It was the 1st of January 2016 and I was stuck. Stuck in my uninspiring corporate job and trying to decide on what my next entrepreneurial play was going to be. After months of research, contemplation and soul searching I had observed two things. The first was how the main stream media was portraying the realities of entrepreneurship. Here is a series of headlines from this week alone.
What this does is paint a picture of entrepreneurship that isn’t entirely real but more importantly, it creates a perception that being an entrepreneur and starting a business is easy. I mean come on right, let’s all quit our jobs, start a business and be millionaires overnight? How great would that be? After starting 8 companies, 6 of which failed and 2 of which I sold, I knew this type of news was painting a picture of entrepreneurship which simply wasn’t true.
The second interesting thing I came across, was this article in MacWorld dated July 22nd, 2013.
Today, there is now an estimated 1.5 billion podcast subscriptions around the world – that’s 1 quarter of planet earth. Contrary to this was the South African context where podcast statistics were non-existent.
So, I came up with what seemed to be a terrifically bad idea, which was largely driven by one question and that question was this:
“How can I paint the realities of entrepreneurship and help South African entrepreneurs succeed using a podcast?”
By all accounts I should have failed – there was no podcast market to launch to and I had little to no idea about how to even produce a podcast. Despite all the reasons not to do it, I decided to do it anyway. From literally one listener (that was me) – fast forward 18 months to today, where I reach on average 30,000 people per episode with no bought media and have built a loyal listenership in 100 countries around the world.
By taking the leap into the world of podcasting and consequently building the Matt Brown Show into a global media platform, my life has completely changed. Today, I speak about my story to businesses and decision makers all about story telling. You see, the question I am asked most often is: “What has made your podcast successful?” To answer this question, I must point to two things.
Firstly, I’ve discovered that South Africans – especially South African entrepreneurs – have some amazing stories to tell, but for some reason the richness of these stories are lost in 400-500 word articles so commonly found in the main stream media.
The second reason is that I simply got lucky. While I launched to a podcast market that didn’t exist at the time, by fluke I caught the wave of new consumers who have switched onto the world podcasting thanks to growing smartphone penetration and overall awareness of the term “podcasting”.
There are an estimated 30 million smartphones in South Africa, ant the interesting thing about this stat in the context of podcasting, is that if you have a smartphone and more broadly an internet connection you can access a podcast and therefore the world of informal learning. But as great as this statistic is for South Africa, herein lies the problem.
South African podcast statistics are still almost non-existent to this day
But I want to change this once and for all.
And this is where I need your help. I have just released the “Pod Power” survey with the goal of undertaking the largest independent research project into the South African podcasting industry.
Why am I doing this?
Well, I believe that we all have a story to tell and as South African’s, the ability of a single story to make a positive difference to the communities that we hold dear are grossly under estimated. Every time I publish a new episode, I receive feedback from entrepreneurs who I have never met describing to me how much of a difference my show is making to their lives.
With that in mind, my intention with this initiative is to share the research data with a view to hopefully encouraging other brands and business owners to tell their own stories through podcasting so that they too can make a positive difference to the communities and customers that they serve.
And this is where your help is fundamental to the success of this initiative. Simply click here or go to http://bit.ly/sapodcasting to give your opinion of South African podcasting. It will only take a few minutes to complete and your answers will be kept confidential.
As a small token of thanks, you will also receive a free eBook on South African podcasting at the end of the survey. In today’s digitally connected world we should never under-estimate the power of our media to make a difference. So please join me in supporting this initiative.
What’s Smart About Cities? Inviting Exponential Possibilities
It is also what produces both their problems and their innovativity that needs to be considered.
Cities are intense. They are diverse, competitive and malleable – highly responsive to human and non-human action, sometimes in weird and unpredictable ways. Therefore, cities tend to be characterised by an elevated urgency, messiness and even volatility. And this intensity is what attracts many of us to them. It is also what produces both their problems and their innovativity.
