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“Girls with dreams become women with vision.”

IMG_2548This was written on one of my birthday cards last year. I have a lot of dreams, from running my own company, getting a phd and finally writing a book about start-ups. Living in London, I am surrounded by ambitious women with equally bold dreams. However, the devil is in the detail and turning dreams into a vision whilst juggling all the competing demands of work, friends, family and life in general can be tough. Alex Hess, a partner at a private equity firm, philanthropist and mother said at a recent Eyedea event: “The desire to always want do more when there is never enough time is a trap that catches us all.”

What if we could just do more things a little bit better and a little bit faster? New York Times reporter, Charles Duhigg, has attempted to solve this conundrum for us and compiled his lessons into eight neat chapters in his recent book: smarter, faster better. The Secrets of Being Productive. As can be expected from a Pulitzer price winning author, the book is a pleasure to read and provides inspiring tales of Jack Welsh’s turn around of General Electric to how Disney’s Frozen became a hit (and almost didn’t get made), alongside a set of practical recommendations from agile thinking to forecasting the future. I have road tested his tips this year and below is a summary of my personal highlights on how to do more things better.

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“You have to be really well tempered to put up with the things that happen here. It’s not good men but supermen that are needed.”

“In reality, the thought of remaining in the Congo continued to haunt me long into the night, and perhaps I did not so much take the decision as become one fugitive more.”

Che Guevarra to Fidel Castro in 1965.

Streets of Kinshasa
Streets of Kinshasa

 2013 did not end well for Congo Kinshasa. A group of armed youth attacked the airport. They were quickly overpowered by the Congolese army, but the incident left a bitter taste in the country that otherwise had a relatively good year.

On November 5th Congo defeated the M23 rebel group, one of the main rebel groups in the East that murdered its way across the Kivus, drove 800,000 people from their homes and continued to destabilize the region. During my last visit in Congo the mood was upbeat.  

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A long commute to work and a surgery that temporarily bound me to the couch have had the positive effect that I read several eye and mind-opening books in the past weeks. Three lessons stood out:

  • We live in the most peaceful of times
  • All is not lost in international peacebuilding and
  • Trust your guts when making a decision.

1. We live in the most peaceful times ever

Steven Pinker: The better angels of our nature. A history of violence and humanity.

Pinker - Better Angels of our Nature Image: www.BookDepository.co.uk

Pinker – Better Angels of our Nature Image: http://www.BookDepository.co.uk

In 1000 odd pages Steven Pinker has managed to answer every single question I ever had about violence and war. Would the world be more peaceful if it is ruled by women? Is the War on Terror justified? Were the dark ages really that dark?

First, Pinker  sets out to convince the reader of his main point: Violence is and has been in steady decline. The rest of the book is dedicated to identify, proof and refute several explanations for why that is. Homo universalis Pinker delves deep into history, politics, sociology, psychology and biology to seek explanations. We learn that through the Flynn-effect humankind becomes gradually more intelligent. The literary revolution and globalisation has brought us closer together and made us more empathetic and thus less inclined to hurt each other.

And more Americans condone violence to reach political goals than Pakistanis. His source base is a joy for every researcher: surveys, quantitative data sets, literature from Kant to Nabokov, secondary studies, archival documents and art.

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Dear European Union,

I know that you don’t particularly consider the guys on the British island a trust worthy member state, but I hope you still read their newspapers. I don’t mean just The Sun to satisfy your obsession with the monarchy, I mean you should look occasionally into the Guardian, even though its Euro criticism might annoy you and it makes fun of your Empress Angela.

This weekend I found two stories side by side narrating about narrow perspectives and global tragedies that you are still happy to ignore.

The two stories I am talking about is the bestowment of yourself with the Nobel Peace Price. The other story is about a candidate, who did not make it all the way to the top. A Nobel Peace Price nominee, whose name is unlike yours not a common household name. Is it because the majority of Europeans would have trouble pronouncing it or maybe because he has not the right European colour ?

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