Looking at South Africa’s state owned enterprises through a complexity lens

I recently completed the Cunefin Foundations online course. The Cunefin framework is useful to make sense of what is happening in South African state owned enterprises.

The Cunefin framework presents five domains: disorder, chaos, complex, complicated, and obvious. Organizations, or parts of it, can exist in any of these domains and each one requires a different way of managing.

An organization that provides a service based on a repeatable process, however complicated, exists in the obvious domain. But maintaining an obvious organisation requires a lot of energy: upholding good governance, investing in training, continually upgrading systems and infrastructure. Keeping these organisations going is anything but obvious. Disinvestment leads to collapse as is the case in many South African state owned enterprises.

When obvious organisations collapse they transition to the chaotic domain. The metaphor describing the boundary between the obvious domain and the chaotic domain is a cliff face. It is easy to fall down a cliff, but hard to get up again.

Fast forward to South Africa 2019. State owned enterprises like Eskom are poised at the cliff edge, or are already falling into the chaotic domain. Throwing money at them to fix the problem wont work because they have progressed too far down the cliff. And this approach is bankrupting the country.

Stated differently, corruption is causing South Africa to lose its ability to run large obvious organisations. Trying to fix them by restoring them to a previous state is unlikely to work, and will drag on for a generation or more, and in the process damage the economy. Applying the Cunefin framework is a sobering reminder that hope is not a strategy. A different approach is needed out of the chaotic domain. Instead of trying to fix these organizations, we need to create the new foundations of future organizations that can replace them. But sadly it seems that the vision and thinking required to create these new foundations does not exist.

Evolving your design career

Since the launch of the Apple app store in 2008 graphic design has been going through a lot of exciting changes. The rise of modern UI, UX, and digital product design has extended the range of what we do. Now there is design thinking, service design, design research, and most recently, scaling design across companies with DesignOps. Design is no longer seen as purely a ‘production resource’, it is becoming a ‘business resource’ now that it has ‘a seat at the table’. All of this raises the bar for the skills you need as a designer, and how modern designers should be trained.

But there is another interesting dynamic at play. People from non-design backgrounds are moving into design. They are adding design to what they already know, in the process becoming t-shaped individuals. What does this mean for designers that studied design and only worked as designers? It means that they are competing against people who are increasingly t-shaped that potentially bring different perspectives and thinking to their design work.

What can designers do to remain relevant amid these rapid shifts in what is means to be a designer? These are my suggestions:

  • get closer to the tech, learn more about front-end development
  • develop a maker mindset, explore 3-D printing and on-demand manufacturing
  • get foundational knowledge in data science, machine learning, analytics, this is important because design is becoming more data driven
  • learn about behavioural science, psychology, and sociology
  • learn about business, business models, profit margins, look at a website or an app as a business person would look at it.

Organise lunch and learns, write blogs to create learning cultures around these topics at your company. Exciting times if you are prepared to take action and learn something new and bring it into your thinking and process.

TAPS Challenge

TAPS Challenge is a problem-solving platform and social innovation concept that is being designed to facilitate community solutions design and development. We help economically, geographically and socially excluded communities, design and build technology solutions to their biggest challenges across industries, with a specific focus on STEAM (Sports, Tech, Entrepreneurship, Arts & Manufacturing) to help solve real 21st Century problems.

Read more about the concept and first event on the Skill Exchange Makerspace website.

Africa Design Lab 3

29 September 2018

For the 3rd Africa Design Lab we set ourselves the challenge: How might we step-up from hosting a meetup, to running an interactive learning experience, that makes positive social impact?

The answer was a full day Design workshop with members of the meetup community and social enterprise, the Skill Exchange Makerspace, to explore a business concept to create jobs for unemployed young people in South African townships. The day was superbly facilitated by design thinker Asia Issa Sultan.

The outcome of the workshop was two business prototypes that will be tested in the Johannesburg area.

This experience helped bring what a Lab is into better focus: a group of diverse people, self organising around a problem space to which they feel an emotional connection, they make a start in creating a solution, test and learn, and get it ready for the next group that will converge around the problem and move it further, in the process everyone learns. Can a Lab be the blueprint for the learning organisation of the future? A mechanism to bring learning, diverse perspectives, and intrinsic motivation together.

Africa Design Lab 2

28 June 2018

For the 2nd Africa Design Lab meetup the focus shifted towards social entrepreneurship. There is undoubtedly a drive amongst designers to do work that has meaning and purpose. The question becomes how do we open up this space and get more opportunities to do this kind of work? The answer may just be that we have to take action, start collaborating, and see where it takes us.

We also wanted to keep a hands-on workshop component to the meetup so we ran a workshop on mental model mapping. Mastering design research will help designers to become more strategic in their work.

About the presenters

Irven Hope

Transitioning Africa’s workforce into the 4th industrial revolution

The mission of the Skill Exchange Makerspace is to demonstrate how outskirt regions can create competitive global economies by developing the innate talents of local communities.

Irven on LinkedIn

Asia Issa Sultan

Bed nets or Fishing nets? Social Impact Analysis De-mystified

Measuring social impact is a lot harder than quantifying your financial bottom line. This lightning talk will explore different ways to analyse social impact.

Asia on LinkedIn

David du Plessis

Lightning workshop: Mental model mapping

Mental model mapping is a deceptively simple tool that is essential for anyone working to change complex systems by providing a firm basis for decision making. Find out how in this workshop.

David on LinkedIn