Go your own way

Since we’ve been in the far-off land of Kommetjie, the Barefoot man and I have started a new early morning ritual walking on the mountain with a good friend who also lives in the village, weather permitting.

And yes, I really do mean early morning – a clear sign to those of you who know me well that my life has well and truly changed!  Usually we’re up at about 6:30 (am) and get to the Friend who (really) loves Flowers’ house at about 7am, with Phoebe the Fox Terrier leading the way.

When we get there the two Jack Russells who belong to the Friend who (really) loves Flowers and Phoebe dash around in mad excitement while the humans mumble and make their bleary eyed way to the wooden walkway that eases the first little bit of the route up the side of Slangkop.

Slangkop is the small peak that rises up behind the lighthouse on Die Kom (or the little Bay, I’m told) that gives Kommetjie it’s name, and is predictably called Slangkop Lighthouse. The path that leads up the side of the peak is the same initial route that hikers take up to the top as part of the Hoerikwagga trail – a 5 day hiking trail through the Table Mountain National Park which is, I have come to understand, fairly large (read: the Barefoot man looked at me in disbelief and pity when I announced a year or so ago that I never realized that the National Park covered pretty much the whole of the Peninsula from Table Mountain to Cape Point, and not just the “mountain” itself).

The Friend who (really) loves Flowers and I usually plod chattingly up this initial really steep mountain path with Kommetjie settling down below us while the Barefoot man races up with all 3 ecstatic dogs and then waits at the top of the mountain near the abandoned and fascinating remains of Camp Cobra.

Camp Cobra is a World War 2 radar station that must have been a great posting since it saw absolutely no action except the spectacular views of the bay and probably the occasional whale sighting.

From there on the path wends it’s way across the top of the mountain plateau through some of the most pristine fynbos I have seen yet. The pincushions and proteas are both in high colour at the moment, and up here on the mountain top they form enormous impeccably round bushes that are easily twice as tall as I am, and are utterly covered in orange or yellow pincushions or the famous pink-red hue of the default protea. From far off they look like gigantic pink and orange puff balls dotted about the mountainside enjoying the sunshine!

And in between the giant puffballs and the truly dramatic vistas out over the sea or off across the bay to Chapmans Peak with the good old Table in the distant background, you will find a dazzling array of – you guessed it – flowers. Which may partly explain why the Friend who (really) loves Flowers is a long-term devout resident of Kommetjie!

Fynbos is a fascinating thing. Since I’ve spent more time in and around it in the past two years, I have begun to understand the obsession people have with it.  As part of the Cape Floral Kingdom it is the smallest of the world’s six floral kingdoms, yet has the highest rate of diversity of all of them with over 9000 species of plants occurring in this small area – over 6200 of which are endemic, ie. Do not grow anywhere else in the world!

Now from far off or watching it flash past your eyes as you drive through to your next Cape viewing spot or wine tasting venue, fynbos does not always look that spectacular. In fact it can look a bit boring really. But it very much comes into it’s own when you start walking through it and every two and a half steps there is a new plant, or a different looking flower, or a sudden burst of colour flashing from the nearest Protea bloom in the form of a tiny sparkly Sunbird.

And somehow the more you look, the more you see. Even the Friend who (really) loves Flowers and also really, really knows a lot about them (think scientific names and stuff) is often surprised and delighted by the discovery of some delicate purple bloom with gorgeous asymmetric petals and carefully painted patterns and swirls to entice just the right type of bees in.

After the beautiful winding path through the fynbos there is a symbolic upstanding rock formation which declares you have reached, well, this point…

…and may now descend the sandy path that leads down toward the picket fences of suburbia and the beach & sea beyond, passing neatly by the Catholic Monastery which has some of the best views in the village.

The steep sandy path is another favourite dog spot with all three canine companions wagging their tales furiously in anticipation of the Barefoot man’s mad downhill dash to end the walk – a dash which they relish and indulge in with great glee – some faster than others, it must be said, but still with much enthusiasm!

It is one of the best ways I have found to start a day, though it does have the attached risk of making one feel like you would rather stay up on the mountain and watch the sea all day than climb back down and tackle the not so precious mountain of email in your inbox. Still, a small price to pay for such a privilege.

It turns out that recently all 3 of us  have decided to write a blog about these magical morning walks. It makes sense, after all, that something so special should be shared more broadly.

What makes these blogs really interesting, however, is how similar and yet how different they all are. The same experience has lead us all to quite different points of reflection and focus, even though we all touch on the same info rich stuff.

Where the Barefoot man finds a fabulous route for people to take their kids exploring and a little bit of history to reflect on, the  Friend who (really) loves Flowers finds a delicate bloom worthy of much attention, many photographs and instant transformation into the beginnings of a new design for her homeware range. I suspect she may even start composing songs of praise for the flowers soon.

All of which beautifully illustrates the idea that is central to what I believe about brands & their businesses: at the heart of every single business and brand is the story of why that brand is unique. It’s more than just what you do (ie. Take a walk on the mountain), it’s how you do it (slow & chatty or running like the wind), and  – critically – why you do what you do and how you do it (for the perspective or for the flowers?) that makes your business story unique. And when you find that story at the heart of your brand or business, you are beginning to understand your unique, ownable and unassailable intrinsic differentiator.

And, as this brilliant article from Fast Company points out, the Product and – perhaps even more critically – the Purpose (or the Why?) is really the only way to long-term competitive advantage.

After all, it makes sense that if you don’t know why you’re doing something you’ll soon run out of steam for it, but if you know with single-minded clarity what your Purpose is on this path, you can take over the world. Or even reach the top of Slangkop on your own terms. Most days.

Good thing the view really is worth it. Even Phoebe thinks so.

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