DEPOSITA’S KUTLOISISO MONA SHARES LESSONS LEARNT FROM THE MUNGA, AND HOW OUR PASSIONS HELP US PERFORM BETTER AT WORK
Having worked at Deposita for nearly nine years, Kutloisiso Mona (Kutlo) is a natural-born leader and independent thinker. He is passionate about extreme sports, technology, and in particular – the shared benefits at play when exercise and work meet.
“Our passions can be most beneficial in our work life. Whether it’s developing high-level software applications for cash management systems or taking on one of the world's most gruelling mountain biking challenges – passions inspire us to develop commitment and build resilience.”
Kutlo, the Head of Software Development at Deposita, believes in challenging the status quo, rejecting all things mediocre, and persevering through trialling times because it brings out the very best in us.
In this interview, Kutlo chats about what inspired him to take on The Munga – the toughest mountain biking challenge on earth. He shares some of the insights that came out of his experience.
What inspired you to take on The Munga?
This is the first Munga I’ve completed. I’ve always enjoyed the idea of doing something a bit more challenging than usual, rather than doing something mediocre. Anyone can get on a bike and cycle 5 km or 20 km, but you should always try and challenge yourself to do more than you can now.
This was one of the targets that I set for myself at the beginning of 2021. It was in January that I said, “Okay, I’m actually going to do this race.” At the time, the longest I cycled was 200 km, at most. Basically, I saw The Munga as a real challenge, because I did not know whether I had it in me to actually do it.
How does pushing yourself in sports make you a better performer at Deposita?
Whether you are driving new software innovations at Deposita or pushing yourself at The Munga, it’s always a case of finding fresh ways to raise the bar get to the next level.
Most of the guys would probably look at me like, uh, Kutlo, are you sure we can do this? I’m like, yeah, I’m sure you can do this. My personal mantra – “Mediocre isn't good enough.”
In my role at work, besides challenging myself, I also have to challenge my team. Often my team will respond in disbelief when I insist that something very challenging can be done. But once the group mindset shifts and doubt becomes replaced by practical solutions, fear is quickly replaced by confidence.
As a team, we have to consider that we have all the right equipment and skills in place to actually design a piece of software. It comes down to pushing beyond what makes you uncomfortable to get to that place where innovation and success thrive in abundance.
Look for challenges that make you uncomfortable; things that you don’t know how to do. Even if it’s going to make your life difficult.
Don’t shy away from a challenge just because you don’t know how. Go and find out how to do it. Get the experts to help you. But don’t just say, “I don't know how to do it and therefore it cannot be done.” Focus on something that forces you to consciously work through each step on how you are going to do it.
At Deposita (or during The Munga), how do you stay motivated when things get really challenging?
If things get really hard – let’s say you make a jump from 80 km to 1 000 km, or there’s a really challenging piece of software that needs to be designed – it can be tough. Sometimes you might even find yourself asking, was this even a good idea? Can I keep going? Whether it’s at work, your team that you have to support, or having to keep going in one of the toughest mountain biking challenges on the planet – positivity goes a long way. It pays to have a few rules that you are not willing to break:
Rule 1: Commit yourself fully
The important thing is that you are personally invested. If you have made the commitment to undertake a new challenge, stick with it. Believe that it can be done. Yeah, maybe you’re right in the middle of it now and you’re starting to see major challenges – but that only means you’re getting closer to success.
Often, I find that it’s not that I’m tired from riding, it’s more a case of not knowing how you’re going to finish 1 000 km. The same applies to work. Then you have to bring yourself back to the moment, right where you are, and focus on the present.
Rule 2: Find the root cause of any problem
When you’re faced with a difficult challenge, try and pinpoint the exact error that you are dealing with. At Deposita, a great piece of software could not be working, simply because a line of code is missing a semicolon.
You’ll have a team spending an hour or more looking for it. All they see is that the programme is not working. Go back to the present. Failure to pay attention to the detail of what exactly is wrong at that specific moment is the bigger problem. Fix it so that you can move on to the next thing.
Rule 3: Remember how far you’ve come
To give you a practical example, it’s like being 727 km into The Munga and suddenly feeling like you can’t go on. Just keep hitting it. Don’t walk away. Then it becomes a case of becoming aware of where you are right now. Ask yourself – what’s really the problem? Okay, so I’m tired. Well, that’s great.
I’m already 727 km into the race, so each new kilometre now becomes a new milestone. You are working through it bit by bit – eating it like an elephant. It’s amazing that something so obvious could escape your mind in times of extreme pressure.
You’d think that being an extreme athlete prepares you for the work that needs to be done. Same thing with work at the office, right?
Do you think participating in extreme sports can help improve your performance at work?
