Rowan Spazzoli

Strategist. Lecturer. Consultant

Be an asshole

It’s a counter intuitive piece of advice. “Be an asshole” sounds like you’re telling someone to be mean or hurtful. It feels like a move that might impact their reputation or affect their work.

But this advice resonated with me deeply today.


Well, in my professional life, my default setting is to help wherever I can. Do an intro when someone needs one, act as a reference on an application, give support on an idea when someone is launching a startup.

And this has brought me immense joy. It’s helped me form beautiful friendships and allowed to delight in the success of the people around me. I’ve gotten to cap my mentee at graduation, start a successful business with someone who just came for advice, and be a small part of helping someone get the biggest scholarship in the world. And with these relationships, the impact on me has been as much, if not greater than what the impact has been for them

There are two problems though. The first is in situations where the person only takes what they want before moving on. This (mostly) happens unintentionally, but can result in a negative cycle of resentment that becomes really hard to shake. And regardless of whether the person meant to do this to you or not, it can damage the relationship permanently and leave a really bitter taste.

The second problem is when you’re battling through a situation yourself and have a complete lack of capacity to help effectively. In this case, trying to help someone may actually push you into a state of burnout.

And this where the airline safety announcements get it spot on… Put your oxygen mask on before helping put the masks on people around you.

Because if you are incapacitated, there is very little help you can give.

And this is why, sometimes, you need to be an asshole. It might frustrate someone who needs you, or anger someone demanding your time. But if you don’t lay down your boundaries and care for yourself first, it leaves you incapable of being able to help the people that you really want to help.

So yes. Sometimes, it’s good to be an asshole.

Hey Asshole – Watsky ft Kate Nash

A whole new world

The last time I wrote on this blog, the world was a little different. I was in Joburg with my partner and family. We were at the Gauteng champs, watching my little brother row and the Springboks win in Japan. There was plenty of social contact, freely available alcohol and space to travel around the country.

Now, around 6 months later, none of that is possible.

We’re living in an entirely different world, where banana bread, home-brewed alcohol and Zoom calls are the new normal. And eventually the virus will pass but the world around us will permanently be changed by it.

This time has given me the chance to think. A lot. And one of the things I’ve thought about is finishing the 365 posts that I set out to do on this blog. I’ve got 8 left after this one, and it’s going to liberate me to write a different kind of blog once these are done.

I’ll also be taking the opportunity to re-do my website, as I’ve begun to change my career path slightly since the outbreak of the virus. The new website will go up on the day of the last 365 blog.

I’ve got so many ideas and so many things I want to pursue, and this is going to be the start of my journey.

Image was taken at the house in Claremont where I’ve been staying and features two members of my #quaranteam

Blog: 357/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey

Song of the day: Hey baby by DJ Otzi

Work through the network

This year I did some work for an organisation for free. I was mostly doing it because I really enjoyed the project and I wanted to see it be successful. In the back of my mind was also the thought that it would provide an opportunity to network, but that was secondary.

Last week, one of the people I’d worked with at this organisation recommended me for a project with a consulting company in the UK. And, after a successful skype meeting, I’ll be joining the project team for a 2 week long project. And getting paid for it.

My aim when doing the free work wasn’t to network or to try and get other work. But it ended up being just that

Building a network means giving before being able to receive. And sometimes, just sometimes, it pays off.

Image was taken in the GSB courtyard this afternoon

Blog: 285/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey
Song of the day: Mama look at me now - Galantis

The Friday Shoutout: Nova Economics

On Friday we submitted the report we’ve been working on for the last 4 months. It was around 170 pages and contained 70 000 words. We’d worked until 3 in the morning, putting the finishing touches on the doc.

It was a really intense process, but it was really enjoyable and I was able to learn so much. And that’s mostly because of the amazing company that I do my work with, Nova Economics.

Nova Economics was founded by Kay Walsh three years ago as a niche economics and strategy consulting firm. She previously worked at Monitor Deloitte and RMB as a consultant and economist, and has done work from consulting to big government firms to small education NGOs.

