#ImStaying is a Facebook group that is said to have been started with the intention of countering negative narratives about South Africa. It is intended to create inclusivity in a seemingly divided nation, to chant an anthem: “I AM STAYING!” However, the very notion of having an option to leave, but choosing to stay, is rooted in privilege.
Most of South Africa is not afforded that choice and stay out of necessity or not having an escape route. I joined the group in its early stages, hoping to indulge in stories excluded from mainstream media. What I came to find instead was underlying tones of rainbowism, tokenism, and other forms of patronising, paternalistic, privileged posts. The group was also heavily controlled, preventing any ‘negative’ comments, discussions or debates. Following from my encounter with angry drivers, I typed up a post and submitted it to the group. For a week, my post was pending approval from the group’s admin, after which someone on their side deleted it.
What did it say? It went something like this: “There is a theory in the social sciences that all the world’s problems can be traced back to three institutions: patriarchy, capitalism, and white privilege. What can we do to tackle these challenges and create the South Africa we all belong to and dream of?” Admittedly, I asked this question in the hopes of sparking a conversation but came to realise that this group isn’t the platform for confrontation, observation, or reflection. Here are three lessons for brands.
Lesson one: look for signs
Frustrated with the “toxic positivity” of the group, local artist David Scott of The Kiffness revealed that many of the people on the page were expats living abroad; they had, in fact, left (read the full story here). Scott has since created his own group, called #ImSlaying, in which people share comical photos and stories of themselves succeeding in life.
The original group should not be disregarded or completely discredited, because it exists for a reason. That reason might be that consumers of media are searching for other narratives, communities, and outlets.
False hopes are more dangerous than fears — JRR Tolkien, author
Lesson two: map the journey
South Africa faces the challenge of several legacies, of patriarchal power structures, of capitalist systems that create exclusion and invisibility, and of privilege that favours the few. We have been through this journey before. Coming from a highly racialised past and moving to democracy, younger generations have since called for the fall of sugar-coated reconciliation.
Knowing where we come from and what we have been through can help guide where we are going.
A generation which ignores history has no past, and no future — Robert Anson Heinlein, author
Lesson three: change direction
If we imagine transformation to follow the shape of an S-curve, it becomes easier to anticipate, prepare for, and shape change. A time of growth is often followed by a transition in which the old is discontinued, and the new emerges (read more about the Sigmoid Curve here).
It could be said that SA is currently in a state of transition, transformation, and uncertainty. What we do now will impact our trajectory going forward.
Where the fog is thickest, begin — Marty Rubin, author
A group of four men gathers on the pavement. A local gets nervous: “This might be the start of another protest,” he says. I am parked near an abattoir, and see a small truck transport some sheep in that direction —lambs to a slaughter, literally. The ocean air in Saldanha feels like salt on an open wound. Everything is stained a rusty red thanks to the steel factory, the town’s lifeblood.
It’s been months of talks and tension around the construction taking place in the area. Some even claim there’s a construction ‘mafia’ who behave in a destructive and aggressive manner, while others say these are agents of change ensuring the economic upliftment of emerging local contractors. Construction projects are disrupted — and often prevented from continuing — until an agreement can be made regarding stakes in the project.
With varying perspectives and differing visions for a preferred outcome, the situation could very easily become messy. The construction industry — as a complex system undergoing change — requires transformational leadership to see it through (read more here).
Simon Sinek wrote a book called Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. In it he demonstrates how assumptions impact behaviour; the difference between manipulation and inspiration; how confidence can lead to certainty; how trust emerges from an alignment of values and processes; and the importance of listening and communication.
However, leaders don’t assume one identity or role, and often struggle or fail to lead their team through transformation. Liz Wiseman, in her book Multipliers: How the Best Leaders Make Everyone Smarter, identifies several leadership types which she categorises into “multipliers” vs “diminishers”:
Lesson 1: start with why
Change management often fails because of poor execution of a change or misdiagnosis of the problem. A potential starting point is first to sense the situation. From there, a convening question may be crafted to reveal the current narrative of the system and to tap into people’s will. After defining the scope of the problem, tools may then be deployed to help make sense of the situation and guide the approach towards a solution.
Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts — Winston Churchill, politician.
Lesson 2: develop the how
Lesson 2: Develop the howThe behaviours and attitudes that foster change are those that raise collective awareness of change, explore alternative methods to managing change, provide access to information about the change, and have flexible structures and processes.
If you can’t change your fate, change your attitude — Charles Revson, philanthropist.
Lesson 3: determine the what
Being a change agent requires a level of awareness and state of reflexivity. It’s important to listen to different perspectives and consider different sources of information in order to gain a holistic view of a situation, issue or solution. The overall aim is to craft a new trajectory towards a collectively defined vision through self-transforming patterns.
The acknowledgement of a single possibility can change everything — Aberjhani, author.
It is in a course on Managing for Change presented by Sarah Babb that I was introduced to different types of leadership. Liz Wiseman distinguished between Multipliers and Diminishers. What type of leader are you?
Standing in the halls of the first floor of a private school in Cape Town, I peer out of a classroom window: a leafy suburb below, and an informal settlement in the distance. The contrast of a town of tin shimmering in the morning sun and the cold colonial, wooden-floored, high-ceilinged school feels jarring. I wonder, if the present education system were originally established to prepare the youth for a world of work, what does it mean then for a seemingly static industry in an ever-changing world? How are children in South Africa being prepared for the current and future work environment, with a largely unmoving education?
If we take education to be a process through which children are equipped with the skills necessary to operate in the world into which they are born, grow and contribute, we can see knowledge as the tools with which they do so. It’s said that the education system is in crisis. While this may sound bleak, it’s an opportunity to change; crises propel evolution forward. By definition, a crisis is when a system no longer functions as intended and so new thinking is required to create and implement relevant solutions. This includes reframing and reorganising existing policies and problems. Order keeps the system together, disorder allows for change, and being on the edge of chaos results in complex behaviour. Our challenge is to shift our knowledge in a way that keeps it relevant to our changing environment.
Lesson 1: Shift from adaptation to agility
Dr Lize Barclay, University of Stellenbosch senior lecturer in futures studies & systems thinking, describes the changing education landscape as being influenced by the shift from the fourth to the fifth industrial revolution, and that Africa is lagging behind. As a result, African youth largely lack the necessary skills to adapt and prepare for various future possibilities in the world of work. In a time when the world is grappling with dissonance, disorientation, polarisation and more, “Africa is potentially well-positioned to navigate these profoundly different futures”.
The question to ask then is: How is your business preparing the youth for the future of work, and equipping them with the skills to survive in your organisation?
The revolution devours its children — Jacques Mallet du Pan, journalist
Lesson 2: Shift from resilience to antifragility
Ideally, an organisation — as a system — should be antifragile. Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in his book Antifragile, categorises systems into three categories: fragile, robust and antifragile. His interest lies in the latter — that which benefits from disorder, volatility, and turmoil; that which is also measurable, unlike something like risk. What makes antifragility particularly interesting is that it appears to be immune to ‘prediction errors’ and ‘black swan’ events. Resilience refers to a system’s ability to absorb disturbances, to reorganise when it is undergoing change, and to retain some structure, function, identity and feedbacks. Fragility then refers to that which is destroyed in a state of change or chaos. Whether systems are receptive, resilient or resistant to change, if a system is in need of transformation, it should act when defiance is low.
The question to ask then is: How does your organisation respond to change?
She was not fragile like a flower; she was fragile like a bomb — Unknown
Lesson 3: Shift from strategy to systems thinking
To have a systems-thinking mindset is to see the world, frame problems, and design interventions in critical and practical ways. Systems thinker and sociologist, Leyla Acaroglu, identifies six core concepts that shape this mindset:
The question to ask then is: How would you define your organisation, as a living system?
Simplicity is complexity resolved — Constantin Brâncuși, artist