Design Indaba And Emerging Artists On The Scene In South Africa

Image: design2rise

My recent Design Indaba experience was a first, but I got a good enough taste of what’s going on in the local design and art space. I can’t say it was what I expected but surprisingly I went away with some fresh perspectives and a new appreciation of design but also art in general.

Early summer evenings in Cape Town tend to be sort of celestial and this one was no different. It was warm with a cool breeze and an inviting atmosphere I can only attribute to the unique landscape. I got my pass and headed straight to the exhibitions. A fashion designer acquaintance and one of the Emerging Creatives at the 2017 exhibition Tangeni Kambudu was displaying a ready to wear collection so I figured it would be good to go and show my support.

The space allocated him was a couple of floors up so naturally I started looking at some of the stands positioned on the lower levels as I made my way up. Initially nothing particularly stood out but what was apparent was the fervent enthusiasm the artists seemed to have. It was fascinating to see how engaging the young artists coming from different parts of South Africa were.

Art has always brought out the inquisitiveness out of me, so in such settings I tend to come out of my shell a little and not only observe but participate as well by asking questions. Being a strategist, I must admit it has become a habit to try and gain insider perspectives about different markets whenever the opportunity arises, and in a conversation I had with an energetic graphic designer by the name of Lungile Mbokane, I got some of the answers I was after. Listening to him passionately divulge details about the struggles and triumphs of trying to make a successful living as an artist, I couldn’t help but relate.

What was even more captivating was how after I had made a few rounds, looking at the different works, I went past Lungile’s stand again only to find out that he had almost sold out of all the prints and originals that he had on display earlier on. The smile of satisfaction he wore as he was telling me how he’d have to get up early the next morning to ensure he has ample stock for the Saturday exhibition was what any entrepreneur who has had a good day would have on their face.

I believe it is a worthwhile investment for any nation to promote its artists by providing them with a platform for expression and to let their work connect with the people.

He acknowledged it was all worth it because of the feeling he got seeing customers appreciate his work and wanting to possess it, but also in the process affording him sustenance and the means to continue creating. A sentiment I shared. To know that some festival goers were impressed enough with the works on display to spend some money and in turn support the artist was quite encouraging.

My mate, who I was meant to meet up with in the first instance finally showed up, so we decided to head over to the Nightscape event which had a musical showcase staging on the Artscape piazza. But before we took off in that direction, we came across a few more artists that are worthy of mention. What caught my attention was the work of Fatima Mohammed Bham whose retail product package designs and transparent bags were quite unique.

Other captivating works were by interior architect Carien Momsen whose alpha-BET furniture range was tasteful and Ivan Brown whose Beegin project I found intriguing especially because I’m also involved in the industrial design sector. I believe it is a worthwhile investment for any nation to promote its artists by providing them with a platform for expression and to let their work connect with the people.

We finally moved on to where the music was live and were welcomed by the upbeat sounds of The Frown – a band whose sound I can’t compare to anything I’ve ever heard before – fronted by leading lady Rakow who has quite distinct vocals. Overall, the evening went spectacular and it was a good social vibe.

It was also nice to just see a diverse crowd really enjoying and celebrating South African arts. What I took away from the whole experience is mainly that art is still mankind’s great unifying factor and that our common humanity finds its true embodiment in our artistic creations and expressions.

Originally published in The Huffington Post 9/3/17

How Changes In Workplace Culture Influence Workspace Design

The future of working: Nissan e-NV200 WORKSPACe is the world’s
Photo: Nissan Couriant

The closer we approach the year 2020, the more redundant the office cubicle is becoming. Our attitudes about why, how, and where we work are changing.

Workplace culture is changing how businesses operate and is driving the demand for alternative workspaces. The closer we approach the year 2020, the more redundant the office cubicle is becoming. Our attitudes about why, how, and where we work are changing. Unlike previous generations, it can be argued that the workforce of today and the future place a higher premium on self-determination and flexibility than higher salaries.

If you observe the labour market demand for businesses which acknowledge the need to offer workers flexibility in working hours and locations, you’ll realise that it has never been higher. As a result, those companies quick to adapt will attract the best talent. However, the challenge for many businesses is the lack of know-how and leadership that enables the effective transformation of business practices through rethinking performance measures, encouraging operational open-mindedness, embracing cultural diversity, and updating communication channels. All which are essential for responsive organisation.

