With a young democracy, South Africa is in a state of transition, and rugby has been used as a tool before to unite a divided country. Since then, youth have questioned the breadth and depth of change. We find ourselves at this threshold again.
I thought it fitting that South Africa (a former British colony) and England would be battling it out in a modern-day form of war: rugby. These two nations are not unfamiliar opponents — in sport and in actual war.
Walking through the Saturday market in Franschhoek on the day of the 2019 Rugby World Cup final, it was easy to spot the tourists. They stood in stark contrast to a sea of gold and green jerseys. Dutch conversations and German accents were drowned out by South African music blaring from phones and cars hooting as they drove by with flags flailing from open windows. I found a table in a small restaurant with a TV. Behind me, an elderly couple proudly displayed their British identity and, to my left, a larger family also from England were making their presence known. Their confidence didn’t last long, as the Springboks won, and the British tourists snuck out of the restaurant, avoiding eye contact.
Conversations and media headlines that followed emphasised how ‘desperately’ South Africa needed this win: to instill a sense of national pride, to create non-political cohesion, and to enforce some kind of social transformation.
Lesson one: pick a side
It’s easy — particularly in the media, marketing and advertising industries — to want to tell feel-good stories, especially if surrounded by chaos and catastrophe. Many brands tend to avoid risk and play it safe by avoiding stories that might alienate them among particular markets; look at the polarised responses received by Gillette recently when it made noise. Alberto Brea identifies three types of brands: passive (sticking to the way things have always been done), active (encouraging engagement and co-creation with consumers), and neutral (lacking edge and purpose as they follow a linear journey).
“We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.” — Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor & activist.
Lesson two: stand your ground
Having a clearly defined brand purpose or positioning requires consistency in communication and behaviour. Knowing what we stand for, and where we want to be, helps us figure out how to get there. Whether it is providing a platform, creating opportunities, or crafting solutions, brands and businesses have the power to influence, shape, and change the course we are on.
“Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter” — Chinua Achebe, novelist.
Lesson three: share the glory
Many brands have access to exclusive resources and a large audience. They have the opportunity — and social responsibility — to create positive, long-term transformation. Just as the Springboks returned home and toured the country to share their victory and to recognise the role we all played, so too could brands and businesses distribute the glory.
“What we do is more important than what we say or what we say we believe.” — bell hooks, activist.
FIELDNOTES: when leaders eat last
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.
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
Waking up one crisp winter’s morning in the small, forested town of Greyton, Western Cape, to the unexpected sound of a voice booming over speakers outside my window, I was not amused. I had been spending the weekend there with the intention of seeking escape. However, my visit happened to coincide with a three-day mountain bike challenge. My great escape was overshadowed by the #GreytEscape.
With banners, signage and branding advertising the event, it was difficult to miss what was happening. Cyclists themselves were adorned and decorated with logos, strutting with pride as they showcased the names known to those in the industry. It made me think of brand equity — the social and financial value of being a recognisable brand — and the role of social influencers in promoting brands.
Greyton is a popular destination among weekend-getaway-seekers and has been described as an ideal place to ‘exercise, relax, and indulge’. While it may offer ‘old-world charm’ with ‘modern conveniences’, there are remnants of a troubled past. The neighbouring town, Heuwelkroon, houses residents that were forced to sell their homes and land in the 1950s, despite having been part of a multiracial community for centuries. This paints quite a different picture from the surviving Victorian houses and quaint cottages, built between 1854 and 1860. The town has a history and heritage while highlighting and enhancing the favourable aspects of its brand that speak to present-day needs and narratives.
Lesson 1: find new forms of measurement
You have probably come across the term ‘vanity metrics’. It’s the method of measuring a brand’s equity by monitoring registered users, downloads, page views, likes, shares, and other forms of interactions from consumers that don’t necessarily translate into tangible value. The alternative to vanity metrics is actionable metrics. This considers active users, their level of engagement, the cost of acquiring new customers, and the impact on revenue and profit.
