Saturday, 26 October 2013

The Time We Lived In A Snow Globe Town (Part 1)

Almost two years ago, I was lucky enough to live in a snow globe town for a few months. Before I go any further, I want you to image the following: a snow globe with swirling white pieces flying everywhere, glittering lights shining out of beautiful buildings and huge evergreen trees dotted around everywhere. Got a picture in your mind? Good. Now take a look at the pictures below:

Vail Village
Vail Town - View From One Of The Resturaunts
Heated path in Vail
The heated pathway, (yes, you read right. In case you missed it the
first time HEATED PATHWAY!!!) into Vail Town. The Four Seasons
Hotel Baby Bear is on the bottom left.
It all started in 3rd year when I started saving all my tutoring money for an overseas working holiday before entering the working world. At the beginning of 4th year a friend recommended Vail and so our preparations began. I started getting in touch with friends who would be keen, researching travelling companies (we chose CCUSA) and then e-mailing companies to see if they would be willing to hire a bunch of South Africans. Myself, Frosty, Russell, Jono and Kimon were lucky enough to get hired by the Four Seasons Hotel Chain for their Vail hotel and thus, on the evening of the 16th December 2011 we found ourselves starting off life in Vail.

During one evening stroll back from a dinner quite late into the season, one of our American colleagues, Chris, mentioned that living in Vail felt like living in a snow globe - which is the perfect description for the town and way of life. His description has stuck with me vividly and I now when I think of Vail, I always remember it as a snow globe town.

Here are some reasons that living in Vail felt like living in a snow globe.

  • There's no traffic allowed through the town, so to get anywhere you either walk or take one of the free Vail buses, if you need to go slightly further. 
  • All the town buildings are beautifully maintained and in part of the town, the side walks are heated to allow you to walk easily from the big hotels into town itself.
  • Everything is close together.
  • There are amazing ice sculptures, metal sculptures and brightly lit trees everywhere you look.
  • The buildings are continually covered by a blanket of snow.
  • You can walk around in the middle of the night and feel completely safe.
  • Vail is far from cities and so you feel slightly removed from the harsh realities of life.

Vail began as a dream for a ski resort in the late 1950s and by 1962 Vail opened for it's first skiing season. Since then, it's become a skiing mecca over the winter months and during the summer months it offers a wide variety of adventure sports and activities. I've only ever seen the wintery side of Vail, but I would love to return and see the summery side of Vail as well!

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Monday, 21 October 2013

October in Pictures

I was in Cape Town about two weekends ago and we went to visit the Penguins at Boulders the one day and Kirstenbosch the other day. This weekend I went to see the Lippazaners (aka war horses or dancing horses) in Kayalami with some friends. So here's some exciting weekend activities in pictures:


Jono at Kirstenbosch

Frosty and I at Kirstenbosch
King Protea Kirstenbosch
Protea Kirstenbosch

Boulders beach, Cape Town
Boulders - can you see the penguin?

Orange caterpillar eating leaves
Caterpillar while we walked

Penguins at Boulders beach
Boulders - penguins

Boulders - penguin

Penguins at the beach
Boulders - loved this little group

Group of penguins at the beach
Boulders - penguins

Old penguin
Boulders - camouflaged penguin

Beach hut
Boulders - beach hut

Grumpy sea
Boulders - the grumpy sea

Boulders rocks
Boulders - beach and rocks

Boulders - rocks

Boulders - more rocks

Lippazaners at Kayalami
Kayalami Lippazaners - baby colts

Lippazaners at Kayalami
Kayalami Lippazaners - more baby colts

Lippazaners running around
Kayalami Lippazaners - all together running free

Kayalami Lippazaners - smart horses and riders

Kayalami Lippazaners - feet and hooves

Kayalami Lippazaners - demonstrating moves

Lippazaner jumping on hind legs
Kayalami Lippazaners - demonstrating moves

Kayalami Lippazaners - demonstrating moves

Kayalami Lippazaners - demonstrating moves

Lippazaner with both feet off the ground
Kayalami Lippazaners - demonstrating moves

Kayalami Lippazaners - horse ballet

Kayalami Lippazaners - horse ballet

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Grad Learnings

Last year I was part of a graduate program with my company. It introduced us to the complexity of supply chain and also aimed to give us broader business exposure. This year I have been part of the organising committee for the current grads and it's been an awesome experience. Last week we held our last grad event for the year.