What cities are not is a place to park off and wait for anything. These are energetic places where you have to be busy and engaged – light on the feet, fingers to the pulse, living in the dynamic realities and fantasies, and there are always old and new problems with which to contend. And this is exactly why innovation is often acknowledged as a largely urban phenomenon – the consequence of this intensity combined with other conditions, such as the concentration of knowledge organisations and infrastructures in urban centres worldwide.
So, whenever people ask me about smart cities, I have a standard response: “What’s smart to you?” And often what follows is a litany of tech solutions we could be deploying in cities to make them more efficient, more futuristic.
Now, I love tech as much as the next person and I am not ignorant of the exponential growth and fundamental impacts of tech in our times. However, I am also aware of another concurrent reality: that human population, and particularly in the youth category, has also been growing exponentially in Africa. And people (for now) develop tech. So, where do we locate smart or not smart?
Let’s start with some facts that we are all increasingly aware of. Today, over half of the world’s population is under 30, and two billion are classified as youth. In South Africa, already over 20 million people (35% of national population) are between the ages of 15 and 34. According to the United Nations, one out of three young people in the world will be African by 2050.
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How exciting! Notwithstanding the serious issue of planetary limits, we are looking at billions of young people who are designed to be creative and adaptive in a range of contexts and with the ability to exchange and learn. There are so many possibilities and directions imaginable! Yet when we start talking about how we innovate our way into and through the future, the focus is squarely elsewhere. Suddenly there are very few and very similar voices around the table that focus on the agency of a few and centre tech as the key driver. The agency of billions is occluded and they become the so-called entitled beneficiaries, use cases, and/or the grateful consumers.
Coming back to smart (and my assertion that I am not anti-tech) – why does this matter? Well, it matters because tech is developed and governed by people. People determine the assumptions and rules that we embed into what we encode. We en-culture tech so to speak – contrary to the simplistic claim that tech is objective or neutral.
In my view, it is not likely that technology on its own has the potential to be usefully transformative. Consider, the hyper-connected world that IoT enables or blockchain’s democratisation of not only administration, but also of traditional entrepreneurship and innovation systems. These could be transformative – but not if our processes of technological development and diffusion are the domain of the fortunate few, circumventing – or even subverting – the recognition and involvement of the billions. Barring blind faith in the benevolence of the privileged or in happenstance – the technologies are far more likely to reproduce our current structure and gaps of privilege and exclusion. This is a good example of how not to be smart: following the same old processes with new tools and expecting different results. And then not recognising it as such.
We need to get smarter. We need to activate the over 50% unemployed youth in South Africa as well as the billion who are living in slums all around the world. We need to cease thinking of inclusion only as an outcome, and instead tap into the dynamism of place and the spirit of youth to engage, play, imagine, try to mix. We need to open up to an abundance of visceral ideas and queer possibilities which speak to a multiverse of unique contexts, circumstances and considerations; which are witty, novel and generative.
This, in my view, is the essence of what we should refer to as “smart”. With this openness, there is the possibility of pursuing the idea that everything from the strategic to the operational processes and assumptions of technological change can be more relevant and transformative as processes of current inclusiveness than as solutions for a magical future destination called inclusion.
Imagine a situation where everyone was acknowledged as having ideas which any of them could pursue on the ideas’ merit and relevance, and with concomitant recognition, rather than advancement relying on arbitrarily (or even unfairly) assigned access and privilege and power? Imagine that…
“Smart” for South Africa – and for African cities – has got to be about enabling the millions and billions of youth to do what they could do best: energise and inspire. And while we may have been focusing on millennials’ poor education or non-sensibilities as the excuses for their perpetual exclusion, it is evident that even these assumptions need to be subjected to interrogation and innovation. The smart process has to be open to finding new ways of being and doing, and figure out how to make them work. The technologies will follow function, rather than vice versa.
The recently launched African Leadership Institute report An Abundance of Young African Leaders but no Seat at the Table (2018), bears a title that tells it all. According to this report, 700 000 young Africans have been exposed to some form of leadership initiative in recent years. Yet they get little opportunity to gain the experience of providing leadership and are, the report says, largely invisible.