The reason Nova (and Kay and Sam) are my Friday Shoutout is that I am so so lucky to have a work environment and colleagues like these. Here are just some of the things that make it so special:

  • Complete flexibility: we get to our work wherever and whenever we want. It could be in a coffee shop on a Tuesday morning or at 3am on a Thursday
  • Understanding of mental health: within our little team of three, we communicate openly about mental health issues. And there is a lot of space that’s allowed when things aren’t going so well
  • Lots of responsibility: at Nova we get work that is challenging and given significant amounts of responsibility. We’ve been given the chance to present at big meetings and hold important interviews.
  • Great learning: because we get given lots of responsibility, we’re able to learn a significant amount on a day to day basis.
  • Great pay: speaks for itself 😉
  • Wonderful chats and lunches: our discussions range from politics to economics, genetics to green industrial policy. And every lunch is spent in full conversation.
  • Awesome projects: I’ve worked on three projects so far. The first for a listed company in manufacturing. Then for a government agency doing work on beef genomics. And most recently for the provincial government on a green economic development project.

I’ve loved the work I’ve done with Nova. And my colleagues, Kay and Sam have been incredible.

So a shoutout to the team, thanks for being so awesome!

Image was taken at our work lunch on a wine estate in Stellies 🙂

Blog: 256/365

Song of the day: Zedd and Elley Duhe – Happy Now

Right where I want to be

I’m absolutely exhausted and have been struggling to find the energy to write my blog post. So instead of writing anything insightful, I’d just like to take a moment to appreciate where I am right now with regards to my work/professional life.

Today I worked in four areas:

  • Behavioural economics and psychology
  • Teaching strategic thinking (applied to development outcomes)
  • Market analysis and strategy formulation for green economic development in Cape Town
  • Social entrepreneurship

The first was done in relation to my thesis. Despite it not being quite finished yet, some of my preliminary results will be presented at a conference on Monday.

The second was done at UCT when we met to plan the exam for this semester. It’s going to be an incredibly interesting exam.

The third was in relation to my consulting work on my green economic development project.

The last area was assisting with the submissions for the Oxford “Map the System” challenge. I’m the organizer of the South African leg of the competition.

I honestly am in awe of how fortunate I am to be working on all these exciting projects at the same time. I’m exactly where I want to be and I couldn’t be happier 🙂

Image was taken at Babylonstoren a few weeks ago 🙂

Song of the day: The Quiet - Roald Velden
Blog 159/365. Read more about my #365of25 journey here

Working on Sunday; Resting on Wednesday

My regular day and week looks quite different to that of other young professionals, particularly those in corporate. I usually wake up at around 8.30/9, and spend each day working on 3 or 4 projects. These might include lecturing, working on my startups, consulting or writing my thesis. I’ll usually stop working at about 2 or 3 in the morning. So my work day starts later and ends later than most.

My most productive day is normally a Sunday. I love working on Sundays because most people aren’t working, meaning I can clear out emails, get nice parking on campus and can get stuff done without distraction. I then usually rest on a Wednesday or Thursday, when the rest of the world is being busy.

Not All Good: The Problems

There are a few things about this schedule which don’t work so well:

  • Often I’ll be trying to get work done but am limited by the fact that other people aren’t working. For example, if I need to call someone and can’t because it’s 3 in the morning
  • Not having a boss is cool, but the problem is that I have no one to check up on me or to prod me when I’m going slow. So sometimes a few days will go by with very little work being done
  • Working on multiple projects at the same time means that some end up filling up too much time and others get shoved to the side

But Still Pretty Great: The Benefits

Some of the things that are awesome about this include:

  • Having complete control of my time means that I can set my priorities. For example, as discussed in previous post, when friends come to visit I can schedule my time around them.
  • One of my favourite things about this life is avoiding traffic. I only ever travel outside of rush hour, meaning that I’ve sat in traffic only a handful of times this year
  • I can set up my time for maximum enjoyment and spontaneity. I can do what I want when I want to, as long as I get my work done

Age of the Freelancer: Every day is Sunday

I can go on about the pros and cons of this life schedule, but will refrain from doing so. I don’t think it’s for everyone, and it is definitely a lot more difficult than it looks. You have to be your own boss, secretary and employee at the same time.

I think, though, that the world is moving towards this kind of flexible work. Technology has given us the ability to communicate fluidly and work dynamically. The only reason there is a lag in this type of work being adopted is that it isn’t what people are used to, a companies are still caught in old ways of doing things.

For me, I know I still have a long way to go until I have mastered it. I’ve been living in hierarchal structures my whole life. But this year I’ve learnt a lot about how to manage myself. And it means that, ultimately, I will have the autonomy to direct my time and energy where, when and how I want to.

And also, that any day can be my Sunday.

Image is from a trail run I went on with a friend around Devils Peak at 8am on a Tuesday morning. It was an epic run and I ended up getting home just after 11. Another perk of my flexible lifestype