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

Hang on to the light

Life has become more complex and difficult by an order of magnitude over the last year. And I can’t tell whether it’s just because of the pandemic, or because it’s of the passage into the middle part of my life. It’s likely that the answer is that it’s both.

It’s left me with a constant feeling of being overwhelmed. Like there is an insurmountable about of things going on, of problems to deal with and help that is needed. The responsibilities have multiplied, and the stakes are so much higher than I’ve ever experienced.

I know that I’m in a process of stepping up, that I’ll eventually look back at this time with pride, at how I was able to deal with so much, while being in a pandemic.

But tonight I realised, in a profound way, that I’m really not on my own on this. That there are lights in my life, people to help illuminate the way, to shine through the darkness, and to reflect back to me the progress that I’ve made and how much brilliance there is to come.

I feel like my own light was just given a little more glow. Like one candle lighting another. And that the same spark I give out into the world is the same spark that will help bring back my fire when I feel like it is dying down.

And in the most serendipitous way, the song that played on shuffle when I got back in the car tonight captured this so beautifully for me:

Hang on to the light in your eyes and the feeling
Hang on to your love drunk original reason
Hang on to the small town you love but you’re leaving
Oh you won’t be a fool for so long
So hang on

Song of the day: Hang on – Needtobreathe

Role Models: Dale Williams

Today’s blog post is about a role model of mine that I am very close to, Dale Williams. I’ve interacted with Dale in so many different ways. In 2014 I was a student in his course. In 2015 I tutored on the course and he was my boss. In 2016 I was his assistant on the course. And more recently we have become colleagues.

In addition to being my lecturer, boss and colleague, Dale has been a mentor, a coach, an angel investor, a consultant and, most importantly, a great friend.

I could give 50 reasons as to why he is a role model to me. But I’m going to settle on the 4 most important ones. His lean philosophy, his strategic insights, his humility and the support he shows… for everyone.

Reason 1: Lean Philosophy

Dale operates on a lean philosophy with most of the things he does, which are loosely based on the “Lean Startup” principles.  This means that current work and new ideas are built on learning feedback loops (e.g. Kolbe learning styles) that allow them to be continuously improved.

The loops consist of roughly four components. The first is abstract conceptualization, which is having an idea of how things are currently done or could be done. The second is active experimentation, where the idea is tested before going our. The third is concrete experience, which involves implementing the idea. And finally, reflective observation, where the impact is analysed.

This results in being able to quickly and effectively implement new ideas. In the time I’ve known him, we have been able to improve the course in at least 20 different ways, mostly because of the rapidness of his lean philosophy.

Reason 2: Strategic insights

Dale uses a combination of a wide knowledge and a natural instinct to generate some of the most interesting and impactful strategic insights. He uses this when implementing his own ideas or when helping people with theirs. And I’ve been fortunate enough to observe and receive these insights.

For example, we once had a situation where a group of students were unhappy with an aspect of the course. The normal reaction from a lecturer here would be to push back or ignore the students. Instead, while he was gathering information about the issue he took time out to reflect. And in the space of just a few minutes, he decided on a path that was both unconventional and lead to the students being happy with the outcome.

Reason 3: Humility

Despite helping so many people, from students to executives at big banks, Dale always remains humble. He rarely name drops or sings his own praises. Instead, he highlights the work of others that have worked with him, and is quick to acknowledge their contributions.

Reason 4:  Mentoring and Cheerleading

Finally (and most importantly), Dale is one of the greatest supporters/fans of people and their ideas that I have ever come across. As mentioned in my blog yesterday, he has inspired and taught me how to do the same.

Over the last four years I have watched him support many students and business leaders in their projects. He sits on the board of a number of student startups. He has given funding and invested in ideas and businesses (including my own). He consults and supports whenever he is able to (for free). And he will never hesitate to put you in touch with someone who could help you further

Dale is an incredible mentor, leader and friend. He is connected to the people around him, thinks critically and creatively, supports people and is humble.

And I can’t wait to continue learning from him.

Image is from Dale speaking at an event organised by a student last year

Blog: 340/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey
Song of the day:ID vs Mako - Smoke Filled Room

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We really do deserve this

“I don’t deserve this”

I remember my friend saying this as we came over the ridge and saw the Kommetjie sea below us. It was almost sunset and we had beautiful music playing in the car.

As we got into the beach house she said again 

“I really don’t deserve this”

Fast forward a year to today and I’m at her birthday party at a house by the sea. We’re deep in conversation about being able to do things for ourselves.

“Rowan, we really do deserve this”

I was talking to her about not letting myself enjoy experiences because there was either work or a worry about money. It’s why I often save as intensely as I can

“Rowan, we really do deserve this”

And the more she said it the more it began to stick. That I’m allowed to spend time and money on myself. That I don’t need to feel guilt.

It’s okay to splash out. It’s okay to use your resources to your advantage.

In fact, it’s more than okay…

We deserve it 

Image is of our sundowners spot yesterday 🙂

Blog: 332/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey
Song of the day: Akon - I'm so paid

Give, give and give some more

Most of the vibrant friendships and experiences I’ve had in my life have started with giving unconditionally. Either by someone giving to me or vice versa.

For example, last year I was hosted in Switzerland for a few nights during the St Gallen Symposium. My hosts were warm and generous. They let me come a few days early. They took me around the city, showed me some of the best foods and spent a significant amount of time with me. The experience was phenomenal.

Next week, the same person arrives in Cape Town. And I can’t wait to give in return. She’ll be staying at our place and I plan on taking her all around the city. She’ll also be staying with my mom in Joburg.

We’ve spent less than 5 days together in total, but we’re really close. And it’s due to her being so generous

Giving makes you happy

Apart from the bonds that are formed and the chance to receive as well, giving actually makes you happier. A famous psychological study in Switzerland showed that people that gave away money rather than keep it were happier. Significantly so.

We might be predisposed to selfishness, either inherently or due to society. But it’s in giving that we find the most happiness

Image is from a little drive we went on this afternoon 🙂

Blog: 301/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey

Song of the day: Gryffin Elley Duhe- Tie me down

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Get amped

I love people who get excited about what they do.

Regardless of what it is.

You love accounting? Awesome!

You get giddy when talking about coding? Brilliant!

You are passionate about global development? Wonderful!

I spent my lunch break today chatting to someone about innovative finance mechanisms for fighting poverty. She got so animated that I almost exclusively became interested in her excitement. Her eyes lit up as she discussed all the work that she was doing

My favourite people are not one that are in a specific field.

My favourite people are those that get amped about their own.

Image is of one of my favourite people, Thabo, when we were having drinks at the Gin Dock earlier this 

Blog: 291/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey

Song of the day: Ariana Grande - Break Free ft Zedd

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

But first, let me take a selfie

My friends, particularly those I don’t see often, know that at the end of a catch up I usually ask for a selfie. Regardless of whether we’re in public or at someone’s house.

The reason I do this is to have a bookmark of when we see each other. A reminder of the times we meet up. And I use things like google photos to group these photos for ease of access.

It’s a little cheesy. But at the same time, it’s something that is so great to look back on. I know that I have a picture for almost every major friend event for the last 8 years or so. A breadcrumb trail to link our current existence to our past. And a way to watch our friendships transform over the years

Image was taken at SARS on Monday. This cute kid borrowed the security guards phone to take a selfie

Blog: 184/365

Song: Kodaline -High Hopes