A few lessons learnt working at Cerebra

It’s been two weeks in the office. Two weeks since I managed to land an internship role at a digital agency that I envied a few months before, and felt a pull to apply to work with them. 

Now, I am of the opinion that formal education, especially at tertiary level, is a helpful experience. Especially when you have the opportunity to get it. Alternatively, there’s the university of YouTube, podcasts, essays, conversations, online courses, etc., that we can turn to.

Attending college exposed me to new concepts and people who grew up differently than I did. They had different experiences, opinions and ideas.

My mind cracked open when I conversed and worked on assignments with them.

My mind has cracked even further during the first two weeks at Cerebra. Learning happens at the clock speed of business over here, much faster than in school.

And it feels good to punch in the access code at the door. I’ve found a sense of pride in that. Only three months before, I had no idea how I was going to move my life forward after a decision to resign from a sales consultant and cashier job I held at Pep Stores in order to focus squarely on writing.

The idea to present my CV in a different way has plucked me from Orange Farm, and into an office with people who stretch my mind. There are smart and brave people to learn from here.

So, what you read next are some of the lessons I’ve picked up in the office so far.

Be bold

It is somewhat unimaginable that the 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.” The words written on the Acknowledgements section of his book, Brand Schizo. The guy seems like he’s always been confident.

Being bold pays off.

Some of the proof is in the way his business is run, and the global respect it enjoys.

It might as well be summed up as: you have to bet on yourself.

Work hard, play hard

When I first walked into the office for my interview, I saw cool-looking people on couches with MacBooks on their laps.

This struck me. There was consistency. Because when I read up on the company, I saw people working and having fun while doing it.

What I saw on social media platforms I experienced when I walked into the office.

Be the best

Cerebra Managing Director, Craig Rodney, is a ball of energy. He has a presence you cannot ignore.

He also carries with him an insistence on being the best.

When Craig met the candidates who make up Cerebra’s newly minted Talent Fast Track Program, he said, “I take no prisoners”. I looked at him and—with furrows in my forehead—listened intently. “I am hardcore. It’s because here at Cerebra, we don’t believe in keeping people who are average.”

I took a lesson from that meeting. I have to fight to be at the top one-percent of my game.

Reward excellence

On the 7th morning of November 2014, my fifth day, a client rep walked in to speak to the team.

It was about a brief the team had to work on. At the end of her talk, she unleashed the 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”.

And earlier in the year, Reece Jacobsen and Lloyd Wybrow travelled to Austin, Texas, to attend South West by Southwest. A set of interactive film and music festivals and conferences that take place each year in mid-March.

The SWSW prize is awarded to people who have proven themselves efficient, and consistently go above the scope of their work.

Dance at the centre of change

My first week was not an easy walk in the office.

To get into the business, I was honest with HR and wrote on the CV that I had no experience in digital media marketing. That I am applying to them with the objective to learn the industry and grow.

I decided against submitting a traditional resumé.

So, I wrote a blog article about my work, history, thought process and overlaid it with my life’s story.

It worked. I was invited for an interview. And I remember afterwards Reece telling me that the reason I made it into the room was the thinking behind my CV.

And then later, well after the interview, Leyash Pillay, encouraged me to meet the team, and learn each person’s role. In hindsight, I appreciate that nudge.

But there was also another side to it.

I looked at the team, among the most brilliant minds in the social media space in South Africa, Africa, and the world, and I shivered. I spent the first week questioning myself.

Am I going to be able to hold my own in this place? 

But conversations with my coach, Leyash, restored my sense of confidence. I remembered the reason I have access to the Cerebra office in the first place. Ngi’blind.

To grow, I have to be comfortable with uncertainty. I have to expose myself to new people and experiences.

And I suppose all the fear in my heart in the first week was resistance I had to wrestle off. So that I could be at home in an unfamiliar space.

I have learned that there’s genius built into uncertainty. It opens a door into the unknown, and only from the unknown can life be renewed.


Wordsmith: I write and edit words. I speak and facilitate public conversations. I think and consult.