It’s time to tell your story.

It is time for a new African story to emerge. One whose narrative is not linked to ancestral spirits and their wishes, nor the colonial misdeeds done in the name of civilization. I believe that we are at a cross roads as a people, and continent. But ,there is a generation still holding on to the traditions of our ancestors, the resurrection of ancient spirits, and ways, and another caught between new ideals and beliefs of Christianity and western traditions.

These two have consistently pitted themselves against each other. On one hand clinging to an identity and heritage that was scrubbed clean and demonized by colonial masters in their quest to conquer black hearts and minds. On the other it is those who identify that there was some good to getting a “white missionary education”, after all it gave us medicine, roads, hospitals and some semblance of civility in our modern era.

I don’t believe there is anything wrong with either of this narratives. The problem I believe is trying to impose and cling on to these things for a generation that is beholden to none of them. Our ancestors and their rituals seem so far removed for the millennial born in a world that is more connected to each other than in any age before. Stories of rituals, and cultural practices no longer make sense to a child whose rituals and practices involve the boundary free social media. A child in Nairobi, Kigali is living the same experience and connection to a Sidney or Sao Paulo age mate. The rituals of our forefathers may hold no more value than trying to convert the local village witch-doctor to the use of internet as a medium of trade.

Africa no longer belongs to my generation, it belongs to my children and their world will not be defined by war, famine, corruption and neo-colonialism as has been the narrative of my peers across Africa. Theirs is going to be one of opportunity, individualism and the march of progress towards universality and a new world order.

The ways of the old world are gone, relegated now to myths and legends. It’s time for our generation to transform into better story tellers. Stories that carry the context of our generation.

There is an old ritual in the Shona culture of calling upon the spirits of the dead to return. The Kurova Guva ceremony, were the spirit of a loved is honored, beer brewed and songs and skits performed inviting them to return now to their people. It’s a beautiful and time honored ceremony, but I postulate that it’s time we as Africans allowed our dead to rest. They lived in their times, and it seems we spend more time honoring them once they die, than we do honoring the lives of those who must live in this age.

Why wait for death to honor your loved ones, in the belief that doing so will prevent some harm from befalling us. Isn’t it already harming us that we neglect family now, and neglect to craft narratives of our people today to the generation that has seemingly no identity in common with the Africa our ancestors spilt blood to liberate?

Life is for the living. To expect our children to be beholden to traditions that no longer make sense to their way of life is a losing battle. We are raising logical and rational children and at the same time trying to impose ways that no longer make sense to us, it makes us dishonest both to our ancestors and to our children. The cross roads is to choose to live life as Africa now demands, not what it was. The nostalgia of yester years no longer holds the same promise. We are past the post-colonial narrative of blaming all our ills on the white man, he too is gone and buried in the way of all men, the grave

As I read on one of my favorite blogs, Henry Thoreau states aptly,  that change begins when we finally choose to critically examine and then recalibrate the ill-serving codes and conventions handed down to us, often unquestioned, by the past and its power structures.  He calls for imagining nobler alternatives to the dicta and mindsets we have inherited:

In my short experience of human life, the outward obstacles, if there were any such, have not been living men, but the institutions of the dead. It is grateful to make one’s way through this latest generation as through dewy grass. Men are as innocent as the morning to the unsuspicious… I love man-kind, but I hate the institutions of the dead un-kind. Men execute nothing so faithfully as the wills of the dead, to the last codicil and letter. They rule this world, and the living are but their executors.”

Henry Thoreau 1862 https://www.brainpickings.org/?mc_cid=f7f2b4247f&mc_eid=32f8c6a4ff

overcoming grief, fear, chaos

For Cellulant 15th January 2019, the unimaginable happened. On a day unlike any we have ever experienced six brave souls lost their lives to terrorists bullets in the 14 Riverside Attack. While many where crippled that day, leaders in the building jumped into action saving numerous colleagues, rescuing many out of danger. Numerous leaders made the selfless sacrifice to run into danger, into the unknown, without a thought for their own safety.

The Cellulant leaders did not stop even when faced with worst of circumstances, they rallied around families and each other. Displaying immense bravery, courage and leadership they took over the care of survivors, families, programs, news to the very last detail. From 3pm that fateful afternoon till the very next week when we lay down our colleagues to their final resting place.

Grief can be crippling. The cold sweat at 2am, tossing , unable to shut off the anxious thoughts cruising through your mind. That feeling of calm before you open your eyes, and the crushing weight of pain that threatens to overwhelm you as soon as your feet hit the ground.

The one constant question in my mind has been how should we respond in the face of senseless terror ? What is the appropriate amount of anger at terrorists ? Should we resort to hatred and revenge ?

