So, it has been two weeks. A full two weeks—at the time of this article’s publication, of course—at an agency I once looked at from afar a few months prior and envied.
Now, I’m of the opinion that formal education—especially at tertiary level—is a great experience. For me, attending college exposed me to great concepts and people who’d been to interesting places and had knowledge I knew nothing about. My mind got cracked wide open!
But sadly, upon further introspection, I realised it was not enough. This got clear to me when I interacted with people active in the media industry—more especially during my first week at Cerebra (an agency recently been ranked among the top 40 social media agencies in the world by R3 Worldwide). For instance, digital media is changing the media in a major way, we all know this yet there are many a media college that still teach digital media through handing out stacks of printed-out notes.
About how colleges are still teaching the same way they did many years back, there’s a whole write-up about that here. Back to Cerebra; needless to say: it feels great every morning to be able to punch in a code at the door and gain access. Amid all the euphoria I‘m going through, I’ve got to use my time wisely at the firm. And, learn a lot from the supreme talent here.
Writing of which, the following are gems I‘ve learnt in two weeks at Africa’s Social Business Authority.
It’s difficult to imagine Cerebra founder and CEO, Mike Stopforth, was once at a point in his life where he needed to be bolder and braver. “This book is for Bryan, who taught me to be bold, and Zoob, who taught me to be brave.” Words found on the Acknowledgements section of his book, Brand Schizo. I often look at him with admiration, as a guy who’s always been like he is: confident, bold and charismatic. My take-away from this observation is that being bold pays off. The proof is in the way his company is run and most importantly, the culture inculcated in it. I can sum up this lesson thus: whatever it takes, you’ve got to be able to bet on yourself! Ultimately, if you don’t believe in yourself, and you don’t believe in your story, there’s no point.
Work hard, play hard
So when I got here for my interview, I saw cool-looking people sitting casually on couches with Apple MacBooks on their laps, creating work for the clients in their books. This struck me in a major way—I realised there was consistency here. When I was reading up on the company—including routinely popping into their Instagram account—I saw people who were doing hard work, but also people who were having lots of fun while doing work that transcends brands in the social / digital space. And, famously, helping create social businesses. What I saw on the company’s social media platforms I experienced the minute I stepped into their offices. Just as entrepreneur extraordinaire, Sir Richard Branson believes his (work) life ought to be: “If something stops being fun, I ask why? If I can’t fix it, I stop doing it.”
Be the best, not part of the rest
Less than five percent! The number of people who control the world’s wealth.
Cerebra MD, Craig Rodney, is a ball of energy. He has a presence you can’t ignore—amazing guy. But what’s most important in his characteristics is the insistence on being the best at whatever one does. Upon meeting the candidates who make up Cerebra’s newly-formed Talent Fast Track Program, he uttered the words, “I take no prisoners. I am hardcore. It’s because here at Cerebra, we don’t believe in keeping people who are average!” From those words, I fashioned out a lesson: I have to work toward being at the top one-percent of my game. Lest I become part of the rest, not the best.
I’ve always known this. To keep the best talent and keep attracting it, an organisation has to reward it. So, on 7th November 2014—my fifth day at Cerebra—a client representative walked in to speak” to the team in the morning, about “a brief the team had to work on. At the tail end of the presentation, she unleashed an Oprah Winfrey moment! “The entire Cerebra team is travelling down to Durban, Umhlanga, and will be staying in Tsogo Sun’s hotel to celebrate the annual #CerebraTakeover”. Earlier in the year, Reece Jacobsen and Lloyd Wybrow got sent overseas by the company to attend South West by Southwest. A set of film, interactive, and music festivals and conferences that take place early each year in mid-March in Austin, Texas, United States. This prize is awarded to individuals who’ve proven to be amazing and go well above the scope of their work. Pretty insane, isn’t it? Rewarding great work works best—this is proven by the fast rate at which the company is growing.
Exist at the edge of change
Now, my first week wasn’t a walk in the park, to abuse the cliché. To gain entry into the company, I had to be brutally honest and state on my CV that I have no experience in digital media—I just have a dream and the willingness to learn. So getting to meet the entire team and finding out each individual’s role was a pleasant experience.
But there was a bad side to it, too. I looked at the team, easily the most brilliant minds in social media in Africa today, and I shivered. I spent the first week questioning myself and thus my ability to carve a place for myself in this great team. Conversations with my mentor, Leyash Pillay, helped get me into a state where I remembered why I have access to the Cerebra work space in the first place—I have potential to be anything I want to be and my growth can only be limited by what I believe of and tell myself.
The lesson: as an individual, I’ve gotta be able to exist at the edge of change. I need to be comfortable with uncertainty. By constantly exposing myself to new things and people. And, I suppose, all the fear in the initial days was a form of resistance I had to fight off, and thus be comfortable in an unfamiliar territory. I have learnt there is greatness inherent in uncertainty—it opens a door to the unknown, and only from the unknown can life be renewed constantly.