Businesses which tend to have structures that are non-hierarchical and dynamic enough to take advantage of technologically enabled work management platforms have a greater chance of tapping into the resource niche that many millennials are seeking to be a part of.

Several companies are already making a success of this by empowering their workforce with the right technological solutions including project management software such as Trello, Slack, or Asana which enable remote working and collaboration and consequently minimise the need for conventional office based work routines. Applications such as Toggl which are great time tracking tools with an ability to create timesheet reports have completely changed the game in terms of making it possible to work while on the move. What is really important to note is that the way in which we implement a different management system should also be complemented by a psychological adoption of new ways of thinking alongside practical and innovative ways of doing things.

According to a study conducted by Virgin Media Business, more than half of all employees will be working from home in the next several years. A Polycom study also revealed that more than 30 million Americans currently take part in flexible working or work from home at least once a week and some 69 percent of Chinese workers are already working remotely. All this suggests there is a massive need for alternative workspaces.

To put things into perspective, it’s essential to shine a spotlight on ethonomics and the sharing economy in light of the growing trend and its implications not only on workspace interior design, but also architectural and industrial design. It is apparent that worker and consumer expectations are shifting, and this in turn is disrupting the traditional approaches to the way in which business is conducted. It is therefore critical that changes be brought to design thinking as far as creating new workspaces that align with this shift.

Many proponents of alternative work practices and workspaces positively make the argument that the workforce participating in this sector tends to be more focused on tasks and don’t feel restricted by certain workspace designs.

What the marketplace currently demands is a combination of integrative thinking, fresh design approaches, and optimal use of technology, all within a framework which factors in humanistic ethics and values.

One of the most notable trends which has come about as a result of the socio-cultural changes driving this new workplace economy is the rise of multipurpose spaces. The old distinctions attributable to assigning single purpose functions to specific architectural spaces are becoming blurred.

Alongside the architectural and industrial design sectors, significant changes are also taking place in manufacturing. Workspace design now incorporates new forms which are altering our aesthetics and the way we perceive utility. It’s no longer just a matter of buildings or other sites being designed or modified to address these changes, it is right down to the products being introduced in the market. We are seeing an increase in new product designs in all areas including some unexpected ones such as automotive industry with companies such as Nissan experimenting with new ways of designing their cars for purpose. Ultimately, the aim is to provide solutions to help increase productivity in a work world undergoing fundamental systemic changes.

‘Hot desking’ which takes after the business model popularised by companies dominating the sharing economy such as Airbnb, and which essentially allows individuals to participate in the short-term space letting market is experiencing a boom. Vrumi, a platform which connects professionals to homeowners who have available rooms within specific locations for temporary occupation is one such player. Parties involved who may initially have concerns about safety are often surprised at how effective peer reviews are as a standard feedback feature which promotes transparency and provides a blanket of security especially when making dealings in today’s social-driven world.

Other companies, the likes of Peerspace, PivotDesk, LiquidSpace, and even Google with its Google Campus offering in London, are already established players in the market of renting fully equipped workspaces for periods as minimal as a couple of hours to on-the-move workers, which is quite ideal for freelancers or startup employees who may not have the resources to take up a conventional lease with a regular estate agent.

A workspace is meant to foster creativity, encourage collaboration, or productive interactions. And many proponents of alternative work practices and workspaces positively make the argument that the workforce participating in this sector tends to be more focused on tasks, because they do not have to deal with the burden and monotony of typical office routines, or feel restricted by certain workspace designs. So, if your business is considering adopting a new approach to working practices in order to increase productivity, cut costs, or simply provide more flexible means of working for the benefit of business and employees alike, looking into alternative workspaces might just be the way forward.

Originally published in The Huffington Post 28/02/17

Digital Consumer Engagement and the Economics of Experience

Exploring the Experience Economy and New Ways of Enterprising

Photo: Laflor/ DATA/ i_collage/ Pu/ Shoots 

The concept of “free as a business model” has existed since the advent of commerce. It has long been understood, from the times of age-old merchants who pioneered world exploration, to the more recent years which have been largely dominated by modern day business and social entrepreneurs. Whether we consider the actions of luggage carriers who used to offer ship boarding assistance free of charge to passengers, or we observe the free content provisions made by today’s digital influencers; it is apparent that experience economics exist on several levels of human activity, particularly that which takes place online.

