Rowan Spazzoli

Strategist. Lecturer. Consultant

The Special Day

“What are you going to be doing on your special day?”

This came up a few times today. Friends and family asking what exciting things I had planned for my birthday. 

And to be honest, I hadn’t thought about it all that much. I’ve planned a dinner at the end of the week, but for my actual birthday I wasn’t too concerned with doing anything different.

“I hope you’re not going to be working”

Another common message I got today. That I should not subject myself to anything that I didn’t want to do.

But what I wanted to do today was pretty much what I do every Tuesday. It went something like this:

  • A morning coffee and some music
  • A phone call with my mom
  • Weekly therapist session
  • Some general admin (dropping off a box of donations, getting car things done)
  • Some thesis work
  • An interview with someone for my consulting project
  • Lunch at the waterfront (with friends)
  • A little bit more research and work
  • A sneaky visit to my uncle for tea
  • Spending time with close friends and having a few drinks
  • Writing my blog and listening to my favourite music

And as I started writing this blog I realised something. 

That this was a special day. And it was also a normal day.

I realised that I’ve gotten to a point where every day is special. That I’m doing exactly what I want. And that I wouldn’t want to do anything different.

My work is part of the joy. My flexibility allows me space and time with friends. And the things I do every day light me up.

And so for my “special day” today I did exactly what I do every day.

And it was wonderful


Image was taken from my uncles apartment 🙂

Blog: 344/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey
Song of the day: Leventina ft Syntheticsax - Here workin' (Dinka Remix)

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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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Strategy Webinar Resources

For anyone tuning in to my webinar today, here is the list of resources. Below you’ll find the slides I’m using as well as all of the various organisations and tools I refer to. (I’ll update this post with more info after the webinar)

The direct link to the stream can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FqrnhemvjHk

The topic for the webinar is  “Strategic Thinking: Solving Global Challenges” and will cover some of the most important strategy tools that I teach at the University of Cape Town, applied in a global development context.

Slides for the webinar

If you’d like a copy of my slides, follow the link below:

Part 1: Defining Strategy

  • Battle of Isandlwana: http://www.thisiskzn.co.za/reliving-battle-isandlwana-fugitives-drift-lodge/

Part 2: Rumelt Framework

  • Good Strategy/Bad Strategy: http://goodbadstrategy.com/
  • Bulungula incubator:  http://bulungulaincubator.org/

Part 3: Strategy Tools 

  • Map the system: http://mapthesystem.sbs.ox.ac.uk/resources/
  • Theory of Change:  https://www.povertyactionlab.org/sites/default/files/3.%20Theory%20of%20Change%202014.03.10.pdf
  • The Clothing Bank: http://www.theclothingbank.org.za/

About Global Changemakers

A big thank you to Courtney and the team who have put this together. Details about Global Changemakers are below 

Global Changmakers is one of the world’s largest youth empowerment organisations headquartered in Zürich, Switzerland and represented in over 180 countries – from refugee camps in Europe to sprawling cities in Asia, indigenous communities in South America, islands in the Pacific and beyond – by 1000 of our ‘Global Changemakers’. These changemakers are young people who work to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) within their communities, countries, regions and across the world and whose work has benefited over 4 million people to date.

Follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for more updates and info on their work. 


Image is intro slide for the webinar

Blog: 330/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey
Song of the day: Opposite the Other - High Hopes

Remember: your environment shapes you

Today I had a conversation with one of my former students (let’s call her Cath) about careers, which included a discussion on yesterday’s blogpost. We ended up specifically speaking about the convergent nature of how we decide our careers, and how your environment shapes what is (perceived to be) available to you.

This point came up in two dramatically different ways.

The first was that Cath works for a literacy NGO where she has been teaching children to read. One of her students told her that he wanted to work as a shop assistant at a discount retailer when he was older. When pressed with why he wanted to do that, he explained that his mom liked this particular retailer and it was the best place he’d ever seen.

