Maybe, Maybe Not

The dualities of life are a funny thing. One minute you’re prancing across the dizzying heights of success, and the next, you feel as if you’re standing in the deep trenches of despair. It is easy to be caught up on this wave of life, allowing your moods and attitudes to reflect the push and pull of the world around you.

Seeing people who are constantly riding this volatile wave has made me think very seriously about my own life journey. Everyone has ‘ups and downs’, but when I allow my character and disposition to mirror these ups and downs, I must remember that I am only expressing a fleeting reflection of outside pressures.

Consider this ancient parable:

There was a farmer who had a strong, hard-working horse. This horse could plough fields all day and carry heavy loads. The farmer’s neighbours, who did not have such a prized animal, often said to him, “You’re so lucky to have that horse.”

The farmer, going about his work, simply replied, “Maybe, maybe not.”

Then one day, the farmer’s horse broke through the farm gates and ran away, leaving the farmer without the animal that he had come to depend on. The farmer’s neighbours said to him, “Gee, you’re so unlucky that your horse ran away.”

The farmer, getting on with life without his horse, simply replied, “Maybe, maybe not.”

A little while later, the farmer’s horse came back with ten mares, all strong, fit and healthy. The farmer’s neighbours gasped and said, “You’re so lucky to now have 11 strong horses to work on your farm!”

The farmer, grooming his 11 horses, simply replied, “Maybe, maybe not.”

The farmer’s only son decided to take a ride on one of the mares. On the way home, the mare bolted and threw the farmer’s only son to the ground, crushing his legs, which became infected, and later leading the son into delirium, balancing on the brink of death. When the farmer’s neighbours heard this, they said, “Oh no! Your only son is dying! You are so unlucky.”

The farmer, while aiding his son, simply replied, “Maybe, maybe not.”

Before long, war was declared, and officials came to the village to draft the village’s young men to serve in the army. Upon seeing the condition of the farmer’s only son, the officials decided he could not fight, and so they did not draft him into the war. A few days later, the son’s fever broke and he regained his health. The farmer’s neighbours, whose sons had all been drafted into the terrible war, cried out to the farmer, “Oh, you are so lucky that your son did not have to go to war!”

The farmer, while hugging his son, simply replied, “Maybe, maybe not.”

I am always revived when I hear or tell this story. The moral is that the true significance of things that happen in our lives can never be totally understood at the time they are occurring. Every event holds elements of both good and bad, and the true implications of the event may not be truly known for many years. Life will throw so many things at us and it is our job to steadily steer through all of it to live our lives doing what we need to do. Who has the right to say whether something is good or bad; lucky or unlucky? Even bad things happen for a reason. My father used to always say to me, in Spanish, that “everything bad happens for a good reason”. How true this is.

Please take a moment to ponder… If we allow ourselves to be thrown around by life and if we wallow in self-pity or boastfully brag during good fortune, we are allowing ourselves to become the puppet of something we cannot control and are blinding ourselves to tomorrow’s ramifications of today’s events. Take the good with the bad. Ask yourself if YOU are lucky? I hope that you find the answer is: Maybe, maybe not.


Joseph Bismark
Group Managing Director
QI Group

The Straw that Broke the Camel’s Back

Number 47

The Straw that Broke the Camel’s Back

Until a few years ago, I was always rather confused when it came to the old adage ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’. It perplexed me that a single piece of practically weightless straw could do such damage to the desert’s equivalent of a monster truck. It wasn’t until I travelled to the Middle East and asked one of the locals about the actual meaning of this saying that I came to understand the true depth of the phrase.

I was told that apparently, a straw really did break a camel’s back. The camel had been piled up with so many loads of bags, sacks, pots, rugs and other items that when the final handful of straw was placed on top, the camel simply collapsed.

I often feel just like that fully laden camel must have felt. There are times when I feel like I am so heavily loaded with not sacks of rice and bags of wheat like the camel, but with approaching deadlines, feelings of frustration, organisational disagreements, differing of opinions and so on. And there seems to be a reverse correlation between the heavier my load gets and the less I express my frustrations. Because unlike the camel, I have the ability to express the reasons why my ‘back is breaking’ and do something about it. It all comes down to another adage: Confront or Conflict.