It becomes even clearer to see that we, by nature, instinctively appreciate the need to create experiences for the enjoyment of others in order to indirectly strengthen our bottom lines. What is not so apparent is our fundamental understanding that the experience economy is not an idea or area of study to be simply ignored as intellectual innuendo because it does in fact form the core basis on which the idea that existence is by definition a service function of life can be asserted.

In society today, value exchange takes place in layers and via multiple channels. For example, artists are able to invite audiences into their world, engage with them from the comforts of their creative spaces, and share intimate insights about their lives through the use of text, imagery, video, or audio, at the right time and on the relevant platforms. Academics and other professionals do the same by sharing ideas and using similar methods of delivery.

Much of this activity is done with no direct intent to charge the experiencer, but instead to initially provide value. From YouTube videos, audio podcasts, webinars, journals, blogs, games, to other social media content forms, this fluidity of touchpoints is common in today’s open business models and technology has attributed much to their emergence and proliferation. You don’t need to be an “ideation expert” to understand the creative process behind generating business models then streamlining by implementing only the best. Many business persons already make use of similar principles of design in their strategic approaches to decision making. The only thing missing is the full appreciation of network science in helping us to connect the dots.

Conventional wisdom regarding experience economy activities doesn’t necessarily take into account or explore the possibilities of delivery and not only the service of delivery, but the actual information sharing which then becomes the springboard for the income generating activities.

You have to give something away in order to make something back. Kartik Hosanagar, a professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania described it best when he wrote that “The demand you get at a price of zero is many times higher than the demand you get at a very low price.” I subscribe to that notion and believe that creating demand through experiences allows you to capitalise at the higher tiers of the customer engagement and buyer journeys.

What is required is a proper understanding of which points in the value chain we can capitalise on during our value sharing activities.

According to Pine & Gilmore, two pioneers who are experts in study of the experience economy, “an experience occurs when a company intentionally uses services as the stage, and goods as props, to engage individual customers in a way that creates a memorable event.” They also make reference to what they call “The Progression of Economic Value”, a theory meant to show the differentiation between production, manufacturing, service delivery, and experience provision. My assertion however, is that we don’t always have to view the experience as a transaction which only takes place immediately prior, during, or after the moment of experience.

The experience creates a strong and lasting impression yes, but the actual transaction can takes place long after the fact, as in the case where people make a purchase as a memento of an experience. We have to remember that it is mostly in internet based experiences, largely accessible to the digitally enabled, that the underpinnings of today’s customer engagement with a view to ultimately encourage those customers to buy are to be found. In most instances, the sale is not directly perceived by the experiencer as attributable to their engagement with a particular activity which offers that experience.

Take a YouTube channel for example, the revenues generated can be as a result of audience engagement with content irrespective of any direct cost to either the creator or the audience, but through third party ads which may be viewed intermittently during the course of core content consumption. Content compensation schemes in the form of enabling or referral fees are agreed on directly between the platform owners or site hosts such as Google and the advertisers, but then also with content producers through frameworks such as the YouTube Partner Program.

If we are to be frank, most of us would admit to our fancies having been tickled occasionally by the stimulating utterances of “make money online” evangelists. The opportunities presented by the digital era and the internet platforms which allow us to interact with others are immense. What is required is a proper understanding of which points in the value chain we can capitalise on during our value sharing activities. We used to group offerings into just two distinct groups of simply goods or services, but now experiences – whatever their forms, ought to be considered a category all on their own.

The important thing is to remember that for a business or individual to succeed, the products or services have to be transformed into value perceived experiences. To achieve this, it’s crucial to recognise the need to invest largely in content creation which is in essence, the expression of experience. It is true for the artist as it is for the expert that to monetise activity in today’s world, one may need to give up or exchange the rights of access to their ideas, creative processes, or technologies in return for support; which ultimately creates opportunities for pecuniary compensation through “productisation”. The experiences created have to give enjoyment, knowledge or other value forms to sustain interest, which can then be driven towards the point of transaction at an appropriate time.

