultaneously battles several personal health and financial challenges? Of course, I don’t have an answer because let’s face it, you couldn’t make this year up. I also have no clear answer in terms of what each manager should work on in terms of how they are experiencing it all.

An obvious place to go is to the resilience domain which Psychology Today describes as “that ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever. Rather than letting failure overcome them and drain their resolve, they find a way to rise from the ashes.” Basically, it’s the ability to bounce back – being able to put up with disappointment and setbacks and instead of you spiralling into a depression or wallowing in it, you get back up, dust yourselves off and continue with your life.

I have no doubt that the people and businesses which survive this period will be the ones who are resilient.  I had a sort of epiphany on this the other day when I was out running. I was reflecting that when I started running a few months ago after a decade-long hiatus, each time I would start the run with a feeling of dread. Fear. I feared the discomfort – the heavy breathing, the hills, the struggle.

I have spent a chunk of my life as a runner, so I was familiar with how to run physically but I had forgotten how to run mentally. A few months on and it is different. I look forward to the discomfort and struggles which comes with running, the heavy breathing from exertion, the sight of a big hill up ahead that says to me ‘ok now ,this is going to hurt’. I had forgotten that the struggle is all part of it and now it’s the part which I relish. As you can imagine, the shift in attitude and mental toughness has resulted in a shift in achievement and performance.

It’s the same thing that is needed dealing with this period. Mental toughness is having that “personality trait which determines in large part how individuals deal with stress, pressure and challenge irrespective of circumstances” (Strycharczyk, 2015). With my two managers I was asking myself if they should be working with resilience which would allow then to recover from the setback of a second lockdown or should their focus be mental toughness which could help prevented them from experiencing a setback in the first place? As Strycharczyk further puts it, “All mentally tough individuals are resilient, but not all resilient individuals are mentally tough”.

Or maybe it’s about grit which may appear synonymous with mental toughness, but I think it is more than that. Guy Claxton defines it as “the tendency to sustain interest and effort towards long term goals. It is associated with self-control and deferring short term gratification”.

One simple way to think about the differences between resilience and grit is that resilience more often refers to the ability to bounce back from short-term struggles, while grit is the tendency to stick with something long-term, no matter how difficult it is or how many roadblocks you face. In today’s world for us that means dealing with these short-term interruptions like lockdown and settling into the new normal.

Back to my runner’s analogy, when training we work on discomfort – that’s what the long runs and hill work are all about. Eventually you find yourself in that place where you feel physically depleted – often referred to as ‘hitting the wall’ – and then all that you are left with is the mind. Different runners have different strategies, but it seems most have a combination of using associated and detached thinking when the going gets tough, a mix of internal and external thoughts.

So, the runner recites internal stuff like a mantra – for example, ‘I am strong, I am tough’. Long-distance runner Kara Goucher, for example, said “I try to think about positive things – how great my form is, how my arms are swinging, my breathing, how loud people are cheering. My sports psychologist taught me there are a million things telling you, you can’t keep going, but if you find the things that say you can, you’re golden”.

For Ryan Hall who has the second fastest marathon time by an American, he is more outward focused in his thinking. “I think about Jesus on the cross. I think about my wife. I think about my family watching the race at home. Sometimes I really don’t think about anything. I find the best way to manage pain is not to have a set formula because different things work at different times. What matters is that the thoughts are positive”.

So here’s the rub.  If you, like two of my managers, are struggling currently, it doesn’t matter whether you have internal or external goals and drivers as long as you have a plan. See this period as the opportunity to train yourself in grit, resilience, or mental toughness. It doesn’t matter what you call it but know two things – It is trainable, and positivity plays a big part in all of it.

You might be comparing it to the unanswerable riddle of which came first, the gritty chicken issue or the resilient egg problem, but I say it doesn’t matter as long as you don’t stick your head in the sand like an ostrich. Tough times are not going away, and nobody ever won by being chicken but they well might have ended up with egg on their face!

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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