Never be afraid to confront issues before they become conflicts, especially if the other person involved is a close friend, colleague or relative. True friends are those who tell you how they really feel. We may hear good news every day from strangers, but it takes a true friend to be comfortable enough to confront you with your best interests at heart.

Before our load becomes too heavy, we must try to remember that if someone’s actions are causing us frustration, or if a friend, family member or colleague is doing something that annoys us, we must confront the issue before it turns into a conflict. In other words, we must speak up before a whole lot of issues build up on our back to the point where one small and somewhat insignificant matter becomes our proverbial ‘straw’. There is a limit to how much people can bear, we must be vocal about this limit.

Please take a moment to ponder… if we do not confront what is annoying us, it will inevitably lead to conflict. And if we are confident enough and comfortable enough to confront those things, then we must remember that it is the issue, not the person, that we are confronting.

Improve your management and leadership style; enhance your communication skills; and resolve the issues that are piling up and becoming a burden. Confront or you will conflict.


Joseph Bismark

Group Managing Director, QI Ltd

The Curse of Complexity

Number 46

The Curse of Complexity

The year 2009 has now dawned and we find ourselves looking straight down the barrel of another long, busy year ahead. With this realisation, it is only natural that we are now all striving to ‘get our houses in order’, so to speak, and are shifting through the many physical, mental, financial, tangible and intangible facets of our convoluted, complicated lives.

As I was doing this myself – wading through the mountains of responsibility in my mind; making mental notes to myself as to what I hope to achieve and when I must achieve it by; mentally calculating just how much it seems to cost these days in order to simply live, as opposed to a few short years ago – I found myself seriously pondering the thought: “How and when did my life get so complicated?” And I realised that it wasn’t just my life that was complicated, but life in general. When did the ‘day-to-day’ become so contorted with complexity and confusion?

Once I had started this line of thought, I just couldn’t help myself. I kept thinking more and more about the path that we, as human beings, have taken from simple, community-based societies that used to manage just fine without computers, electricity, common conveniences, huge egos, overwhelming ambitions, unnecessary stress, ready-made food, a houseful of material possessions, and so on.

We, as people, survived just fine without the many complications of today. Life was simple, but it worked and we were happy. But if the complications of today, on which we have learned to utterly rely on, were suddenly taken away, in what state would that leave us?

What if we woke up tomorrow and there was no more electricity? How would we maintain our complicated lives? How would we maintain our society or maintain general civic order? I remember the catastrophe of looting, violence and chaos that sprung from the natural devastation of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in August 2005. The city was cut off from electricity for days, was without communication, and at least one whole day passed without any access to drinking water. Hurricane Katrina struck on 29 August 2005, and by the very next day, the city had collapsed into a state of looting and desperate measures by ordinary folk trying to survive without the ‘complications’ they had come to depend upon. Police and rescue teams were forced to split their resources between saving victims of the hurricane, and upholding law and order amongst all the plundering and crimes in the streets. After one day of no electricity – a modern complexity – and that is what happened. The situation saddened me and scared me.

How can we get ‘back to basics’ and simplify our lives? How can we ‘de-clutter’ ourselves and revive the Earth? How can we learn to remove the complexity of our everyday existence and get back to what matters? If we look through ancient times, we see that as civilizations are created and subsequently grow, it is ultimately their increasing complexity that spells their demise. Today, within our own modern, technological civilization, it just might be that we have reached the end of the line, and the compounding complexities of civilizations past, combined with our own, may in fact cause an end to it all, with no hope for this civilization to survive, nor for another civilization to grow in its place.

Please take a moment to ponder… If we continue to complicate our lives with material things and needless thoughts; if we continue to use energy as though it were unlimited; if we insist on burning through our natural resources as if they will never run out; and if we constantly jeopardise our own future by failing to secure provisions for the future, then our lives will grow ever more complicated and the Earth will become totally smothered and suffocated by complexity.

Within our own company, we can help to minimise the effect our own business complexities have on the environment. Turn off the light when you leave the office, and try to use natural light whenever you can. Think before you print that email, report, information sheet, etc. Use both sides of your paper. Ask yourself if you really need the air-conditioner or the heater. Try to catch public transport to work, or ride a bike to improve your own fitness at the same time. Use products that are made from recycled materials. These ‘green’ measures also work in your home activities.

