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South Africa, The Stockdale Paradox & Taking Ownership

I’ve had a good 72 hours.

In the book Good to Great, Jim Collins refers to the Stockdale Paradox, defined as the following: “You must maintain unwavering faith that you can and will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time, have the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

Here’s the deal: In the Vietnam POW camps, the optimists were the ones that died in the camp. The folks who said, “We’ll be out of here by Christmas.” Because that’s not grounded in reality. The people who said “We will survive this if we keep the faith” were the ones who came out the other side.

It’s the difference between positivity and optimism. And that’s what South Africa needs right now. We’re in a dark hole, but we can dig ourselves out. Optimists (like some idiot government spokesperson) will say we’ll have no more loadshedding in a year. Positive people, on the other hand, will rather say: “If we get involved, and if we become part of the solution, we’ll come out the other side. It’ll get worse before it gets better. The next 12 months are critical.”

I had the privilege to be an invited guest to two business events in the last week. And on both occasions, business leaders who have had a tremendous impact on our country in the past, and continue to do so, have sung from the same hymn sheet: South Africa remains a country rich in opportunity. The more problems there are, the more chances there arise to fix them. And that’s what entrepreneurs do.

There was also an unrelenting sense of positivity that our macro environment has changed. As much as our government makes many mistakes, they are not ignoring the big problems anymore. And even better, the 180 from hating business (remember white monopoly capital) to business becoming part of the solution is incredibly good for all of us. But we all need to play our part.

So ok ja fine. As an entrepreneur, a South African who isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, as someone who is raising my kids here and building my future here, what are the ways I can get involved, and do my part in navigating this treacherous part of the process?

I looked to the book “Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators and Icons Accelerate Success” by Shane Snow for some tips. Here’s a list, courtesy of my friend the AI ChatGPT:

  1. Rapid Learning: The book emphasizes the importance of accelerated learning and acquiring new skills quickly. It explores techniques like deliberate practice, finding mentors, and leveraging existing knowledge to speed up the learning process.

  2. Thinking Outside the Box: "Smartcuts" encourages readers to challenge traditional thinking and conventional approaches. It explores how unconventional ideas and approaches can lead to breakthroughs and accelerate success.

  3. Leveraging Networks: The book explores the power of building and leveraging networks to achieve goals faster. It discusses strategies for connecting with influential individuals, building relationships, and leveraging social capital.

  4. Leveraging Platforms and Technology: "Smartcuts" highlights the role of platforms and technology in accelerating success. It discusses how to leverage existing platforms and technologies to reach a larger audience, amplify impact, and achieve exponential growth.

  5. Embracing Constraints: The book explores the concept of embracing constraints and using them to foster creativity and innovation. It discusses how limitations can lead to resourcefulness and finding new and unconventional solutions.

Let me examine this summary in terms of our local context:

  1. Rapid Learning: Leverage existing knowledge. Find mentors. Deliberate practice. All things we are doing in the Entrepreneurs Organization, and after this morning’s talk, it appears that our government has also woken up to the idea of leveraging the smartest heads in business to get things done. I am personally recommitting to lean on my mentorship resources to help me accelerate my efforts.

  2. Thinking Outside the Box: This is literally a core value in our safari business. The way we are tackling it there is by hiring and involving people that make me feel stupid. A bit of reverse mentoring is also useful!

  3. Leveraging Networks: Get into the right room, find the right person, get someone to introduce you, and talk to them. It’s work, but it’s worth it. And if you don’t want to do the work, then find the person who does, and make them your best friend.

  4. Leveraging Platforms and Technology: Jannie Durand, CEO of Remgro, talked of Vumatel’s plans to offer Broadband access in townships for as little as R100 per month. Imagine the game changer for all of us. One of the biggest challenges facing our workforce is transport. If employees could work virtually from home with this kind of connectivity, what would it not do for distributed teams???

  5. Embracing Constraints: Dude. We live in South Africa. Constraints should be our byline. And where there are problems, there is an entrepreneur coming up with a solar-powered solution or a prepaid fibre line that will solve it.

So yeah, I’m pretty pumped.

Time to get to work.

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