Bottled at source

All good things in life come from source. The source is where magic happens. It is about labours of love. It is about purpose. You can’t fake it.

A talent can be nurtured. We all have talents but most of us are not honest about what those talents are. The journey to the source is about brutal honesty.


Since I was a child – wait, let me rephrase that – since, in this area of life, I am still at heart a child, I have been seduced by the notion that there are things in this world that defy rational explanation, that perplex and bewilder, that argue against the evidence of your own eyes.

Things that vanish and reappear as you watch, things that burst into flame, things that shift shape, things that read your mind.

The scientist in each of us wants to know the workings of the trick, the step-by-step mechanics that lead to the unveiling of the a-ha moment. The child in us just wants to believe.

The magic of magic lies in the way we are willing to suspend our disbelief, to share in the conspiracy of seduction and intrigue and revelation.

We know, on a rational level, that there is an explanation for everything, a proof for every concept, a QED for every theorem. But who really wants to live in a world where magic must always surrender to reason?

There is science in magic, but so is there magic in science. Look at this bottle on the table, its teardrop shape harbouring clusters of hydrogen and oxygen molecules that bond with each other in chemical ignition.

As I untwist the cap and pour, I notice the proclamation at the foot of the label, the proud testament to origin and authenticity. “Bottled at Source”.

Here in a restaurant, far away from home, in a wintry city where snow is drifting on the streets, I have a moment of epiphany: isn’t everything?

Inspiration springs from a source. Creativity springs from a source. Success springs from a source. Failure springs from a source. Love, hope, chaos, faith and magic: they all spring from a source.

Maybe, if we could capture these emotions, freeze-frame them and hit rewind, track them all the way back to their point of genesis, we would be able to reverse-engineer the secrets of the universe. We would discover the meaning of life. Life! Bottled at source.

The water rushes into the glass, a micro-cosmos of bubbles colliding and fusing, sending little bursts of spray into the air. I picture the shores of an Alpine lake, a melted glacier, where the cold, clear water is scooped and splashed into pristine crystalline vessels.

Bottled water. The essence of our age. The perfect blend of hydrogen and oxygen and money. A friend in the restaurant business tells me that the markup on bottled water is somewhere in the region of 4,000 per cent. No wonder you can’t order it on tap in this place. It would be like asking for Champagne that didn’t come from Champagne.

But now I’m thinking further back, beyond economics, beyond bottled water, beyond the Buddha Bar, beyond time. I’m drifting through space, chasing the source, trying to imagine a point before the blackness exploded into light, and nothing transformed into something.

In my mind’s eye I can see the void, the claustrophobic emptiness of matter on the cusp of being born, in the pinprick of an instant before creation or the Big Bang.

But wait. How can any of us hope to imagine a time before imagination? How can we presume to think about what it was like before there was anything to think about? Before there was thought? Before there was light?

It hurts the head to dwell on these things, to go that far back in search of the source. I make a U-turn. I am looking at fire dancing, at the liquid, molten sway of the flames, when I hear my name being called from some star-flung corner of the cosmos. “Ronnie, what are you thinking?”

I snap out of it. “Nothing,” I say, shaking my head, lifting my eyes from the candle-lamp and looking into hers. “Nothing at all.” And then I reach into my pocket again, and I pull out a slip of paper as thin as a wisp. I hold it over the flame and let go. Fwoooosh! The fire erupts, hangs in the air for an instant. And then it takes wing and is gone.

Look, I’m pretty new at this game. I’m not a professional. I do it for fun, I do it to learn, I do it to see the look on people’s faces.

And one thing I’ve learned is that if you do it right, if you practise enough, if you don’t make it look like you’re trying too hard, you will eventually discover the meaning of life.

Because the meaning of life is a chemical connection, a spark, a moment of revelation, as quick as the whip of nitrocellulose on a flame.

The meaning of life is magic.


No one can deny that much of the Western world is bent on pursuing cold cash. Ask a bunch of high-school graduates what they want to do when they leave school and nine out of ten will say: “We want to make money.”

So, if making money is important to you, then you have to consider how you go about achieving such a goal. You often hear people refer to smart individuals with expressions like “he is a clever guy, he is going to make a lot of money”. There certainly also seems to be a strong sense that smart people make money. Now, I know many smart people with money. But then I also know many, many smart people with no money. And of course, I also know many pretty dumb people who have made money too. My conclusion is that you don’t have to be smart to make money.

In my short life I was lucky to have made some money at a young age. I am still not sure how it happened. I don’t think I am dumb, but I don’t think I am that smart either. I am certainly hard working and I never give up. In my case, I was never trying to accumulate wealth. I was trying to do something magical and inspired. The fact that our work suddenly was valued with some large amount was a mystery to me. But, I was not going to complain.