Cities and emerging technologies are not abstract trends around us. Nor are they autonomous solutions for the future of humanity or so-called smartness. They are part of an ecosystem of which we are part, and in which we should probably be looking to enact different processes of engagement, given our challenges and desire to be smarter. We could start by inviting the transformative potential of our massive numbers of youth, drawing them out of invisibility. If we don’t recognise our real abundance – the abundance of youthful potential and possibility – then perhaps we are just waiting for a few people somewhere with their gadgets to come colonise our future with their version of what is considered to be smart, and then to specify our role in it. And that is really not very smart.
How Lexus Is Emphasising Quality And Taking Craftsmanship To New Heights
The seventh generation Lexus ES is crafted to the last millimetre and is the essence of comfort.
The seventh generation Lexus ES ushers in an era of performance, mirrored by design that stirs the soul. The exceptional body rigidity allows for incredible design freedom, resulting in design that has the confidence to stand out. The brave new design that is lower, wider and sleeker, giving this sedan a coupé-like silhouette.
The 2018 Lexus ES range has no space for mediocrity – every vehicle excels and provokes. The petrol ES 250 EX and hybrid ES 300H SE set a standard of excellence with unparalleled levels of sophistication, elegance and performance. The Lexus ES range places all available performance in the driver’s hands for an intimate experience. It is performance that can be heard and felt.
The new Lexus ES has a profile that is impossible to ignore. The striking signature spindle grille is a significant feature, a sculpted form that speaks of inherited architecture and meticulous craftsmanship. It is the embodiment of provocative elegance, of finesse and sophistication.
Every curve builds from the grille. Athletic headlights flow from the spindle grille, emphasising the sleek lines of the three-dimensional front-end while tracing the outline of the lowered roofline.
The Lexus Takumi craftsmen embody the quest for perfection by carefully refining design elements. Boldness is balanced with elegance, and innovative design characteristics are made possible by the new chassis platform that allows the New Generation ES to be longer, wider and more spacious than ever before, but with a sleeker and lower silhouette. The fastback roofline captures the glamour of a coupé and emphasises the low stance, while the interior roominess is all premium sedan.
The meticulous attention to detail of the Lexus Takumi craftsmen is evident in every inch of the Lexus ES interior. In a physical manifestation of Omotenashi, the Japanese philosophy of warm hospitality where your every need is anticipated and catered for, the Lexus ES offers a personal comfort zone, an escape from the ordinary.
The ES seduces you with details such as embossed stitching on semi-aniline leather-trimmed* seating and real wood trim*. The door panels flow into the instrument console, creating a sense of spaciousness, and at the same time placing all controls of the navigation*, Multi-information and entertainment systems within your grasp, while all driving related functions, as well as those for communication, are controlled from the leather-trimmed steering wheel.
Define your own personal climate with automatic dual zone climate control. The innovative nanoe air-purifiers cleanse the air and moisturise your skin, which is why stepping out of the new Lexus ES, is just as invigorating as stepping into it.
For further individual comfort, the front seats of all ES models have adjustable lumbar support, with standard heated and ventilated seats.
At Lexus safety is of paramount importance, which is why the new Lexus ES features the most advanced passive and active safety and driver support systems available. This is the most technologically advanced Lexus ES ever, with traditional measures of comfort merged with cutting-edge technology for all-encompassing driving pleasure.
* Available on ES 300H only
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3 Things Africa Must Get Right If It Wants To Leapfrog Into The 4th Industrial Revolution
Dr Sharron McPherson, who lectures on the MCom in Development Finance at the UCT Graduate School of Business, is optimistic that the coming technological revolution can benefit Africa – but that education, government buy-in and targeted support of small to medium businesses will play a critical role in determining if the continent sinks or swims.
“The 4th Industrial Revolution (4IR) and Future Proofing are current buzz-phrases in business, but what we are really looking at is the emergence of an entirely new economy,” says Dr Sharron McPherson, who, as co-founder and executive director of the Centre for Disruptive Technologies, “has over 1 000 disruptive techies around the globe on speed dial.”
