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November 12, 2015
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6 Things Successful Leaders Do Differently

Great leadership can be a difficult thing to pin down and understand. You know a great leader when you’re working for one, but even they can have a hard time articulating what it is that makes their leadership so effective.

It was recently rumored that Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz would run for president, but Schultz shut the idea down almost immediately. He wrote in an article:

“Despite the encouragement of others, I have no intention of entering the presidential fray. I’m not done serving at Starbucks.”

Schultz commitment to his company over the temptation of the limelight is interesting. What’s admirable is his desire to be a leader who serves.

Service isn’t just something Schulz gives lip service to in the press; his mission is to create a company where people are treated with respect and dignity, and he backs this rhetoric up with his money and time. Starbucks will spend $250 million over the next 10 years to put benefit-eligible employees through college, and Schultz wakes up every day at 4:00 a.m. to send motivational e-mails to his employees (the email he wrote yesterday asking employees to show empathy for customers who have been affected by the plummeting stock market is an interesting, recent example of this).

It’s through a leader’s actions—what he or she does and says on a daily basis—that the essence of great leadership becomes apparent.

“Dream more than others think practical. Expect more than others think possible. Care more than others think wise.”   –Howard Schultz

Behavior can change, and leaders who work to improve their skills get results.

In Schultz’s case, he’s been honing his leadership craft for three decades through, among other things, the direct coaching and mentoring of leadership expert Warren Bennis at USC.

Not everyone can take on Warren Bennis as a mentor, of course, but when it comes down to it, improving your leadership skills is within your control. You just need to study what great leaders do and to incorporate these behaviors into your repertoire.

There are six critical things that great leaders do that really stand out. Any of us can do the same.

They’re kind without being weak

One of the toughest things for leaders to master is kindness. Kindness shares credit and offers enthusiastic praise for others’ work. It’s a balancing act, between being genuinely kind and not looking weak. The key to finding that balance is to recognize that true kindness is inherently strong—it’s direct and straightforward. Telling people the difficult truth they need to hear is much kinder than protecting them (or yourself) from a difficult conversation. This is weak.

True kindness also doesn’t come with expectations. Kindness is weak when you use it in a self-serving manner. Self-serving kindness is thin—people can see right through it when a kind leader has an agenda. Think of Schultz, who dedicated $250 million to employee education with no strings attached, and as soon as employees finish their degree, they are free to walk out the door. That’s true kindness.

They’re strong without being harsh 

Strength is an important quality in a leader. People will wait to see if a leader is strong before they decide to follow his or her lead or not. People need courage in their leaders. They need someone who can make difficult decisions and watch over the good of the group. They need a leader who will stay the course when things get tough. People are far more likely to show strength themselves when their leader does the same.

A lot of leaders mistake domineering, controlling, and otherwise harsh behavior for strength. They think that taking control and pushing people around will somehow inspire a loyal following. Strength isn’t something you can force on people; it’s something you earn by demonstrating it time and again in the face of adversity. Only then will people trust that they should follow you.

3. They’re confident, without being arrogant

We gravitate to confident leaders because confidence is contagious, and it helps us to believe that there are great things in store. The trick, as a leader, is to make certain your confidence doesn’t slip into arrogance and cockiness. Confidence is about passion and belief in your ability to make things happen, but when your confidence loses touch with reality, you begin to think you can do things you can’t and have done things you haven’t. Suddenly it’s all about you. This arrogance makes you lose credibility.

Great, confident leaders are still humble. They don’t allow their accomplishments and position of authority to make them feel that they’re better than anyone else. As such, they don’t hesitate to jump in and do the dirty work when needed, and they don’t ask their followers to do anything they aren’t willing to do themselves.

4. They stay positive, but remain realistic 

Another major challenge that leaders face is finding the balance between keeping things positive and still being realistic. Think of a sailboat with three people aboard: a pessimist, an optimist, and a great leader. Everything is going smoothly until the wind suddenly sours. The pessimist throws his hands up and complains about the wind; the optimist sits back, saying that things will improve; but the great leaders says, “We can do this!” and he adjusts the sails and keeps the ship moving forward. The right combination of positivity and realism is what keeps things moving forward.

5. They’re role models, not preachers

Great leaders inspire trust and admiration through their actions, not just their words. Many leaders saythat integrity is important to them, but great leaders walk their talk by demonstrating integrity every day. Harping on people all day long about the behavior you want to see has a tiny fraction of the impact you achieve by demonstrating that behavior yourself.