The same holds true for the corporation. That is why you see more and more strategic manoeuvres being made by companies such as Renault which recently acquired an ‘Uber-model’ on-demand transportation startup called Karhoo whose service is built around an experience and is aimed at catering to the emerging consumer trend of people that are more concerned about experiences than they are about protracted ownership.

Originally published under the title “What It Takes To Be A Successful Business On Digital Platforms” in The Huffington Post 21/02/17


Why Strategic Networking Is The Nexus Between Entrepreneurs And Success

There’s greater probability of reciprocation when you engage in this fashion with like-minded entrepreneurs, than with other initiatives.

Image: Jetta Productions

Whether you have just established your start-up business or have been enterprising for years, connecting and networking with other entrepreneurs is crucial to building a solid foundation for long-standing partnerships.

Some call it business networking but I prefer the terms strategic or tactical networking, and not in the military sense of the words, but rather more in line with pro-engagement. In any case, it is social networking that involves connecting with other business persons as a way to climb the expert ladder and build a reputation for yourself, business, or your brand.
There are numerous factors why networking with like-minded business professionals and entrepreneurs is a smart move. Aside from the obvious, it’s generally a quick and often inexpensive way to market your business and promote your offering. Networking can also allow you to maximise the impact of your outreach efforts especially when you have limited resources.
 Most entrepreneurs tend to share a similar perspective as far as acknowledging the importance of resource and skills sharing. Therefore, there’s a greater probability of reciprocation when you engage, which ultimately can create deeper impressions than other marketing initiatives would otherwise.
Additionally, strategic networking can help establish brand credibility which I think is more essential to business development than actual visibility, particularly in the early stages of growth. Always remember that 9 out of 10 times when people in your network find themselves or become aware of other associates in need of a service you offer, they are likely to bring business to you since they already would have developed trust.

The key here is to ensure that in your interactions you represent yourself and consequently your enterprise in an ethical fashion. Social marketing is at its core a satisfaction-based derivative product of people naturally desiring to make others aware of where to find great value.

When you network with other entrepreneurs and they become aware of your offering, over time and with continuous interaction they will eventually become familiar with it, at which point they can start to feel a deeper association and naturally endorse it. That means if you make the right impressions, it’s only a matter of time until you start to see the social proof build up. This allows you to get the word out about your brand in an authentic way.

When you network with other entrepreneurs, you are also opening up possibilities for value exchange. Often you end up mutually taking full advantage of each other’s products or services since any deals you make are likely to include personalised and exclusive rates which make your offering more attractive and in turn organically grows your businesses without the need for using expensive and often ineffective marketing or advertising initiatives such as broad-based promotions, which can really affect margins.

Furthermore, networking enables entrepreneurs to exchange ideas with others which can open up gateways to innovation through skills sharing. You may have come across the term collaborative entrepreneurship which is associated with a business model for continuous innovation.

Venturing out and connecting with people from diverse business and personal backgrounds or geographical locations will actually benefit you more than linking up with those you consider confidants.

Keeping channels of communication open may also prevent rivalries or eliminate competition and instead foster a collaborative approach to solving market challenges. There is nothing wrong with healthy competition, but if you can avoid potential escalations which may result in hostile takeovers or simply annihilation, why not opt for working toward mutual benefit?

Of course there’s a need to be strategic about your choice of partnerships or networking circles. It’s always best to work alongside people you can share common business ethics with. Never underestimate the value of your IP. If you can find mutual grounds for aligning your goals the better, but that doesn’t mean you have to only operate within familiar circles. Venturing out and connecting with people from diverse business and personal backgrounds or geographical locations will actually benefit you more than linking up with those you consider confidants.

Most businesses with a strong company culture are built on the back of a bunch of people who share common values, and who over time find ways of developing a vision that’s in the interest of helping each other achieve mutual goals. Most entrepreneurs continue to network even after their initial start-up successes because they understand the power of relationships.

In order to grow and diversify, forward-thinking is key. You don’t need to be conniving about it, but like in any sustainable venture, business or personal, a lot is dependent on the strength of relationships which can only be validated after enduring the test of time so an investment in relationship building cannot be understated.

Remember, continued networking throughout all stages of enterprising enables the formation of new relationships and unlocks possibilities of gaining new insights to help you stay ahead of the game and most importantly, it can help you secure new resources, partnerships and even customers.