Disruptive technology, that which is significantly changing the way business operates – a literal game changer – is seen as the spearhead of 4IR and it has people scrabbling for skills that will future-proof their careers and keep them ahead of the game. It’s a topic McPherson tackled, along with the impact of technology on finance, at Finance Indaba Africa, which took place on 3 and 4 October at the Sandton Convention Centre.
“We have to look at technological acceleration and the need to upskill youth as part of a whole,” says McPherson, who has studied the market in depth on behalf of governments and corporations using a substantial team. “Change is happening so fast it is hard for any one person to be an expert.”
McPherson comes as close as anyone to the role of expert in this fast-changing field. A lecturer on the MCom in Development Finance at the UCT Graduate School of Business, she argues that a new economic paradigm is emerging, and it is not driven solely by technology, but by global pressures such as climate change – with its very real implications for food, water and energy security – booming populations and the knock-on demands on land and resources, and rising terrorism, populism and nationalism as systems get stressed and people start saying “us first”.
“What differentiates 4IR from former revolutions is the quantum of change and the convergence of global factors of a magnitude quite unprecedented in human history. It is sobering, and yet I am encouraged by the time I spend with young people and those who are investing in future generations and the future of work,” says McPherson.
Born in the US, McPherson came to South Africa in the mid-90s armed with a doctorate degree in law from Columbia University, New York, to serve as a volunteer in the offices of legendary Constitutional Court Justice Albie Sachs in Johannesburg. She also has an honours degree in finance from the University of Toulon, France, and a BA Economics from the College of William & Mary.
“I was divorced, a single mom to a six year old, and I volunteered for two years,” she says. “I’d been working on Wall Street on mortgage-backed securitisations and I saw the light! In the mid-90s South Africa was the most exciting place on earth – the youngest constitutional democracy. I got bit by the African bug. It gets into your blood and makes it difficult to leave,” she says with a laugh.
Passionate about the continent, McPherson believes in the power of education to shift the future and wants all young people to have access to a high-quality STEM education (science, technology, engineering and maths) to ready them for 4IR.
“This is an opportunity that needs to be recognised,” she says. “Africa is uniquely positioned to leapfrog into 4IR, but we need make changes so that we can realise that promise. We have a choice to invest in the education of 200 million young Africans – it is a position of promise or peril.”
Unfortunately, as things stand, South Africa is “way down” on the list of the countries that are getting STEM education right. In an effort to democratise access to a STEM education, the Centre for Disruptive Technologies has invested a lot into the development of an artificial intelligence teaching platform that will have intuitive sensitivities when it comes to learner abilities.
But as important as investing in education is, it will not be enough to prepare youth for a world where many will not be able to get a job and will need to create their own work opportunities. The second issue that needs attention therefore, believes McPherson, is entrepreneurship and creating the right start-up ecosystem.
“We need to revisit ideas around enterprise development and how to get it right.”
One of the traps South Africa has created for itself is to bundle micro businesses with small and medium enterprises but these businesses often have vastly different needs – and prospects.
“By pooling these businesses with micro businesses you are limiting results. Small and medium businesses are the real drivers of growth and need to be specifically catered for, with defined objectives around their needs, driven strategies and allocated resources to make sure their potential is maximised. Start-ups and SME are also not the same. We need to understand and appreciated these differences if we want to develop the right ecosystems.”
This brings McPherson to her final point, the essential need for government to assume its role as a key stakeholder. “Everything we have done at the Centre for Disruptive Technologies we have done in collaboration with the private sector because we simply haven’t been able to get traction from government. To really prepare for 4IR we need meaningful private / public partnerships and African solutions,” she says.
Working with such macro challenges is all in day’s work for McPherson, who is also a keen runner, getting up between four and five most mornings to run. She also meditates – “taking time to reconnect with my values and helping me to not sweat the small stuff” – hikes, and speaks seven languages.
“I am a chronic over-achiever,” she says with a laugh. But she deems her highest achievement her daughter’s respect for her work in education and empowering women. “It is really lovely if your kid thinks that what you are doing is hot. That for me is good. I am so encouraged by the young folk who are so tech savvy, take a lot more risk than our generation and have a different compass. Their true north has a much stronger social conscience.
“It gives me hope for the future.”
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