6. They’re willing to take a bullet for their people 

The best leaders will do anything for their teams, and they have their people’s backs no matter what. They don’t try to shift blame, and they don’t avoid shame when they fail. They’re never afraid to say, “The buck stops here,” and they earn people’s trust by backing them up. Great leaders also make it clear that they welcome challenges, criticism, and viewpoints other than their own. They know that an environment where people are afraid to speak up, offer insights, and ask good questions is destined for failure.

Bringing it all together

Great leadership is dynamic; it melds a variety of unique skills into an integrated whole. Incorporate the behaviors above into your repertoire, and you’ll see immediate improvement in your leadership skills.

May 30, 2014

Andrew Carnegie’s 10 Rules Of Success

Andrew Carnegie arrived in the U.S. in 1848 with barely a dollar to his name. By 1901, he was the richest man in the world.

At the height of his power, he was approached by a young journalist named Napoleon Hill who was interested in telling the stories of successful people.

Carnegie saw a special drive in Hill and in 1908 decided that Hill would document all of the strategies that made him a legendary businessman and philanthropist.

Together, they helped pioneer the self-help genre, and Hill’s 1937 book “Think and Grow Rich” has gone on to become one of the top-selling books of all time.

When Hill began his career writing about success, Carnegie gave him his “10 Rules of Success” that provided a foundation for much of Hill’s work. Here’s a synopsis of the rules, which appear in the forthcoming collection “The Science of Success”:

1. Define your purpose.

Create a plan of action and start working toward it immediately.

2. Create a “master-mind alliance.”

Contact and work with people “who have what you haven’t,” Hill says.

3. Go the extra mile.

“Doing more than you have to do is the only thing that justifies raises or promotions, and puts people under an obligation to you,” writes Hill.

4. Practice “applied faith.”

Believe in yourself and your purpose so fully that you act with complete confidence.

5. Have personal initiative.

Do what you have to without being told.

6. Indulge your imagination.

Dare to think beyond what’s already been done.

7. Exert enthusiasm.

A positive attitude sets you up for success and wins the respect of others.

8. Think accurately.

In Hill’s words, accurate thinking is “the ability to separate facts from fiction and to use those pertinent to your own concerns or problems.”

9. Concentrate your effort.

Don’t become distracted from the most important task you are currently facing.

10. Profit from adversity.

Remember that “there is an equivalent benefit for every setback,” Hill writes.

April 14, 2014

Its Not Always About the Numbers

We’ve become a society obsessed with numbers. Everywhere we go, there is advertising material suggesting how many calories we can burn, how much money we can make, how many dating matches we have, how much time we’d save – the list goes on. On the face of it, it doesn’t sound bad – we’d all love to burn more calories, save more time and make more money. But because the focus is on the numbers almost exclusively produced from an end-product, it has a way of distorting perception that makes one focus on just the results. Numbers say nothing about the inherent quality behind them, and they don’t give us insight into the journey we have to take to achieve them. They can be incredibly seductive however, as they seem to provide a quick-fix for our problems while subtly hiding how much effort actually needs to take place in the journey itself. That’s also a reason marketing is obsessed with using them.

For me, the journey is vastly more important than the destination. Destinations are useful as they provide markers for progress and make for great comparisons, but our lives are more akin to musical symphonies than climbing ladders. If you only listened to a classical piece to hear the final crescendo at the end, you’re probably doing it wrong. The person you are in this moment is a culmination of all the experiences you’ve had since birth – and if the quality of those experiences is lacking in fundamentals it will reflect in one’s character and state of mind too.

Focusing on the numbers also raises the issue of the quality of questions we ask. Because of our numbers-focused thinking, the questions we ask revolve around them – questions like “how can I burn more calories”, “how can I make more money” etc. Intangibles such as the quality of the experience, how much we learn, how deeply we connect with others and how much we fundamentally enjoy the experience are side-stepped. These intangibles are exactly what makes us human, and are the most powerful forces driving our lives. Even though they are more difficult to address, they really need to be at the core of our thinking – with numbers serving as benchmarks of progress instead of the core focus. If we started asking better quality questions, we would begin to focus on experiences that produce equally great results, but in a more healthy, human way according to our renewed focus on what matters.

