Category Archives: Career

A Lesson in Craftsmanship

I was fortunate enough to drink one of the world’s truly iconic wines last night while at dinner with my parents for their 60th birthdays. The wine was a 1984 Penfold’s Grange, only 4 years younger than me and it was obscenely good. Grange is so much more than just a wine – it is the true artistic expression of a master craftsman at the zenith of his ability. Everything about this wine, from its genesis to where it is now, can teach us about what it takes to do or make something that makes its mark in the world.

1. You have to be bold

After touring the wine regions of France, Max Schubert set himself a goal no less lofty than to beat the master winemakers of Bordeaux at their own game. He wanted to craft a wine that rivaled the great Bordeaux wines in quality and ageing potential. One of my favourite sayings is “set goals that scare you, then set bigger ones”. You can’t make your mark on the world by simply going through the motions and doing what everyone else has done. NASA did not put a man on the moon because they ummd and ahhd about it – Kennedy boldly made the announcement that that was the county’s goal, and NASA had to come up with the goods. When you want to do great things, you can’t take the attitude of “I’ll walk this path and see where it takes me”. There is no challenge with such an attitude, and it is challenges that spur one into action. You need to have a vision. That vision gives a goal to be worked towards and thus the steps to that goal can be identified.

2. You have to challenge convention and break some “rules”

The French wine industry has always been about the expression of terroir in their wine. This means that the aim of the winemaker is to showcase the climate and soil in the flavour in the wine, which is why wine from certain regions is so highly valued and the appellation system exists in France. In layman’s terms, terroir is the reason that any one grape variety, say chardonnay, when grown exactly the same way by the same winemaker in two different regions will taste completely different. Max Schubert did the unthinkable with Grange – he sourced the grapes from a variety of areas and turned the wine into an expression of the winemaker instead of the terroir. All of a sudden hundreds of years of tradition was thrown away by an Aussie winemaker who thought he had a better way of doing things. In almost every human endeavour it is because someone thought they could do better, thought they had a better idea or a better way that we have advanced so far as a species.

3. You need to learn from the best teachers available

Schubert didn’t just start concocting different mixtures of grape and accidentally stumble onto the secret of Grange, he went to France and studied with the winemakers of Bordeaux. In order to beat the best at their own game, he needed to study exactly what the best were doing and how to get their results. Building expertise and the ability to branch out on your own successfully comes from the example of others. Einstein would not have arrived at his Theory of Relativity without the work of people like Newton or Archimedes centuries before. In judo, my skill increased exponentially when I started training with Olympic level players and coaches compared to when I trained at other clubs. Likewise working in intelligence, I sought out the best people I could find and continually picked their brains on everything I could think of. It is arrogant to think we come up with everything on our own – it is by standing on the shoulders of the giants that came before us that allows us to see farther than if we stayed on the ground.

4. You have to have faith in your vision

Schubert began making Grange in 1951 on an experimental basis, with the 1952 vintage being the first commercially released. Poor reviews followed and in 1957 Schubert was ordered to cease making Grange. He persisted in secret and as the early vintages began to age, the true value of Grange began to be appreciated. Schubert was instructed to restart production in 1960 – management was unaware he had never stopped. Schubert had faith in his vision and in his ability as a winemaker that Grange would be truly special. He wasn’t worried about early criticism – he was playing a long game and so persisted in his work. It is very important when you have a goal or vision to have faith in your ability to achieve it – 90% of the criticism you will hear will be from people that don’t want you to succeed, and you have to be able to persist through such criticism if you are ever going to be successful

5. You have to have patience

Part of the problem with the world right now is the erroneous notion that true success can happen overnight with a great idea. Any person with intelligence knows this isn’t the case. Behind any one idea must be a hell of a lot of work, patience and persistence if it is to come to fruition. Grange is the perfect example of true craftsmanship taking time. It is a wine designed to be aged – drinking it upon release would be an incredible waste. Development of such a wine is something that can’t be rushed – all you can do is put it in a cellar and wait for it to slowly develop at its own pace. When you open it, you are rewarded with a truly remarkable wine. To even further underline the point, the original vintage of Grange is still drinking well. That original vintage is over 60 years old. Facebook is another great example of patience yielding rewards. In its early days, Mark Zuckerberg resisted the temptation to plaster his site with advertising when its popularity rose. He knew that he had something big and didn’t want to scare away his user base by encroaching on their experience with annoying pop ups and banner ads. He allowed the site time to mature while he continued to work on it, eventually realising that his site would allow a unique form of focused marketing to specific target groups (because people’s profiles contain personal details). In addition, due to the connection between Facebook users, referral and word of mouth advertising is being seen as the future in online advertising and is making Google very, very nervous. None of this would have been possible if Zuckerberg had given in to the first opportunity he had to make money.