I definitely think so. If you look at any extreme sports event – you don’t actually need to be a pro athlete to compete. With The Munga, there were athletes finishing in about 60 hours or so. And then I finished – about 40 hours later. The cut off was 120 hours, and some even finished later than that.
When you look at Deposita and the kind of work we do, we have a huge range of devices that manage transactions with the help of our team. If something were to happen, like a technical error or server cut made the system tumble, then the same rule applies: don’t panic.
You might not have practised for a challenge quite like the one you are facing, but you have practised and you have what it takes to work through it.
All you have to do is ask – what is the root cause of the problem we’re seeing? Cultivate the mindset to look at things objectively. Avoid shifting into worst-case-scenario mode when thinking about what could go wrong.
I remember, at some point during The Munga race, I got so tired that I had to sleep right where I was. Things didn’t go according to plan. But then you don’t plan. You just say, okay, it is cold. I wasn’t expecting it to be cold, but hey – it’s cold. The reality is you have to do something to solve the problem. You put something warm on at the next place available for you to get warm and to sleep, sleep, sleep.
Deal with the issue right there and then. And don’t start thinking about how much your body will hurt tomorrow or how you won’t be able to finish the race or exceed your target time. Just stay in the moment.
For me resilience means to keep working on the problem until you fix it. It’s a little like getting into the habit of not quitting – it’s just not an option that’s on the table.
Does exercise help you deal with daily challenges at Deposita?
Exercise definitely helps you perform better at work. When you exercise, your mind starts to switch off and you process the events from the day. Where you weren’t able to even comprehend a specific problem, you may now find yourself coming up with solutions – because you are systematically working through things.
Objectivity is a wonderful thing. You remove yourself from the problem and suddenly you start to see the solutions come.
Whether it’s work or extreme sports, exercise gets you to actually deal with whatever it is that you need to deal with more objectively. If you’re battling with a specific problem, go for a run or a cycle – you will find the solution.
What were some of your biggest challenges during The Munga?
Unforeseen obstacles popping up when you are already so tired. These would often be basic – a dry place to sleep, a mattress to sleep on, a place to shower, and some food and water. The race has what we call “race villages”. Race villages are basically B&Bs where there are proper facilities for people to sleep. Along the way, you would also find water points where you could sleep – but those spots were not really equipped for sleeping.
Fortunately, some people were extremely supportive. I don’t think they get paid for that. In one case, there were people who volunteered their private property so we could actually stop and sleep.
On day two, it was windy and really cold. Normally, it would take me about three hours to complete 60 km. At that point, I was doing maybe half that. One home owner was very kind. She organised mattresses and blankets, because the facilities were not there. So, at one point we had about 30 people sleep there, and I mean – this is their home. We were even served coffee and pancakes. That was really refreshing; to experience that kind of hospitality.
What were some of the small changes that made a big difference in the end?
The one thing that I changed was the discipline. Jumping from 5 km to 1 000 km is no small adjustment and requires a solid training programme and an early start each morning. On some days, I would wake up at 5 am and go for a 200 km cycle, which meant that I would only be back around 4 pm.
Sometimes you would wake up and just not have the energy to go and ride. But then I would remember the commitment I made to myself, put everything else out of my mind, and just stick to that plan.
Human beings thrive on a good routine. Experts have many different methods for creating habits. Some of them say doing an activity for 21 days in a row will make it a habit. Others recommend setting clearly defined goals. But, what works for one person will not work for all. If you want to commit to exercising, schedule it as part of your daily routine.
Once you start getting into the routine of exercising, not quitting, never giving up, and always pushing on – things become a lot easier.
Did you receive any support from the Deposita team?
The support from Deposita was much more than I expected, to be quite honest. When I signed up for this race, I signed up from a personal perspective. I wanted to do this and for me, this was a bucket list kind of thing. So, when I was telling the guys at Deposita that this is what I was going to do, I didn’t think I would get the kind of support that I did.
From being a sponsor to allowing me the time to train – I don’t think I would have been able to do it without Deposita.
Sure, you can do the race with an average bike and equipment. But, it’s just like working on an old PC when you’re coding – you don’t realise how much better you can perform, until you get a new computer.
What is your next big challenge?
This is probably the only Munga I’ll be doing in a while, because it’s quite challenging.
Work-wise, the nature of my work at Deposita is quite challenging too. Simply because we’re creating cash processing software where the margin for error is nil. And I think, as the head of software development, my new goal is to put a lot of effort into making that challenge less.
I firmly believe we can create a reality where people look at challenges and say, “No, that’s not such a big deal. This is really just an opportunity; a place for me to grow and become more than my previous best.”
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