What is the quality question you can ask yourself today to change the focus of your thinking?

July 12, 2013

You’ve Arrived at the Future – Get Comfortable and Enjoy Your Stay

Note: this post needs to be read with an open mind. Proceed at your own risk.

The world has changed dramatically in the past 10 years – we’ve heard this over and over again and everybody unanimously agrees. There’s no doubt that the emergence of the information age in the last 25 years has profoundly changed the way we live, work and play.

I’m a child of the 90’s – tamagotchis, mood rings, Encarta, Ace of Base tracks and Nokia brick phones were all part and parcel of growing up. Life was a little slower and less connected, but that was OK. I got my first computer when I was 5 years old, so in this sense most of my life has been connected to the information age. Kids born at the turn of the millennium are now becoming teenagers, and access to social media and the web is all they know. The interesting thing about the human brain is that, while being the most malleable structure in the universe, it struggles to comprehend things outside the scope of its own existence. These kids simply will not understand life without smart-phones, always-on access to the sum total of mankind’s accumulated knowledge and instant access to over 1 billion people on social networks. This, obviously, is tremendously impactful on the development and growth of the new generation – one that the older generation simply will not understand. Its interesting that the exponential pace of technology and innovation shows no means of stopping, so the next generation after this one will appear even more foreign to “the rest of us”.

What does this actually mean? I believe we’ve already reached the point where the growth of technology has outpaced our ability to understand and keep up with it. Its not some dystopian steam-punk future where AI rules the world, but it is increasingly scary to see how the lines between man and machine are blurring faster than we can keep track of. The logical progression of PC’s to smart phones, to eventually wearable computing and even internal microchips points to a very interesting future. We are going to have a lot of responsibility to uphold as we “merge” with machines and the overall web, essentially becoming sensory inputs via our own perceptive experience to a global machine network. Not that that’s a bad thing, but the future is definitely not boring.

What does the future look like? Well, the future has actually already caught up to us – we just haven’t realized it since the integration is just so effortless. Brains are extremely malleable, after all. Imagine I told someone in 1950 that:

  • I carry a device that has an instant connection to billions of people on the planet
  • I can say something that can be seen and heard by as many people as are willing to listen, in real-time, anywhere in the world
  • I have the answer to practically any (easily) answereable question within seconds, and instant access to practically every book ever published
  • I have access to the sum total of humanity’s knowledge, (almost) for free, at any time and virtually anywhere I go

It sounds pretty crazy when you step back and really think about this and how powerful it is. No wonder we have governments worldwide trying to bar and control access to the most remarkable invention we’ve ever made.

Here are the changes I see happening, both right now and in the near future as technology spreads and further integrates with our daily lives:

Decentralization of power and resources
Right now, most of the world’s resources are centralized to a few very powerful individuals and organizations. The great leveler that is technology will result in resources being decentralized, as self-sustaining micro-communities spring up in urbanized areas.

Mass commoditization of digital goods, and eventually physical goods
Let’s be honest, the war against piracy has failed. People expect content and information to be free, even though they are more than willing to fork out a lot of money for the experiences around information – an example of music show tickets springs to mind. If I wanted to, I have “free” access to almost any song, movie and book ever made. I have free access to news and information, to learning resources, and to virtually any type of virtual content out there. This results in a commoditization that drives prices to the bottom, giving everybody free and fair access to these resources. As a consequence, business models will have to evolve around this. Even more interesting, I see a future where 3D printing will be accessible in every modern home – resulting in the commodization of physical goods which will also drive prices down. There will still be high quality bespoke branded items, but access to basic goods for modern living will be commoditized to the point that basic living resource scarcity will be a thing of the past.

Emergent behaviour, represented as the “Internet brain”
Emergent behaviour is often referenced in ant colonies, where a single “dumb” ant is often unaware of the movement of the entire colony, and the colony itself almost becomes a stand-alone organism with life-like attributes. We are already seeing this emerge in people and their use of the Internet. The Internet seems to linger on a single major “thought” at a time – for example a viral video is released and many people unanimously share and discuss it, essentially forming an “Internet thought” that appears as a glimpse and disappears just as quickly. There may be other emergent behaviour that arises in the future that we may not be immediately aware of, but our studies of simpler colonies shows that this behaviour is typically beneficial for the whole – so we can rest assured. A little far out there, but fascinating to think about.