If we use the incorrect tools for measuring our success, we may be missing the big picture. Being visible does not always translate into being valuable.
Wind extinguishes a candle, and energises a fire — Nassim Nicholas Taleb, essayist
Lesson 2: be part of the social conversation
Influencer marketing is often implemented in order to establish credibility, to create conversations, and to encourage favourable purchasing behaviour. It’s the idea that the visibility of a brand, in association with a recognisable or respected person, would generate particular associations, communicate particular messages, and encourage the adoption of or loyalty towards the brand. Depending on the desired outcome, a brand could reach out to any of the following types of influencers (source):
What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make — Jane Goodall, primatologist
Lesson 3: pay attention to the future of marketing
It’s no longer enough for brands to advertise and market to consumers — to try and influence their behaviour or win over their loyalty. It’s time to build trust ecosystems that encourage commitment from both sides, throughout the journey. We see old industries being revamped or replaced in innovative ways, and marketing can do the same.
While influencer marketing may seem appealing today, it’s important to consider what that might look like in the near future. We’re already seeing the youth turning to gaming platforms as their global meeting place, social gathering space, and choice of messaging service. How will your brand respond?
With a kind of madness growing upon me, I flung myself into futurity — HG Wells, writer
It’s often argued that one of the attributes making us human is that we have both consciousness and a conscience. We are capable of thinking, reasoning, and acting — of behaving as rational, autonomous and ethical beings. We’re familiar with the idea that individuals are shaped by the time and space they find themselves in. We know that our context provides us with social notions of responsibility, accountability, agency, and intentionality. In short: we are socialised to adhere to particular moral rules, actions and reasoning within our social context.
What happens, then, when individuals act within the context of an organisation? Can an organisation be moral? We could argue that morality here would be shaped by individual choice, environmental factors, and organisational structures. In industry terms, the concept we’re looking for is “brand community”.
Bo-Kaap is Cape Town’s cobble-stoned, vibrant-coloured, community-oriented neighbourhood and oldest suburb. What started out as rental homes for enslaved peoples was later transformed into a colourful expression of freedom. Today, the community faces challenges of eviction, gentrification, property development and advances by wealthy outsiders looking to relocate to a prime urban location.
Recently, protests were held in a call for the protection of this heritage site. With the rise of ethical consumption, we’re increasingly seeing corporations come under fire for their seemingly immoral and unethical behaviour. The community of Bo-Kaap is united by a strong bond, communal purpose and shared sense of belonging. Threats to this community appear to be organisations and corporate individuals lacking integrity.
Lesson 1: build a brand community
It seems that “growth” remains the strongest word in the corporate dictionary. Companies constantly want more consumers to buy into what they are selling, but there is a limit to growth. Companies risk losing their existing community in their pursuit of others. The problem with focusing on an untapped market is that organisations chance losing those who already form part of their brand community. Sometimes, fostering existing loyalty is more valuable than chasing after uncertain growth.
In the case of the Bo-Kaap, enabling and empowering it to be sustainable, recognised, and respected is vital to the continuation of the community, as well as its meanings, values, history, and culture. Building a deeply rooted sense of connection is difficult to do in any context — sustaining an existing one is simpler.
There’s a kinship among [people] who have sat by a dying fire and measured the worth of their life by it. — William Golding, novelist
Lesson 2: conduct ethical business
We’ve all at some point come across the phrase “the triple bottom line”: people, planet, and profit. While it’s admirable to address these three areas of responsibility, there are several others that should be taken into consideration. Some of these include: environmental sustainability initiatives, philanthropic giving, ethical business practices, economic responsibility, legal dimension, and more.
It’s wise to respond to trends of ethical consumerism while upholding the values of the organisation. In conducting ethical businesses, it would instil a deep sense of responsibility towards the brand among its community. It’s through the brand community that its attitudes, meanings, behaviours and more are furthered.