At 4:30 last Tuesday morning I dragged myself out of bed so that I could get started with lifts to the airport for two of my grad friends. When we got there the whole of OR Tambo carousel had broken down and everyone's bags were piling up at the check in counters. I felt sorry for the poor guys who had to fix that broken carousel - they would have been feeling the pressure even more than our guys do when one of our conveyors breaks down!

Anyway, we got to Durban in one piece. I would really like to give credit to ACSA and all the airlines - even though our bags didn't come with us on the plane, our details were noted down and they were delivered to our hotel later that morning.

For the first day, our grads had the morning to finalise their business case presentations that they had been working on for the last month or so. We then went to another venue where they presented solutions to current issues in our company to members from the senior leadership team. They did a lot better than our group last year - we were told to go back, re-think our presentations and do them again in two weeks. This year they were much better prepared - mainly due to the horror stories and threats that they had been told by myself and the other committee members. 

There were very good questions asked by the leadership team at the presentation. The learning that I took away with me this time was to take a look at how leaders can remove complexity from their business. How can you use current tools (or remove tools completely) in order to make your teams lives easier? Perhaps all the tools are there and it's the behaviour that isn't proper. How then can you change behaviour to make the best use of the tools that you have?

On the second day, we visited one of our packaging suppliers and it was awesome to see incredibly different technology at work in their factory. We learnt a bit about the difficulties experienced from their side of the business and of potential areas of improvement between both parties. That afternoon we took the grads back to head office where they were split into teams to do a negotiation role play between a supplier and customer. As most of our grads are engineers and had no clue about how to go about a negotiation, there was a huge amount that all of us (committee members included) learnt from participating and observing the negotiation prac.

What I took away from the prac is that maintaining the relationship and respect for the other party is incredibly important. It's also important to prepare - it was suggested to us that for every hour spent negotiating, you should prepare for 9 hours! You need to be willing to compromise on some things in order to gain advantages somewhere else. You also need to be strategic on the points that you negotiate on - it's very difficult to negotiate on labour and fixed costs. Rather pick things where for a seemingly insignificant decrease/increase you get a larger reward.

That night the committee had a close off event. All I'll say it that it was amazing. And all of us may or may not have felt tender for the whole of the next day...

We had a fear factor food race- split into 3 teams
and 3 different foods - I got the chicken feet as my dish...
Luckily there was some traditional Zulu beer to act as a
chaser afterwards! 
On the last day we had a visit to a factory that manufactures specific types of parts for the motor industry and it gave us a chance to see a different type of manufacturing and supply chain process. To end off the day we had a close off lunch with everyone, got feedback on the program and we gave out a few awards. We got such positive feedback from the grads this year and I hope that next year it's even better for them!

And to my fellow committee members - it's been such a pleasure and I'm going to miss all of you and my excuse to come and visit Durbs next year!

Grads bonding over a drumming session at the
close off event while committee wrapped up award nominations

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Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Post-Its and Papered Walls

I completed a 3 day planning workshop for a major, complex project we're about to launch at our factory. Wow. By the time we had finished, the pristine white sheets of paper that we had stuck over the walls and windows of our room had become littered with coloured post-it notes and kokie lines. I now view post it notes, markers and white sheets of paper stuck on walls in a whole new light.

I know a lot of people (especially a few of my girl friends) love to use post-its to place in their diaries, on their fridges and as quick thank you notes to friends. I've come to see this as a conventional use of post-its. 

This week, myself and the guys (yes, all the rest of the team were guys) spent time classifying and writing big tasks on post-its, then breaking up the big tasks into smaller tasks and writing them on post-its. Then breaking those tasks into smaller tasks on post-its. Each post-it had the task, name of person responsible, company, estimated duration and set of 3 or 4 filter "tags" written on it.