In other words, all the information available to him was that this was the ultimate career to strive towards. And the reason that this was frustrating for Cath was that as soon as she explained how many other options were available to the child, he lit up at the ideas that existed

The second, in a great twist of irony, was that Cath has been wanting to change her career path. She dislikes the current trajectory (accounting) and would love to be involved in education. Whenever she talks about education, she lights up like a Christmas tree. And she shows her spark.

However, everyone around Cath is following the accounting path. All her friends and classmates. And her family expect her to go down that path too.

So in the same way that her student’s environment points them to working at a discount retailer, her environment points her to becoming an accountant.

And the best way to get out of this?

Incorporate influences into your environment. Have people show you there is a world outside your bubble. Find teachers, friends, mentors or role models.

And this applies to Cath’s student too. One of the best ways for them to dream bigger is to have influences like her in their life. And exposure to people from their community that have gone on to do incredible things.

We must never forget that our environment shapes our decisions. And that we can influence this environment to help us find and reach our goals and dreams.


Image was taken at Khayelitsha Mall last week friday

Blog: 328/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey
Song of the day: Younger - Opposite the Other
(this song fits the theme of this blog post quite nicely)
(And it's by former UCT students)

My Webinar on Strategy with Global Changemakers

Ever wanted to hear me deliver a seminar?

If your answer is no… then…. um… that’s okay. My feelings aren’t hurt or anything.

But if your answer is yes, then you’re in luck!

On Thursday 11 October at 2pm CET (that’s 3pm in South Africa) I’ll be giving a webinar for Global Changemakers as part of their free webinar series. 

The topic for the webinar is  “Strategic Thinking: Solving Global Challenges” and will cover some of the most important strategy tools that I teach at the University of Cape Town, applied in a global development context.

If you’d like to sign up for it you can do so here (or here: 
https://goo.gl/forms/omq9CPiQ5Gr6sfXE3). You’ll be able to ask questions on the sign up or during the webinar itself (or you can email me at rspazzoli@gmail.com)

The direct link to the stream can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FqrnhemvjHk

The webinar is free and open to anyone, anywhere. So you’re welcome to invite friends and family to join in.

A big thank you to Courtney and the team who have put this together. Details about Global Changemakers are below (and updates will be posted to their Facebook page).

See you next week!

About Global Changemakers

Global Changmakers is one of the world’s largest youth empowerment organisations headquartered in Zürich, Switzerland and represented in over 180 countries – from refugee camps in Europe to sprawling cities in Asia, indigenous communities in South America, islands in the Pacific and beyond – by 1000 of our ‘Global Changemakers’. These changemakers are young people who work to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) within their communities, countries, regions and across the world and whose work has benefited over 4 million people to date.

Follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for more updates and info on their work. 


Image is the information for the webinar 🙂

Blog: 323/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey
Song of the day: Man in the mirror - Michael Jackson

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Engage or coast, the choice is yours

The course I teach on, Strategic Thinking, is designed in such a way that students have a choice. They can choose to coast through the course, and their general knowledge and intellect is likely to get them through.

But they can also choose to engage.

Engage with the lecturers, who have been in academia and in industry.

Engage with the guest lecturers, who include distinguished business people, entrepreneurs, politicians and academics.

Engage with the mentors and tutors, who have completed the course year before and are best equipped to help guide them.

There are also opportunities to start your own business, get venture capital, meet with consultants from a local professional services firm, and various assignments to engage you with the real world.

But do they engage?

The majority of the class will coast. They’re either not interested or are too worried about other courses in their degrees.

But there are some students who engage fully. And these students make it all worth it. For the teaching staff as well as for themselves

They come for consultations with the teaching team, and learn far more than the rest of the class. They’ll start business and gain significant experience while at university. Or they’ll make a connection that helps them find a career path or funding for their degree.

The ones who engage then often become part of the course ecosystem. They become tutors, mentors and lecturers. They continue learning about strategy, even when the course is done.