In our own personal lives, we can try to minimise the complications we face by sticking true to the mantra made famous by Richard Carlson: Don’t sweat the small stuff. We can de-complicate our lives by coming to a realisation about what really matters. In the long-term, material wealth is elusive, but spiritual wealth is paramount and enduring. Spend time with the people who are important to you, and relieve yourself of time spent on wasteful activities.

Break yourself free of the complex ties that bind you to a mindless, consuming life. Open your eyes, smell the roses, and flush yourself of your life’s complexities. We’ll all be better for it.


Joseph Bismark

Group Managing Director, QI Ltd

Resolution for the New Year!

Number 45

Resolution for the New Year!

A sincere Happy New Year to all! If you have made it this far, it means that you have another chance to make it right and better your life this year in 2009.

I don’t know about you, but for me, I always get so excited receiving a New Year calendar or diary. I can’t wait to begin January 1st so I can list down all the things I would like to do. Many things on this list are things that I was not able to do last year, nor a year ago. Who knows how long I have been trying schedule a daily routine of exercise, learning a language, reading a book, building a relationship and so on…

What is amazing and also sad is that my calendar would only reach February and then the diary starts becoming scratch paper, where I write down notes and scribble down ideas. It seems like the days move faster than I can fill them up with appointments and activities, these things that I fail to have time to do. And when I fail to meet the times in my diary, I feel so guilty until I reach that point that I can’t bear to write a schedule into my diary anymore. Then I end up simply using my diary to make notes.

I am sure that I am not alone here and that most of you are in a similar situation. So, on this day, the first day of the New Year, I ask myself, “How do we actually keep up with time which moves so fast and manage to do all the important things that we want? We still need to be able to live a life without having to stress ourselves in rushing against time to catch up on the things that need doing.

The day, despite having only 24 hours, is perfect. Let’s not try to add to that, nor feel that the hours are not enough to do the things you want. All you need to do is not manage time but manage the events of the day. The day, although comprised of time, is also comprised of events. And events are more important that time. Time will be almost impossible to manage as it moves on and waits for no one. But your events can be moved around ever-moving time to suit us all perfectly. All you have to do is to be flexible with your events and make sure that those events fill out days. I have categorised events into three main sections:

1. The Important Matters
2. The Matters of No Importance
3. The Urgent Matters

The Important Matters

What are the important matters? I think of the important things as being the events that will be good for me, my family, and for others in the long-term. The things important to me are religion, love, relationships, health, wealth, community service etc.
These things are all important, but most of them seem to take a lesser priority against meeting with our daily matters, when we think about it, are really matters of no importance or urgent matters.

The Matters of No Importance

The way I see it, the matters of no importance are:
A. Gossiping, talking nonsense and criticism
B. Smoking and excessive drinking
C. Over-eating of unhealthy food

The Urgent Matters

Urgent matters are things that I failed to plan for in the past and are now catching up with me. These urgent matters force me into drastic measures and require me to call for help. These matters make me claim to others that they are ‘important’, like rental bills, credit card bills etc.

The thing to notice when looking at these three categories of events, is that the important matters are things important to your life, not just your day. By looking at it in this light, we come to the realisation that we are living a life, not just a day. Even when looking at my New Year calendar, although I am looking at a whole lot of days, I must remember that each day is not in isolation, but are small parts of my entire life.

If you write in your diary that at 6am you will exercise, but then you sleep in late, you feel guilty that you have not achieved what you wrote in your diary. You rush to get ready for work, have breakfast, and begin the next slot you have marked in your diary. The thing is, just because you didn’t manage to exercise in the allotted time, you must not feel guilty. Why not manage your events, rather than your time? Why not exercise later in the day? Look at your list of things to do and identify which are matters of no importance, which are urgent matters, and which are important matters.

It is the important matters and events that you should manage and treasure, so that just because you didn’t do an important event at a certain time it does not mean you forego the event.

Let us all take a moment to ponder… Live your life, not your day.

Take this opportunity to seize your New Year diary with hope and a sense of what it truly represents: a small chunk of your life full of events, not time. Use your time wisely, but manage your events as if your life depends on it… because your events are your life.

As Theodore Roosevelt once said: “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”

I wish you a happy and healthy life and a successful and prosperous New Year.


Joseph Bismark

Group Managing Director, QI Ltd