The answer for me came from the most unlikely place, at the burial of Kelvin. When the priest performing the last sermon and message talked about not being caught up with thoughts of revenge. That the only way to truly respond to terrorism and fear is to be fully alive to what you have been called to.

Each of the six had amazing stories of impact, and significance. Though tragically cut short their legacy continues to resonate with so many. Our response is actually the hardest thing to do right now, because fear and grief can be paralyzing and hijack any sense of the present.

Our response to terror requires us to wake up daily and not be overwhelmed by fear, uncertainty and grief. But to truly honor our brave six who ran a phenomenal race with courage, passion and impact it calls for us to live fully. To live lives of purpose, faithful to our individual calling, so on that day when we meet again in eternity we will have nothing more to give , we will have run our race, and fought a good fight.

In the face of bravery shown by the Cellulant Brave Six, we only have one choice, no matter the trials of today, your life is meant for a divine purpose, we have to live it. Our toughest act now is going to be in living and pursuing our purpose and ideals so we can defeat the senseless terror that threatens to paralyse us in constant fear.


Why is Execution hard

Everyone knows that culture eats strategy for lunch, but whats the one thing that ultimately tanks your strategy ? Execution !  Or dare i say the lack of execution.

Literally hundreds of books are written on the subject, but i’ve found in my own management experiment it boils down several things ;

Firstly , execution is not sexy ! it doesn’t do press briefings, it doesn’t have pr statements, quite frankly its the dirty work. Its waking up everyday to face the exact same set of circumstances despite your best efforts. Its daily staring at failure in the face, and picking yourself up to come back and fail again. Its grunt work, sometimes its just pressing on through the drudgery of mundane tasks likes email, and writing reports, and updating schedules.

Secondly, it sits in that valley of hard work, and waiting. When you have given your all, and yielded zero results, but having to wait for actions of others upstream, or downstream or vertically or horizontally because no good thing is executed in isolation. Waiting has its virtues, but its also one of the hardest things to do, sometimes your timing is just not in sync with the reality of your market, and despite your best efforts no amount of pushing, sweating , pleading or screaming will move the needle.

Thirdly, its also about conversations. Those simple dialogues and interactions that need to happen between partners and colleagues. The most damaging thing about not  having the right frame of communication within a team is what is left unsaid. When someone makes a statement that is not clear to you, but adds, “you know what i mean ?” and you nod along when you have absolutely no idea what they are on about. That right there is the number one killer of execution!

Communication is not just about passing on your message, its also about hearing. Both parties have an obligation to ensure not only is the one heard, but the other is understood.  What is left unspoken, is often the very thing that can move you from point A to  point B. Often we are so enamored with sounding clever and knowledgeable that we loose ourselves making pretty empty statements, that don’t yield a response from our audience.

Lastly, and perhaps the most critical thing, is decisions !decisions! decisions! We are always afraid to make the wrong one, but often its the ones we don’t make that really hold us back. It could be a fear of failure, procrastination, whatever makes you sleep better at night, but it all boils down to this, every decision you make takes you one step closer to achieving your goal. Even the wrong ones, because ultimately they help you identify the right decision to make. Take the risk ! but by all means don’t waver between the hot and cold valley of indecision.

There you have it, my ultimate list for closing out 2018 with a bang, its not sexy, it wont kill you to wait, talk to each other, and make one decision today that takes you closer to your desired tomorrow.

 

Can dissent in a team be good ?

My new hypothesis on what really delivers inspiring results from teams is that a lot more rests on how leaders respond to their people than in how people work.

There is often the dangerous narrative that organizations are failing simply because the people are not productive, or that they are not engaged.  While this can be true in some organizations, time and time again however the organizations that seem to succeed show that how leaders get their teams to perform is less about the people’s abilities and more about how leadership inspires  the team to deliver. The problem for leadership that does not work often lies in hubris and the danger of a single narrative.

We love the story of the super star executive that comes into an organization and turns it around with their overpowering personality, and knowledge. Whipping up the entire organization into a well- oiled execution machine. But this is rarely the case. In fact superstar egos are the main cause of hubris in  an organization. Self-confidence due to past successes, that causes you to be blind to your weaknesses or flank. Hubris means ‘excessive pride or self-confidence; arrogance’.

Hubris causes leaders to be blinded and seduced by their success.  They stop seeking new information, listening, and learning. The praise of those who surround them, makes them believe that they alone know what is best, to the detriment of those who disagree with their “vision”. Often described as rigid and authoritative, they are no longer receptive to feedback from subordinates.

Hubris prevents disagreements with the leadership that may potentially save an organization.  This is where the danger of a single narrative metaphor for me comes in. There is enough room at the table for everyone’s ideas and inputs.