Hard at work writing post it notes
Then all the post-its were ordered according to logical sequences and processes and a temporary pencil line was added in to show the link between tasks. Each post it and all the accompanying information was then captured on to the computer as part of a database. During capturing, each note was given a corresponding number (according to the database number on the computer) and a red dot, to indicate it had been captured on the computer. Notes with a blue dot were used to indicate a delivery of something. Then processes were linked, and during this time, a blue line was drawn indicating links between the different tasks. By the end of our 3 day period, we had something looking like the below image and an ultra complicated project breakdown.

Discussing process and logic sequences

Part of our final project plan according to post-its

I've never been part of a big project planning session and this was an extremely enlightening exposure to an amazing project planning technique and tool. For the new people (like myself), our facilitator's aim was to ensure that we understood the project planning process so that going forward, we can facilitate other project planning sessions. I'm sure that I will be able to use this tool going forward, as it's applicable to all projects, not only engineering ones. However, this is only the beginning and our facilitator will have regular check-in sessions with us to track our progress and I'm sure there's still a lot to learn from him about the project planning process.

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Monday, 14 October 2013

Old Girls Drinks and Nostalgia

A little while ago I went to an old girls drinks in Joburg and it was the first time since leaving school that I've been in a room packed to the brim with females since I left high school. I've been out of high school for a longer (only by a year) period of time than I was in high school. 

Wow. I had forgotten what it's like to be in an estrogen storm. High pitched squeals and chatting at speeds that would put an F1 driver to shame. I remember that guy friends from our brother schools would stare in confused bewilderment as girls from school chatted so quickly that after 5 minutes they had no idea what we were actually talking about. This time, the only man there was the current headmaster and I hope, for his sake, that he has mastered the technique of speed listening.

There were about 15 or so of the girls from my year there and it was awesome to see what everyone had achieved. Some were working, some were still studying. Some were working while studying. Girls have matured and life has happened, but underneath the more "grown up" exteriors, I could still see glimpses of the girls I went to high school with.

It made me nostalgic. For sprawling on a blanket on front lawn during rest. For afternoon sessions - swimming, hockey, judo, golf, music. My friends coming on runs through the vlei - and then bunking out popping in to my house for a cup of tea and chat on the veranda. For those winter mornings before Chapel, standing outside bundled in a scarf and padded jacket, breathing out white clouds and warming each others hands. 

St Anne's swimming team
Typical swimming events - cold and miserable
Hockey Team and coach

St Anne's Chapel
Monday morning art sessions where, if you listened, you heard all the gossip from the previous weekend. For our start of the year "all-girls" social where 2nd formers were introduced to the school spirit and general craziness. For DMCs and sharing dreams for the future. For end of year Christmas lunch then jumping-into-the-pool-with-blue-dresses-going-mud-sliding. For keeping busy from dawn until dusk. 

Playing dress up on the last day of school
For spending all day with friends. Dressing up for any and all occasions. For house mothers. For awesome teachers who dealt with all the girly-hysteria on a daily basis and carried us though our studies. Prep sessions where old Mrs B could be heard admonishing late-comers throughout the classroom block. And later in the evening, you would hear her heels, click-clacking through the corridors making sure work was being done. Weekend adventures and Friday night SCA sessions in the green shack. 

SCA in the Green Shack
Giggling over boys and peoples latest crushes. Learning to dance for Chanel Ball. The beauty and radiance of matric ball - front lawn covered with girls in white dresses and proud parents taking pictures. 

Matric Ball
Girls and partners at pre-drinks at my house
Waitressing at older forms dances - and getting to eat any delicious left-overs. Tea-time snacks. The privilege of being able to go to "The Ville" on free afternoons during the week- and then meeting up with the guys who were there for extra Maths lessons. For the excitement of the big school-boy rugby matches where you went to watch rugby see and be seen. Participating in and observing interhouse events - drama, music, sport, art, public speaking. Interschools newspaper quiz with a winning team combination. For the feeling of possibility and for knowing no limits.

Interhouse music competition

Tea at the Ville
Some sort of fun day
At one of those infamous interschools rugby matches
Chilling on the front lawn
Visitor to the art classroom
Art class antics
Sports dinner
Last day of school

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