Blurred lines between the definition of man and machine, and the conscious and non-conscious
What is consciousness? This perennial question will only become more difficult to answer in the years ahead as man and machine become more intertwined. If you follow the natural progression of the integration of technology with humanity, its not too difficult to see a future where we are all hooked up directly to the web via the electrical signals in our brains, essentially forming sensory and information output extensions to a core organism that is the Internet. Again, a little far fetched but I don’t think its impossible to see this happening.

Dissolution of pyramidal heirarchies, in favour of weighted networks
Unanimous access to trusted information will result in the dissolution of the corporate ladder, the chain of command, and the pyramid of communication. Weighted networks will be the result, where people are essentially nodes connected to anyone, and their “weighting” is dependent on how trustworthy they are, how creative they are, how intelligent they are etc. The thought leaders of today will become the trusted interconnected nodes of tomorrow, so to speak.

Waning governmental industry body influence

Another result of decentralized, unbiased access to information is that governments will have increasingly less power and control over citizens. Its not to say this will result in anarchy and chaos – quite the opposite actually, I believe citizens will be empowered to do the right things for the good of their local communities.

Reduced dependance on money as an asset class
We have seen the introduction of Bitcoin into the global economy, but in many ways it is still too early for a digital currency. It has, however, ignited the idea that we need a change in the global financial system. It’s existence has led to many amazing technological breakthroughs and discoveries, but it has also enslaved people and nations into tremendous crippling debt. I see the financial system as a crutch that we have used to develop the world to a certain level of living. Once this level is achieved for all the citizens on the planet, this crutch can be removed as it will no longer be necessary. The currency of the future is based on trust. Combine this with the commoditization of the digital and physical worlds, and money becomes increasingly less important as an asset class.

The world as a sharing economy
I snap a picture of a beautiful sunset, and share it to Facebook. Any of my connections can see this inspiring moment in real-time and have a glimpse of my experience. Sharing has always been an important socio-cultural factor in smaller communities, and technology allows us to share anything we want with the world at any time. The open-source movement has also paved the way for this – one can share their source code with the world, and anybody can improve and build upon it for the greater good. Sharing is deeply tied to man’s need to create – our creative side, which has been linked to the divine in many cultures, will have no bounds as we are able to create and share almost anything for the world stage.

A shift of life focus towards self-actualization
What happens when you have access to everything you want at any time? Do you become a husk of a human being, gorging on the feasts of limitless information and resources? I don’t think so – I think the next logical step is the self actualization and empowerment of human beings to become the best they can be at whatever they choose to do. We are already seeing this emerge in the amazing content being created by people in their spare time – videos on Youtube showing their unique talents, Kickstarter projects that change the world, and creative projects that show new ways of thinking.

A shifting of focus towards compassion
I truly believe that alongside self-actualization comes compassion. The greed and competitiveness of mankind has also been a necessary crutch for its development, but there will come an age where this will no longer be needed. People want to self-actualize, but they naturally want to self-actualize others at the same time without always realizing it. We live in a global eco-system of people inter-dependent on each other, and must realize that compassionate action is the route forward to ensure happy balanced lives for everyone.

 

 

March 22, 2013

10 Signs We are Living in the Most Incredible Times

new-age-technologyIt seems that Moore’s law is still alive and kicking in 2013. The law (which roughly states that the power of technology doubles every 18 months or so) has allowed humanity to progress by leaps and bounds in the last couple of decades. With this kind of number-crunching power at our disposal, it has become increasingly easier to solve some of the world’s toughest challenges and problems. It now seems that almost every other week we have a new discovery in science or technology that is nothing short of living in the future. Its an exciting time to be alive, as these examples illustrate:

  • Pentagon finds cheap, clean water. In what may have stammering consequences in the developing world, the Pentagon has found a desalination technique that is both cheap and highly effective. If developed further, this may signal the end of our fresh water problems for good – giving us access to the ocean’s massive water supply.
  • Scientists can now clone extinct species. Sounding like something out of a science fiction novel, scientists can successfuly clone extinct creatures based on their DNA fingerprints. I, for one, am looking forward to eating my mammoth steaks with Dodo sauce.
  • You may be able to download skills into your brain, Matrix style. The brain is perhaps the most malleable structure in the universe – constantly changing its connections and circuitry to adapt to its environment in real-time. The more we understand the fundamental processes of how our brains work, the more we realize that it will be entirely possible to directly interface with it via technology – all our senses are fundamentally based on electrical pulses after all. This means actually being able to download karate skills into your brain – however you still need to get off your ass to practice them.
  • NASA finds that Mars once had conditions that supported lifeA decade ago we had hardly discovered any planets other than Earth, and now we are discovering them by the hundreds – several being close to having Earth-like conditions. Life, once thought to be solely confined to our lonely planet, is evidently seeming to be  prolific throughout the universe. I’m pretty sure in the next decade we would have found at least evidence of primitive life forms such as bacteria on Mars.
  • 3D Printing allowed doctors to print a replacement part for a person’s skull. The next technology to fundamentally change the way we live is 3D printing. The flexibility of this technology is awesome – you can print almost anything that can be represented as a 3D shape. This includes printing replacement bones such as a missing piece of skull for a trauma patient. In the future, we will probably be able to print our own food at home, replacement parts for broken down appliances, and even things like clothes and accessories.
  • HIV seems to be on the brink of being cured. Yes, we’ve heard this for years now – but this time it seems to be legit. Since I live in a country that has one of the highest HIV rates in the world (South Africa), this is fantastic news. The New Scientist documented how 14 adults were actually completely cured of HIV.
  • Wireless brain interfacing has become a reality. Researchers at Brown University have succeeded in creating the first wireless, implantable, rechargeable brain-computer interface. You read that right – your thoughts are able to be read by a computer so that you can interact with real world objects via the power of thought. We’re going to use this to extend our own physical limits, as well as assisting those that have lost limbs and normal sensory functionality.
  • We can now develop bionic body parts that can “feel”. If you’ve lost a limb, technology can replace it almost completely – right to the point of “feeling” through the attached appendage. A technological hand would generate signals from sensors on it that detect things like pressure,  temperature and even “pain”. These electrical signals interface with our nervous systems, allowing a seamless connection between man and machine.Who knows, we may even be able to interface extra senses into our bodies such as magnetic and radar detection. Or, you know, plug the Internet directly into our brains.
  • Stem cells can be used to replace faulty body parts – including growing out new teeth. We’ve known about the power of stem cells for a long time; its just a pity that stem cell research has been banned in so many places. Used responsibly, it can improve the lives of millions of people. We’ve figured out a way to grow teeth on people that have long since lost theirs. I have a couple of friends that may need  a new liver, so we need to get this technology mass-produced, stat.
  • Computer memory can now be built out of components several atoms thick.  Imagine storing the world’s archive of data on a chip on a fingertip. With flash memory chips made from graphene, we suddenly gain access to technology that is millions of times smaller than our current solutions. Nanotechnology is becoming a reality – and pretty soon we will probably have microscopic robots in our bodies helping us fight diseases  aid digestion, cut down fat, or any other number of medical uses. Heaven help us if they are ever hacked to turn against us.

These are indeed incredible times we live in – and that also means it is more important than ever to remain mindful and compassionate and use our new-found powers for the good of the earth and the human race. To end this post off, I would like to share the an amazing short story. It was written by the most prolific science fiction writer of all time, Isaac Asimov. Without giving too much away, I’ll leave it up to you to read and form your own ideas. Feel free to share what you think in the comments below.

Read The Last Question by Isaac Asimov.

 

January 18, 2013

Get Busy Living!

You know that dream you carry around with you each day? It’s kinda important.

Wasn’t it what you were put on planet earth to do? They say everyone has a calling, can you still hear it? Doesn’t it eat away at you?

That treadmill you are on, did it ever get to be to much? Do you ever wonder what it would be like to do your thing? Did you ever feel time was passing you by? Just how many days have you felt before your last?

Did you ever wonder about stuff like that? Did you ask yourself ‘what was stopping you?’ There is never a right time. You will be too old. Too young. Too something or other. When was the last time you took a risk?

Did you remember how alive it made you feel? There are not guarantees of success. It’s not called a leap of faith for nothing. It’s not too late, honest.

Jump. You might fall. You might fly.

Get busy living!

January 9, 2013

The 10 Differences between Entrepreneurs and Employees

ENTREPRENEURS EDUCATE THEMSELVES MORE THAN THEY ENTERTAIN THEMSELVES . . .