And to me, these people are the ones with the spark

They’re the ones that are going to succeed beyond their wildest dreams. And they’re the ones that are going to change the world.

So, whether you’re a student in my course or not, you need to decide:

Will you coast or will you engage?


Image is from our tutor dinner this evening 🙂

Blog: 302/365. Click here to read about my #365of25 journey

Song of the day: Black Coffee & David Guetta - Drive

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Meditating out a rut

I find that meditation is one of the best ways to get out a rut. It is also one of my most under-utilised.

This morning I struggled to gain momentum. I was feeling heavy from things that had happened over the last few days. I’d also slept badly and had some really weird dreams.

And these thoughts and feelings were following me around as if they were tied to my ankle

I took some time to meditate. And in doing so, I was able to remove the weight. And be more in the moment.

It’s hard to get yourself to pause and realise that your baggage is unnecessary. But once you’re able to, it’s quite liberating.


Image is of our bonsai plant in our living room 🙂

Blog: 205/365

Song of the day: The Next Episode – Dr Dre

Planning with the monkey

One of my favourite blog posts of all time is Why Procrastinators Procrastinate by Tim Urban. In it, he describes two different “brains”, one of the procrastinator, which looks like this:

NP brain

And the brain of the non-procrastinator, which looks like this:

P brain

As you can see, the main difference between the two is the instant gratification monkey. This monkey derails the rational decision maker constantly. He directs the procrastinator to seek food (even if he’s not hungry), meander through the internet, take naps and clean the house. All of this instead of working.

My brain looks like the procrastinators brain. Except the monkey is not a cute, innocent looking creature. I have an instant gratification gorilla called Dave and he is very prepared to beat the daylights out of my rational decision making side as often as possible.

black gorilla closed up photography

Actual picture of Dave, ready to ruin my day (Photo by Pixabay) 

So Dave is regularly able to derail my day. But it’s okay, I’m usually able to recover some productivity. And on deadline days, Dave lets me have an extra bit of time as long as I feed him properly.

A week with no Dave

Dave and I have gotten quite good at living together. However, I have a major problem:

I never take into account that Dave will still be around tomorrow, next week or next month

For example, I’ve said to myself that next week I have no appointments for anything. So I’ll be able to put in at least 50 hours of work. Which would be fine, if Dave didn’t exist.

But he does.

And so I will get some work done.

And Dave will take his share of time too.

I did the same thing with this week. I estimated the amount of time I would have to work based on the idea that I would be completely rational and able to stay focused for an outrageous amount of time.  And I do the same with most of my work.

When I then get to the time that has been planned, I realise that Dave is still around. And I’m sent into a panic when I try and achieve maximum output when, in fact, I have a giant gorilla distracting me.

What are you on about Rowan?

Hold your horses (and monkeys), there’s a point to this.

When I plan my life and time, I do so with the maximum objectives in mind. As if all my time is spent optimally and there are no hiccups along the way. And 99 times out of 100, there will be something that sets me off course. Whether it’s internal, with my instant gratification gorilla distracting me, or external, with my stuff being stolen

This makes me feel like I’m consistently not living up to my expectations. As if I’m failing, again and again.

But I’m not.

I’m actually just plodding along at normal Rowan pace. Though my expectations are set way above that. So I feel as if they are constantly being missed.

I try to plan my life as if there is no Dave. But I should plan it with the active recognition that he is around. That he will be here tomorrow, next week and next month. Therefore I can continue to fight him (and lose) or I can accept that he is going to be here and make room for him.

I should plan for a distraction. For tiredness. For unexpected events.

I need to plan with Dave. Set up time to drift off, allow for naps and the odd derailment.

And in doing this, I’ll set more reasonable and achievable expectations for myself. Allowing me to be less on edge and allowing Dave the play time he needs.


Image was taken at Cape Point a few weeks ago. I’ve uploaded a different picture of this guy before, but I’m still upset he stole our Doritos

Blog: 204/365

Song of the day:  Fin Evans – Never Forget You (Feat. Alex Foster)