Most of us will never change the world or make a mark on it as large as Max Schubert did with his iconic Grange. However, I believe that by following his example of true craftsmanship and applying it to anything we do, we can reach our highest potential in our pursuits in life.

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Taking the Hard Road

I have recently moved back to my home state after a 6 year absence due to being in the army. With the move obviously comes a whole lot of new things, one of which is the search for a judo club. I immediately made preparations to go back to the club I first started at – a big university club with lots of competition and hard training. Then I thought it would probably be a good idea to at least see if there were any new clubs close by. I found one just 10 minutes from my house and went there last night.

It was a good club. The facilities were good, the people were really nice, and the coach was a man after my own heart who put us through one hell of a training session. Upon finishing though, I felt a little sad. I was going to have to make the hard decision to most probably not go back. You see, along with one other guy there, I was the highest grade. “That’s awesome!” I imagine many people would say. I’d get to kick ass there every session. Believe me, when you’ve been out and seen the big, wide world, such a situation is a hollow feeling. It is one thing to be the big fish in a small pond that you’ve never been out of – you don’t know any better. When you have been one of the small or medium fish in several very large ponds though, you know just how little the pond you are in is and being the big fish is no consolation. Continue reading

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Better Man in a Month Day 9 – Don’t swear for a day

Swearing is one of those things we heard on tv or at the movies when we were kids, or we’d occasionally hear adults or even naughty kids do it. We all looked forward to the day we were old enough and we could do it too, thinking it would make us cooler and more tough. Unfortunately, there is really nothing that great about swearing. Sure, it can be good to do when you kick your toe or run into something just to get that bit of anger off your chest, but the way it is used today is just too much. People swear mid sentence, they use it as an emphasis, hell I’ve even heard it take the place of a comma on occasions. The fact is, however, in any but the most casual settings, swearing is frowned upon, and it should be. Today’s challenge is to go for 24 hours without uttering a swear word. Continue reading

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Better Man in a Month Day 7 – Personal Grooming

Personal grooming - nope, this is NOT what I mean

Well it’s Sunday, so rather than give you a big challenge to do today is going to be something really simple that will hopefully set you up for a great week at work. Guys can be pretty sloppy with their presentation in general and in their personal grooming especially because a lot of the time they don’t realise just how great an impression it makes. Now, when I say personal grooming I’m not talking about shaving your chest, waxing your legs or anything ridiculous like that. We’re talking just the basics here, which no one has an excuse not to take care of. The first reason personal grooming is important is because it shows you pay attention to detail and look well put together – very important for making a good impression at work. Secondly, while women do prefer masculine men, they also don’t necessarily like them to be filthy and unkempt. Continue reading

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Measuring success

Success is one of those funny words in modern society that is often heard, aspired to and held in high regard but does not seem to have an exact definition. Everyone wants to be successful, but what does that actually mean? What is it to be a successful person? A successful businessman? A successful family man? Almost all of the answers to these questions depend on the person being asked. One of the problems of modern society is that we as men are expected to be successful, but do any of us know exactly what the hell that means? Does it mean we have to be rich? Famous? Have a washboard stomach? Be super popular? It could be any of these or none of these. Continue reading

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The modern man’s guide to public speaking

 

Public speaking is one of those things most men, and women, are absolutely terrified of. Indeed, surveys have indicated that right behind death, public speaking is number 1 for most people. It doesn’t have to be this way. Public speaking, like so many other skills, is something that just takes a bit of practice. I think of it like riding a bike: once you have done a really good public speech, just like the first time you ride a bike properly, you can jump straight back on anytime with minimal practice. It is also like riding a bike in that it may seem scary at first, but once you do it successfully you’ll wonder what you were ever scared of in the first place. Continue reading

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Lessons in leadership from the military

Leadership has been a revered trait that mankind has valued since we first organised ourselves into tribes millions of years ago. Often when people think of great leaders, the military features very prominently. Names like Patton, Rommel, Bonaparte, Caesar and so on are etched into our brains as some of the most brilliant leaders the human race has produced. Having been in the army for 5 years now, I can say that the military’s reputation for producing great leaders is both deserved and not so deserved – I have had the privilege of serving under some truly great men but more often I have had to put up with people in charge that were utter morons but more importantly did not care about their subordinates or even worse used them and spat them out in order to further their career. Now, not everyone likes their boss, but one thing that marks a good boss or leader is that while some may not like them, they definitely respect them. Continue reading

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