The poet is the muse on the entrepreneurial journey | Allan Gray Orbis Foundation
The poet is the muse on the entrepreneurial journey

The poet is the muse on the entrepreneurial journey

“so you keep looking back
if you did not listen when the past was breathing…

so you keep looking back
even when the darkness is so thick it could touch your eyeballs…

feel the wall while you walk and hold,


glue your eye into the distance and keep walking

move, child,


if we don’t get there nobody must . . .”

From the poem Heat and Sweat by Dr. Mongane Wally Serote


Screen Shot 2015-09-29 at 8.25.26 AMA common Zulu adage: “kukude emuva, kukude phambili” comes to mind when I read these words by Dr. Mongane Wally Serote. It literally means: “behind is far; ahead is far” and is relevant when one finds oneself traversing, literally or metaphorically, unforgiving terrain and unsure of which way to turn. It’s at times like these that turning back seems easier to do than carrying on.

However when you’re equidistant from the starting point and the finish line, or, at least, if continuing either way requires the same amount of exertion then changing course could be wiser than either turning back or carrying on.

The entrepreneurship journey is no different and who better that Dr. Serote, who as a struggle stalwart, can personally attest to having experienced the heat and sweat during apartheid to inspire us about redirecting? Serote consciously redirected the course of his life by choosing not to focus on the injustices that steered him off-course in the first place. His story has inspired many to do the same. The key signs on today’s blog journey are: Spirit of Significance, Adapting and Redirecting.

The Spirit of Significance pillar is defined as the weight of personality that comes from living a life that is personified by passion and integrity; a recognition that ultimate personal satisfaction comes from empowering oneself in order that one may serve others.

Adapting is a mindset and it’s all about being able to make changes and adjusting behaviour (or way of doing things) to meet new or changing circumstances.

The attitude activator Redirecting is a process that appears to be going the wrong way but turning it around in a more positive direction.

Dr. Serote became involved in the Black Consciousness Movement during apartheid. He was arrested in 1969 by the apartheid government under the Terrorism Act, released after nine months in solitary confinement and exiled to America. He was barred from re-entering South Africa in the late 1970s after earning a Masters in Fine Arts from Columbia University in New York while on a Fulbright scholarship. Thereafter he worked for the ANC’s Arts and Culture Department in Gaborone, Botswana thereafter.

Serote has published poetry about social activism and resistance in numerous journals. In 1973, he won the Ingrid Jonker Poetry Prize and the Noma Award for Publishing in 1003. In 2004, he received the Pablo Neruda Award from the Chilean Government. He was the Chair of the Parliamentary Select Committee for Arts and Culture. He is currently the CEO and Executive Chair of Freedom Park, a national heritage site in Pretoria.

Serote’s poetry and writing during apartheid was a powerful outlet for the injustices of the era. His work gave a voice to the oppressed. It helped them to liberate and redirect themselves in a new and positive directions. From him we learn that pulling it together and getting back on track when things go haywire is about answering the following questions honestly:

  • What low points have you experienced on your business journey that, with some redirecting, you can turn around?
  • How interested are you in developing your capacity for redirecting?

The answer could come from a simple u-turn because as Barry Kayton, the CEO of Cognician Inc., once said: “Most new businesses fail because they fail at redirecting – pivoting away from a weak strategy toward one that is unambiguously successful.”

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