I know all the cynics out there are going to be very quick to dismiss what I am saying here, but I am used to it by now. If I were passionate about creating ice sculptures, say, then I would have pursued that, but I am not sure how much money I would have amassed from such a journey. Even if I persisted and got really lucky, I mean, how much money is there to be made sculpting ice? Of course, I am just using this as a silly example. Perhaps if I looked into this further I may discover that there is indeed money to be made in the ice-sculpting business. But it would not have mattered. The money would not have inspired me. Following what I am passionate about would have been the primary motivator. But, enough of this. Let’s move on. The point is that people typically excel with endeavours they love working at, and, if they make money along the way, well, the way I see it, that is a bonus.

There is a famous story about an interview with American tycoon J Paul Getty. When asked about the secret to his vast fortune, he commented: “The secret to success is this: you wake up early, you work hard, and you find oil.” Yes, luck plays a big part of any business venture. If you love the work you do, and even if you work at it like there’s no tomorrow, there is no guarantee things will be a success. If you have bad luck, then all bets are off.

Universities are full of very clever professors with no money, and the world is full of crazy characters who are loaded with cash. Of course, there are also a lot of smart people who have built big businesses. But the bottom line, whether you are smart or not, is that there is one that everyone needs to succeed – luck!

Not that success is measured by a number or a dollar sign, but I wanted to talk about the pursuit of material wealth and what ingredients are needed to achieve this goal. Luck, in my view, is a key element. It has been said that luck always favours the persistent. We all know Gary Player’s famous quote: “The more I practice, the luckier I get.” But there is also something else to consider: where you dig for oil! Yes, the more you dig the luckier you will get, but if you dig for oil in the Saudi Arabia you are bound to be much luckier than if you dug in the Sinai Peninsula, for example. Follow your nose, watch for the omens — you can make, or break, your own luck!

Let’s face it. Some guys are just idiots, clear and simple; they bark up the wrong trees all the time. But I will say it again. You don’t need to be smart to make money. You need to be persistent and you need to have luck. I know plenty of monkeys in the world that have made big money by selling stuff to other monkeys. One thing, though: they are all persistent and they treat their customers well. The customer is king, they will tell you. The vast majority of them appear to spend very little time looking after their staff, but for the customer they will bend over backwards! I think it is the smarter folk — or let’s say, the more inspired or perhaps even the more humble — who treat everyone the same. Treating your co-workers with respect and giving them the same time, if not more, than you give your customers appears to me to be the domain of the more enlightened.

I came to know a man many years ago. He seemed like a very nice person. But he had no problem selling luftgesheft. He would sell you a car with a lemon engine and it didn’t seem to worry him. He made a lot of money from his efforts, and he was certainly persistent. He was quite a charming guy, which also must have helped. But, I knew one thing to be true, he would not hang on to that money for long — easy come, easy go. He certainly was not that enlightened or inspired or smart. Just as he took your money and sold you rubbish, so someone would do it back to him. This is how it generally seems to work.

The most important thing I ever learnt in life is that you don’t invest in ideas; you invest in people. Technology doesn’t make money — people make money! And people with luck can make a lot of money. I was always taught that you would rather invest in a bad business with good people than in a good business with bad people. Of course, a good business with good people is first prize.

What is luck, then? Someone people say luck is all about timing. When we started Internet Solutions our timing was indeed fantastic. The fact that a bunch of like-minded people came together, who were all living at home, free of the pressures and responsibilities that go with raising a family or paying off a bond, the fact that such a group could focus for seven days a week on something they loved doing — well, that was very, very lucky. But making the business work in a market with many competitors, many of whom had long track records and deep pockets … well, that had less to do with luck than with chutzpah, risk taking, passion, dedication and obsession.

You could cross the street tomorrow and meet the person of your dreams and end up getting married. That would be luck — good timing! But making the marriage work is not about luck. It is about commitment and sacrifice. It is about passion and integrity. We had many competitors in the year we started out, and they all made us nervous with their size and experience. Still we gained the dominant market share and have held on to it for over 20 years now. And that has very little to do with luck. Of course, this is just my perspective; I could be wrong.

A very wise man once told me that business is about 10% seichel (smarts) and 90% mazal (luck) and those who use more seichel always land up making less money. When you get too clever for your own good, you often mess things up. Don’t mess with a winning formula! And don’t forget who you are and where you have come from.

I think the key to all of this is to be honest with yourself. We all have to play the cards we are dealt. And, when it comes to cards, luck is important.

You can indeed make your own luck. Let’s look at an example. If you drive around all day cursing people on the roads, cutting them off and giving them the finger, well, then someone is going to take you out. On the other hand, if you are respectful of others, and you smile and greet people and you generally give a shit about those around you, that will probably bring you better luck. I guess that old cliché rings true here: the best way to receive is to give.