Originally published in The Huffington Post 9/2/17

Forget Malcom Gladwell’s 10,000-Hour Rule. We Live In The Age Of Lifelong Learning.

In the age of near-constant innovation and disruption, what you spent 3.5 years learning may very well be redundant by the time you become an ‘expert’.


Let’s face it; in the broader framework within which those talents find their application, it’s probably safe to say there is no such thing as a world-class creative. Granted, there are individuals with above average creative faculties, and whose capabilities we certainly could attribute to the dedication and consistency with which they have invested time honing their crafts and nurturing those innate abilities.

 Before those who often make such claims get disgruntled, allow me to clarify my position. The reason I make that argument is simply because by the time one has completed their 10,000 hours of deliberate practise, if you subscribe to Malcom Gladwell’s rule that is, then it’s also likely that what one has mastered will have become redundant.
 Even if we accept the 10,000 hour rule , it means that it would take one some three and a half years of working diligently at their craft, for eight hours a day, to become masterful.

At this point you may be thinking well, but why only eight hours since you’d expect a higher time input rate from anyone who deserves to be considered great. But then again, considering eight hours is in line with the average working day; and for the purposes of satisfying those critics who argue that there’s a threshold of concentration which can’t be exceeded by most able-bodied persons with good health, then I’m sure you’ll agree that eight hours is a reasonable and standard time frame to go by. With that considered, three and a half years in the digital space is a lifetime if one just takes into account the pace at which technology is changing the realm in which creatives exercise their talents.

 Personally, my approach has been to shift my focus on to what I’ll call the creative space continuitas. What that encompasses is a continuous process of learning and reinvention. The main reason for employing this modus operandi is that I see it as most suited to the nature of the field in which I operate, that is, the creative sector.
 Take those who work in the media space for instance, in the past three years alone we have witnessed several disruptions. From the boom in brand engagement with consumers via social media and less through traditional platforms such as print and television; to the rise in use of recently launched digital broadcasting platforms which today those who largely relied on conventional communication systems admit failing to keep up with.

On the other hand, those who are adept at using these new technologies have emerged the victors, and managed to capitalise, even swaying public perceptions more effectively, to the old media establishment’s dismay. A casing point being the recent media wars in which we’ve seen the underdogs come out on top, the most prominent being President Donald J. Trump whose effective use of media channels such as Twitter arguably played a critical role in securing his success.

With much of the buying power in the hands of the millennials, it’s in creative industries’ interest to ensure we create value, especially for a generation which is not so much cost conscious; but value conscious by finding innovative ways to enhance offerings which require constant learning.

Observing the recent trend in the rate of technological advancement, it’s hard to imagine there’s ever going to be a slowdown in pace. In fact it appears we’re only going to see further disruptions in the media space and many other industries in part due to Moore’s law.

With respect to the impact on knowledge and experience in relation to expertise, in many ways I do agree with Frans Johansson‘s assessment that the effect of prolonged practise on performance is domain dependent. Drawing from my own experience in the field of marketing, I’ve had to make many adjustments over the last decade in order to meet industry demands by moving away from traditional marketing techniques and learning more up-to-date approaches which are more pertinent to the times. Still, despite all that, every day seems to present new learning challenges and opportunities to grasp other techniques which are at the cutting edge.

That said, more generally, most industries have undergone some kind of transformation or are in the process of it. But none more so than those in the creative sector, which most would agree will continue to undergo further disruption for many years to come. I can’t even begin to fathom how the IoT or VR is going to influence the ways in which we operate in the marketing arena when we are still trying to get to grips with the current technologies, and figuring out how to effectively harness them to full capacity in order to find optimal solutions for our clients, consumers, and businesses.

With much of the buying power in the hands of the millennials, it’s in creative industries’ interest to ensure we create value, especially for a generation which is not so much cost conscious; but value conscious by finding innovative ways to enhance offerings which require constant learning.

I have come to accept that as long as I keep operating in the creative field, continuous upskilling and self-improvement will be key to securing a lasting career. So the concept of referring to oneself as an expert seems to be a logical fallacy and all that one can – in all honesty perceive self to be – is an education enthusiast and life-long learner, who occasionally refers to ideas from the past, but is always thriving to be more forward-thinking by looking to the future.