In this TED talk “The Danger of a Single Story by Chimamanda Adichie, clarifies it so clearly. It’s about what happens when complex human beings and situations are reduced to a single narrative: Her point was that each individual life contains a heterogeneous compilation of stories. In short, defining an experience based on a single account gives us incomplete, potentially damaging understandings of other people.

Today’s leadership needs to have a place for dissent, and internal conflict management. For a team to commit to a path, they need to weigh in, and be heard. They need to disagree respectfully for the good of the organization. It’s good to have a spanner thrown at your work sometimes. Nobody likes a villain right?  But have you considered though the role of a villain in any one of your favorite books, or movies and how they were critical towards molding the hero’s character?

We may call them critics, some detractors or naysayers, but for good or bad, there is a necessary role in life and business for those who do not see the world in the same way that we do.  Businesses that don’t have a view of their blind spots, end up the way of Kodak and Nokia.

According to this HBR article on how management teams can have good fights, the alternative to conflict is not usually agreement but rather apathy and disengagement, which open the doors to a primary cause of major corporate debacles: groupthink!

 

 

How to Be a Rebel and Build a Business at the Same Time

How to Be a Rebel and Build a Business at the Same Time

This is inspiring, to be in the company of rebels

In 2016, our CEO sat down with the authors of “Digital Kenya: An Entrepreneurial Revolution in the Making” for a candid conversation on what it takes to be an entrepreneur in Africa.

This is a except from the interview:

You started working for several ISPs and in 1998 decided to make the transition and start 3Mice. Why was it the right time?

By the time I left Strathmore school, the desire to become an entrepreneur – like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates and like the Netscape founders – had already settled in, up to a point of no return. The basic direction, the highest level where one could go in terms of ambition as a technology person had settled. 

What did it mean for you to be an entrepreneur?

 I think I am a rebel, self-directed maybe, but a personality that likes to have their own mind about things…

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The business of ethics

My friend always says that to survive in emerging markets, you need a good dose,of vitamin P . Which stands for polital correctness. Taking your vitamin P means sanitizing your truth to accomodate the inept, the incompetent, overcoming bureaucracy with platitudes to meet your goals.

In a world where might is right, its the writers dilemma always what to say without causing ripples. Just this week president elect Donald Trump held a meeting with news media executives in what has been reported to have been a dress down on their coverage of the elections and him.

It must be something to be called into the room by the leader of the free world to get a dressing down for what you believe to be truth. Its no less dangerous in the corporate world and political realms of doing business in Africa.

But a writer must be honest, he is an observer, a survivor of the war that is the human condition. He must recount its horrors, its victories, its casualties alongside the fear of being misunderstood as well as reprimand. The writer is an artist, and art as a reflection of us can be both comforting and disturbing.

I take comfort in Chinua Achebe’s words in an interview, “those who tell you do not put too much politics in your art are not being honest. If you look carefully you will see that they are the same people whom are quite happy with the situation as it is..what they are saying is don’t upset the system.”

Its time though to upset the system that profits from corruption and unethical behaviour. We should not be at ease with the abuse of authority, and power. A time will come when you have to stand for what you believe in. Businesses are not immune  from standing up for right,turning a blind eye today does not immunize your business from facing the effects of poor governance, abuse and corruption tommorrow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

is your strategy disruption proof?

Its the last quarter of the year, everyone’s planning for 2017. But whose strategy is going to hold in the coming turbulent year.

Strategy is often times confused with  planning, but strategy is much simpler, it defines the long term direction of an organisation.Its not just what you intend to do, but must also be clear on what you will not do.

My imagination was captured by this article on the demise of Kodak at HBR, that  is a must read for anyone in business. Kodak’s downfall wasn’t about technology. Their problem wasn’t that they had not identified the shift to digital, they had in fact invested billions in a new range of digital products.

Their problem was in doing the right things. Which can also be said to be a question of strategic drift, that tendency for strategies in an organisation to develop incrementally on the basis of history, but fail to keep pace with a fast changing environment.

More recently also in the news is Ericsson’s decision to lay off nearly 3,000 workers in Sweden, and close to 900 contractors. Ericsson said the layoffs are a necessary part of its transformation to meet “fast technology shifts and the digitalization of the telecom industry.”

Put simply, Ericsson is struggling in an area it once had dominance. The  markets they dominated are  now in the hands of the likes of Huawei and ZTE, very strong Chinese contenders.Read more here.

I can’t help but draw parallels with Kodak’s story.  Nokia, Yahoo.   Do you have a strategy that clearly differentiates  from competitors?  How long will that difference last, in a fast changing operating environment ? Are you wired to see and embrace disruption ?

To quote the HBR article “The right lessons from Kodak are subtle. Companies often see the disruptive forces affecting their industry. They frequently divert sufficient resources to participate in emerging markets. Their failure is usually an inability to truly embrace the new business models the disruptive change opens up.”