. . . Employees entertain themselves more than they educate themselves. In the school of experience, entrepreneurs choose what they want to learn about and they can ask any question they choose to without fear of being reprimanded or disciplined. Successful entrepreneurs ask themselves what they would really like to do with their lives, and then ask others the questions that give them the answers to how to be successful at their chosen field of interest.

ENTREPRENEURS HAVE AN EMPOWERING PERSPECTIVE OF FAILURE . . .

. . . Employees see failure as bad. Successful entrepreneurs believe failure is inevitable and educational. Failure is the way we learn and grow. It shows us where there needs to be correction. Never take failure personally. See failure as just something you do – not something you are. We have all failed many times and we will fail again. It’s part of life. Failure is the opportunity to begin again in a new and better way.

ENTREPRENEURS ARE SOLUTION FINDERS . . .

. . . Employees are problem solvers. When a problem arises that wasn’t covered in their training, they don’t believe it’s their responsibility to fix it. Entrepreneurs , on the other hand, know that when a problem arises it’s their responsibility to find a solution so that they don’t have to waste time and money with it in the future. Successful entrepreneurs always seek to solve a problem permanently, or to find a long-term solution.

ENTREPRENEURS KNOW A LITTLE ABOUT A LOT . . .

. . . Employees know a lot about a little. It you want to remain an employee for the rest of your life then just stick to your job description and don’t worry about learning anything else. On the other hand, if you want to become an entrepreneur, then you must develop an interest in the big picture, and how things work together. It is wise to learn a little about a lot.

ENTREPRENEURS GIVE AND RECEIVE PRAISE AND CORRECTION . . .

. . . Employees don’t praise and to avoid correction. Have you ever heard the old saying that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down? Praise is like sugar, correction is like medicine. Adults enjoy being praised just as much as children do, and praising people is a key secret of success. Successful entrepreneurs have learned to praise before they correct, and then praise again when they see improvement.

ENTREPRENEURS SAY ‘THE BUCK STOPS HERE’ . . .

. . . Employees say ‘It’s not my fault’. The path to becoming a great entrepreneur begins with first learning to take responsibility for your personal life. As you learn how to take responsibility for your own life, you will also be learning how to take responsibility for a company. Every day you’re given a choice: you can either take responsibility, or you can blame, complain and justify. Blaming, complaining and justifying are simply excuses for why you can’t be, do, or have what you want. It is impossible to take responsibility for your life while you are blaming, complaining and justifying.

ENTREPRENEURS BUILD WEALTH . . .

. . . Employees make money. Building wealth is the key to financial freedom, and the small shift in thinking toward ‘building wealth’ instead of just ‘making money’ can make a huge difference in your actions and the results you produce. Put and keep your focus on building wealth more than making money.

ENTREPRENEURS FLY WITH EAGLES . . .

. . . Employees peck around with chickens. You may not see an immediate effect from the people you spend time with, but over time they absolutely influence your life for the positive or the negative. The people you spend time with can make you, or they can break you. By choosing to invest your time with wise people who are living a life of success and significance, you learn to do the same.

ENTREPRENEURS LOOK INTO THE FUTURE . . .

. . . Employees look into the past. Few people understand the power of vision, and that’s why most people are employees, not entrepreneurs. Vision makes things happen. All great entrepreneurs have vision. Vision is power. It’s what attracts wisdom. It guides your life, and taking daily action towards your vision is the surest and fastest way to make it happen. You must create a vision of the future you desire if you are to experience success and fulfilment.

ENTREPRENEURS TAKE RISKS BECAUSE OF FAITH . . .

. . . Employees play it safe because of fear. When you take risk out of life, you take opportunity out of life. Many employees have taken opportunity out of their lives because they have more fear than faith. Successful entrepreneurs have strong faith, which allows them to find opportunities and take risks. Most people have little faith in themselves and that’s why they remain employees. Many employees say they would like to own their own business, but their fears keep them from taking the necessary risks.

The 10 Secrets of Entrepreneurs: How to stop being just an employee is available to buy now from all good bookshops. It is also available as an ebook so you can add it to your Sony ereader, Kindle, Kobo or iPad.

November 5, 2012

Africa: The Next Digital Frontier

Technology is going to be the largest ever driver of social and economic development in Africa. We are currently seeing an unprecedented evolution in technology and its penetration on this continent with no signs of slowing down. In just a couple of years, low cost mobile hardware and bandwidth will have penetrated a vast number of Africans, unlocking the potential in Africa’s billion people by connecting them to the rest of the world.