Morality differs in every society, and is a convenient term for socially approved habits — Ruth Benedict, anthropologist.
Lesson 3: apply community-based solutions
Most marketing, advertising and business strategies aim to attain new customers and consumers. Alternatively, some brands are turning to community-based approaches in which they encourage their audience to be active participants in conversations and brand engagements. Traditional marketing tends to be one-sided and instructive, while a more-modern approach is non-intrusive and addresses the needs of existing community members.
Tips on how to conduct community-based marketing
Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are. — Niccolò Machiavelli, diplomat.
Too often we treat a complex problem as complicated and lose sight of possible solutions or desired outcomes. Zwelihle’s unrest is just one example of how a complex problem can be overcomplicated and threaten the sustainability of a system or organisation.When presented with a problem, we can place it in one of four categories:
Zwelihle — the name translates to “beautiful place” because of its prime location between sea and mountain — is a township situated between Hermanus and Sandbaai, Western Cape. Most of its residents have disproportionately less income compared to their more-affluent neighbouring towns. What started out as a small and peaceful march to the mayor’s office around a year ago (News24 reported this in December 2018, but residents say there were peaceful marches prior to that), with the intention of raising concerns over housing and service delivery, was met with delayed and unsatisfactory responses from local government and leadership. Since then, it has evolved into a series of protests involving multiple participants and concerns. The matter has escalated into something far beyond its origins.
We find ourselves in a time of rapid change. Complex contexts produce complex problems that require adaptable solutions. A community, organisation, family, and country are all complex systems with multiple moving parts that interact with one another and create different results. If an organisation remains unchanged, it would be vulnerable to surprises. The key is to transform with the times, foster an environment of learning and creativity, engage critically with participants in the system or organisation, and continuously reflect on where the organisation is and where it needs to be.
Lesson 1: Socialise strategically
An issue within Hermanus and Zwelihle is that there is a strong focus on difference rather than similarity, destruction rather than creation, and continuation rather than transformation. The time and place have changed but the narratives, relationships, power-relations, and logic stay the same.
Hermanus and Zwelihle are largely stuck in a cyclical pattern that regenerates the past, rather than moving forward toward a different future. This is the same for organisations which have an internal us-vs-them behaviour that creates social exclusion or outcasts in the workplace, organisations which place levels of employment on a hierarchy and separate task teams to construct boundaries between colleagues, and organisations which prefer ‘business as usual’ and defend the way things have always been done, rather than being disruptive, transformative, and progressive.
The difficulty lies, not in the new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones — John Maynard Keynes, economist
Lesson 2: Promote participation
The unrest in Zwelihle has revealed a gap in leadership and mistrust in government. Protest and police intervention have highlighted the powerplays between leadership and residents, and it has encouraged resistance to authority. What’s needed here is a shared sense of purpose, a goal of a sustainable future for all involved, incorporating diversity, and a reframing of narratives to be more inclusive, to be motivated by an ideal future, and to incorporate multiple perspectives in developing the solution.
Organisations that experience fading corporate culture, disconnect between colleagues, or a lack of faith in management, should consider revisiting their mission and reformulating their vision. There needs to be a plan of co-operation, coherence and positive competition put into place.
The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed — William Gibson, writer
Lesson 3: Diversify sustainably
Hermanus has traditionally been financially viable for three main reasons: tourism, small business and access to labour from neighbouring areas. Owing to the protests, holiday-goers are at times prevented from entering Hermanus and surrounds, warding off tourism and the potential income that comes with it. During protests, employees residing in Zwelihle are prevented from going to work, and this negatively impacts their own finances, the businesses they work for, and the town’s overall viability.
It is vital – for an organisation’s survival and sustainability – to diversity its offers and income streams, and to prepare for those unexpected surprises in its ever-changing environment. One way of being prepared for the unexpected is to first understand what is happening or changing in the organisation’s immediate and broader contexts by paying attention to news and narratives being circulated. The second step is to map these changes in terms of trends, quantitative patterns, and anticipated outcomes or scenarios. Finally, the best way to anticipate the future is to create it; influence the desired outcome by developing a plan, vision, and actions needed to make it a reality.