Now, let’s throw out a curve ball to all those who are in hot pursuit of cold cash. Let me depart with something else Mr. Getty once said: “If you know how much money you have, then you are not really rich.”


Do any of you remember the movie Jerry Maguire? Now this was a show! Talk about pulling it all together. This was an amazingly spiritual journey. Watch it again, and again. The main characters are Jerry Maguire played by Tom Cruise and Rod Tidwell played by Cuba Gooding Jr. An amazing transference takes place as we witness two heroes who go on a journey (motion pictures typically feature a hero who goes on a journey of sorts and whose character goes through a transformation, or “character arc”), one learning how to love a woman, and the other learning how to love the work he does. By the end of the film Jerry accepts his responsibilities as a man, and as a husband, and Rod comes to terms with his purpose – he learns to work, in this case play football, from the heart, not from the head.

Jerry undergoes a struggle right at the start of Cameron Crowe’s masterpiece of a screenplay where he realizes that work is the transference of love made visible. You see, Jerry loves what he does, sports management, that is, but he does not like the fact that everything is becoming about money. He cannot reconcile trading quality for quantity. He can’t sleep one night and he gets up and says, “I had lost the ability to bullshit.” He sits by his laptop and writes his turning-point memo – the mission statement his company needed: Less customers, less profits, better relationships. He got fired that week. Jerry was right. This is the problem in the world today.

Rod Tidwell is a man who understands the importance of personal relationships. He loved his wife, brother, and family more than anything in this world. Hence, he was looking for the personal touch in his career – he was a people’s person. After being fired from his “sports factory” Jerry becomes a sports agent with one client and the pay-off line was “In Rod we Trust.” Leaving the movie aside for now, let us look at what has happened here. Two people struggle to find balance in their lives. They are deeply spiritual but they each have only half the equation. Life is about relationships, in the home and in the workplace.

This story is about quality and quantity. Jerry and Rod’s character arcs are in the opposite direction. But both are focused on quality. They lack balance and together this transference in the other direction is facilitated. From work to family in Jerry’s case and from family to work in Rod’s. This is a compelling moment when Jerry says to Rod, “You are a pay-cheque player. No wonder you haven’t got your big contract yet. It’s because you play from the head and not the heart.” The message here is about my favourite subject: PURPO$E. Do what you do from inside – play and work with love and passion – do it from the heart – and the entire universe will conspire to reward you!

So, what was Jerry saying in his watershed mission statement. Was he saying we don’t want your business? Perhaps what he was saying is that we want to grow relationships and there are only so many hours in the day. We cannot cheat nature although with technical advances in the area of cellphones and e-mail etc. we continually try. Well, Jerry didn’t buy it.

The skeptic’s movement is growing rapidly, and although sometimes one needs to be cynical at times there are those romantic stories that do come along that really do have things to say based on something more profound than sales, ticket sales at the box office that is in this case. Things that are actually worth listening to. Jerry Maguire is one of these precious gems. No, it’s not perfect, and no, it may not uncover truth for every last second of its running time, but if you come away from it with a frown rather than a deep desire to take a step back and look at yourself, then there’s no romance in your soul at all.

We all love movies. Have you ever really thought why though? Sure, there are 2 hours of escapism when your body and mind don’t have to work. But there is more to it than that. Movies that really inspire us present stories where a person, the hero, goes on a journey and transforms from one state to another. Some may learn to love another person, someone may learn to forgive, someone may learn to work passionately, and so on. And this is what we all want in our own lives. We all want to change ourselves and movies present this alternate reality. They allow us to escape into an unreal world and participate in the change we seek in the world. Gandhi once said, “Let us be the change we seek in the world.” Movies are a start in this direction. Motion pictures can be a powerful medium with a greater purpose. Movies can serve to enlighten and uplift the world – Jerry Maguire is one such film that did so. There will be more films like this in the future, especially in a time where so many people are looking for purpose in a pay-cheque. We live in age where people in the Western world are working longer and longer hours. Stress is on the up and up. And there is a growing consciousness towards spiritual identity. People are searching for meaning and motion pictures provide for entertaining detours often with important messages. Like I said, watch this particular film again – I think it will be even more relevant in this anxious economic time.

We always automatically read every story as a metaphor and measure our own performance and behaviour against those of the heroes and villains. Who are the heroes in this compelling movie? And who are the villains? The heroes are those qualitative people. And yes, for those villainous quantitative antagonists, we don’t want your business. Instead we want your friendship, your trust, your passion, we want to concentrate and focus on what is dear. This is the message of this great work of moving art: relationships are the most important thing in the world.