The greatest number of educational, civic, social and economic gaps are going to be closed by finding and solving the unique challenges of locals empowered with the right technology. More than anything, this newfound interconnectedness will stimulate personal and societal growth by combining the hearts and minds of hundreds of millions of people in a single platform. Social media adoption has already become ubiquitous to those already connected, and there is no reason that Africa will not follow suit when they get the chance. Africans are a unique breed, being very social, multicultural and deep-rooted in a history as long as it is diverse. The ability to create and share multimedia content through social media will not only educate the rest of the world as to what Africa is really about, but also serve to bind and connect Africa’s micro-communities in ways never before possible.

There are many hardships and challenges that need to be overcome. Widespread famine, poverty, crime and war are rife on the continent. However, where some see danger and despair, I see the biggest opportunities to change communities and make a positive impact on people’s lives. This isn’t just altruistic charity work – these opportunities can be balanced with the financial returns necessary. Needs can be met in a sustainable way that improves lives and makes money at the same time. Profitability is always going to be a necessary precursor to maintain continuous offshore investment. African needs are in many ways billion dollar problems, but investing money will never be a solution in itself unless it is invested in an intelligent manner that digs deep into the heart of the problems. And one must never discount the effect that micro-businesses and SMEs would have in their communities when harnessing the right technology to solve their problems and streamline their businesses. However, I see profits as more of a side-effect than a goal – if real human needs are being met then profitability occurs naturally.

The only way positive change can realistically happen in spite of existing challenges is if all relevant stakeholders play their important roles. Big business needs to work closely with government to ensure the infrastructural pipes are laid out and readily accessible to the people. Small business and entrepreneurs need support from big business and government to catalyse the infrastructure with niche solutions that the latter cannot address. Africa’s impressive entrepreneurial drive has to be nurtured and grown through venture capital investment, appropriate business education and business incubator programs and resources. I already see this happening in key economic hubs in the continent, and cannot wait to see where the next billion dollar African company will come from.

As the world becomes more hyper-local and realtime, the mobile phone is going to be the enabler and conduit through which social and local opportunities are unlocked. I see a world where we do not even see devices or the Internet as separate things, but as natural extensions to ourselves that permeate our very existence. Localized and personalized streams of information will be available on-tap to not only educate and empower, but to allow every person better understand themselves, the world around them and assist them to find their optimal path in life. The information revolution is on the same scale as the industrial one, if not a magnitude or two greater in impact. I feel extremely grateful to be living in this time, and to have been given the opportunities to make a real change in the world. Still being a realist, I don’t think the human experience will ever be a completely “happy” one, but I do believe the magnitude of human suffering will be drastically reduced in this century. People will focus less on the bottom line and hoarding material possessions, and more on personal empowerment and inspiration, memorable experiences and a greater appreciation of their relationships and communities. As Maslow once said, self-actualization occurs once basic human needs are met, and I think technology will help solve humanity’s needs across this pyramid.

One may ask where to even begin making a change. In many ways, I see the upcoming societal shift as a sort of chemical reaction. There are catalysts, inputs, outputs and by-products which are all part of the greater whole, but overall there is no single controller and it essentially ends up happening autonomously. Change will happen whether we are prepared for it or not and whether we want it or not. We can, however, influence this change to a varying degree through the catalysts and inputs we provide. I believe the two largest catalysts are education and – for a lack of a better word – love. Love can be defined here as the intangible human component that inspires people to do great things and connects them to the greater whole. If someone is put in a loving nurturing environment like this, and empowered with the tools and processes facilitating their awareness and education, they are fast-tracked on the path to self-actualization.

In the past few years I’ve had the privilege of meeting some of the country’s most intelligent and influential people. These thought leaders and change agents have inspired and educated me to become a better person and have changed my mindset to one of selflessness and abundance. I think the earth has more than enough resources to sustain us if we are aware of the environmental and societal impact of our actions. I think we are well on our way to being united and inspired through our differences instead of divided by them. I also believe that Africa’s toughest problems will be solved starting with the grassroots of its smallest communities. I’d like to reach out to the entrepreneurs and business leaders reading this – hopefully this has inspired you to at the very least contemplate Africa’s opportunities in greater depth. Let’s work together and do something amazing; since we are at the privileged forefront of humanity we are almost compelled to get involved and start making a difference.

Michal Wronski
3 November, 2012