Originally published in The Huffington Post 01/02/2017

It was early in the AM peeps, excuse the sound of my voice :)


Why You Need To Redefine Yourself Away From ‘Job Titles’ In Today’s Workplace

Job titles constrain. As an independent party in the global workforce, I’m free to express my personality and showcase my capabilities more accurately.

Getty Images/iStockPhoto

Until now I hadn’t even given the subject concerning the classification and identification of capabilities by job titles much concentrated thought, only the occasional consideration that any adaptive species is bound make when confronted with opportunity constraints.

It often used to be the case that when someone asked what I did, that is, what my job title was, it always seemed as if they were inadvertently pitching themselves against me in one form or another. Admittedly, I haven’t felt any such discomfort with disclosures since my exit from traditional employment.

That’s not to say I don’t have remnant memories from years past when I used to work in chain stores, bars, call centres, and not forgetting the one time I gave a field sales rep job a good go, knocking door-to-door, and trying to convince residents of Manchester to swap their home phone service providers to the marketing company’s client’s service and getting absolutely snow-stormed this one time on the job, that I vowed the next day I’d be a no show.

It was never the fact that I didn’t take pride in the jobs I had, but there was always the feeling that once I told someone I was a call centre agent for instance, they’d most likely paint me with a particular brush, to the exclusion of other skills which weren’t necessarily associated with the specific job title.

These days however, I feel more confident about my professional depiction, since I now hold the brush and can showcase the full skills palette without subjection to an employer’s or industry’s view of what a particular job title represents, as far as what or who I am. As an independent party in the global workforce, I’m free to express my personality and showcase my capabilities more accurately.

When I think back to the days when I’d spend considerable time laughing at ridiculous GIFs while stuck behind a desk, pretending to be productive, and waiting to knock-off, I cannot help but regret the time wasted. Sometimes I wasn’t all to blame, I think some people will have had similar experiences working for companies that were inflexible with their permissions e.g. imposing unreasonable internet restrictions or not allowing their workforce to indulge in other activities deemed unrelated to their job title/spec, especially during times when there were no tasks to complete and you’d be expected to simply stay still which to me made no sense.

Depending on the task at hand, I could be a communications expert, digital estate developer and manager, social currency analyser, trends observer, Experience Economy Researcher, Ideation Strategist, or simply a Creative

That was when it was just a matter of only working to earn a cheque. Now my days have never been busier and more productive. Between executing tasks, sourcing a supply of work, setting up a start-up, self-educating, and networking, there’s little time for petty preoccupations since I’m always constantly shifting my skills applications from one task to the next, which warrants the wearing of different hats, and ultimately the tailoring of titles when prospecting.

Since opting for full participation in the ‘gig economy‘ which Guy Kawasaki described as what “most people are using to make ends meet“, I quite fancy myself more of a versatile operative, and depending on the task at hand, I could be one of several things: a Communications Expert, Digital Estate Developer and Manager, Social Currency Analyser, Trends Observer, Experience Economy Researcher, Ideation Strategist, or simply a Creative, just to name a few.

Essentially, all the limitations that I used to feel when I was making use of singular or official job titles and the subsequent undervaluation of my offerings are no more. As long as my credentials justify the title and the title is aligned with my skill set then I’ll certainly make use of it for the purposes of conveying my capabilities to potential working partners, especially if the title has pertinent application and best describes the nature of the work to be carried out. I think a few years ago the popular term was ‘dabbler’, but that is usually associated with, and carries connotations of, ‘loose skill’. So I prefer to use more specific titles, which would bring clarity to the level of know-how or depth of experience, even if I have to invent them.

I’ve also come to the conclusion that in this evolving labour economy, one has to adapt or die. I certainly don’t want to experience the latter, in the professional context of course, and due to the diversity of my undertakings, I’ve stopped assigning stringent nomenclatures as far as job titles are concerned. In fact, I’ve started modifying them as necessary, depending on the nature of the job and as long as the particular title encompasses and highlights the specific aspects of the particular field, especially in cases where the pre-existing job titles are not quite fitting or are limiting.

Originally written for and published in The Huffington Post, South Africa Edition – 20/01/17.