The best way to predict the future is to invent it — Alan Kay, computer scientist
Mai Mai is a traditional Zulu market situated in Johannesburg’s CBD down the road from the trendy Maboneng Precinct. When you arrive there, you’re likely to find a row of taxis being hand-washed outside the entrance while Maskandi music blares from their speakers. To the left of the market is a food area, tables and chairs set up in clusters and grills lined up underneath tin roofs with pigeons perched on top. Women with long skirts and painted faces sort through piles of raw meat. To the right of the market is an informal settlement — the dividing wall plastered with posters advertising live music performances by Maskandi artists.
Walking further into the market space, there are makeshift stalls selling sweets and blankets, and cages stuffed with chickens stacked against a wall with a mural painting depicting a village scene. Further along still, some men play card games with MTN-branded playing cards, and others play checkers on tables constructed from cement blocks and chipboard. The air is thick with smoke, varnish, herbs, and stagnant drain water.
When you reach the actual market — the small brick trading rooms that used to be stables for horses in the 1920s — you see a beer depot, a small dance space, coffins, animal skins, fighting sticks, pots, drums, beads, and branded car‑tyre sandals.
There are three distinct types of car-tyre sandals sold at Mai Mai: izingcab’lela (similar to ox-leather sandals that originated from KwaZulu-Natal), dabula izinzwane (meaning “cut between the toes”, worn by traditional dancers from nearby hostels) and izimbadada (branded fashion-statements).
What makes these branded izimbadada so intriguing is that they make a very bold statement about branding. Each pair of shoes is sold for the same price, regardless of which brand they feature — whether it’s Nike or Lacoste, Puma or Adidas, Gucci or any other brand, it’s all the same. Brands here are all the same. They are assigned a collective identity: they all cue aesthetic value (stylish and trendy), economic value (branded items are known to be expensive), personal value (an expression of identity), and use value (an indicator of social status).
Lesson 1: Understand the context of consumption
Mai Mai market, as an example, shows us the impact migration may have on a person’s lifestyle, mindset and consumption behaviour. In an increasingly globalised world, we have access to more at an accelerated rate. Often, commodities act as a connection between ourselves and our environment — and so brands need to fight to stand out and stand for something among the clutter, chaos and confusion. They should also be adaptable to different contexts, not simply a global campaign transplanted into a local setting.
Material culture gives symbolic meaning to human activities —Ian Woodward, author
Lesson 2: Use material culture creatively
The dancers and stick-fighters from nearby hostels refer to their wounds (obtained through fighting or dancing) as ‘decorations’ that hold the stories of their past experiences. Adornment plays a big role in ceremonies, celebrations and rituals the world over. Similarly, in everyday life, clothing is an expression and extension of our personal identity. In addition to this, brands enable us to renegotiate our external identity by adding messages and meanings to how we present ourselves and to the story we communicate about ourselves.
Your body is the canvas of your life —Johnny Clegg, anthropologist
Lesson 3: Know your consumer
Mai Mai market shows us that global brands are aspirational, but that they lack individual meaning in this space. Consumers who frequent this market range from youthful newcomers to older regulars, from migrant workers to business professionals. They tend to be after the same thing: they are looking to maintain a connection between the two worlds they occupy: a fast-paced, ever changing, westernised, modern cityscape and a familiar, grounded, consistent traditional landscape. Global brands have the opportunity to acknowledge the consumer’s style, values and aspirations — and to respond in a localised, personalised, authentic way.
Status symbols can serve expressive functions, relating to a person’s own style, taste or cultural values, as either real or aspired to — Erving Goffman, sociologist
ANTHROPOLOGIST | ARTIST | FUTURIST