Tamaryn Shepherd went to BCI Disrupt last week to pick the brains of some of the world’s most talented entrepreneurs.
Last week some of the world’s most vocal and impassioned global disruptors gathered together in Johannesburg at BCX Disrupt Summit.
The summit was a platform from which to discuss, dissect and engage on topics and conversations around change, disruption, innovation and the role of technology in moving Africa forward and unlocking the continent’s massive potential.
Here are some of the key lessons and talking points that arose from the panel of speakers at the press conference before the event:
On the topic of convergence in arts, culture and technology:
“Let’s imagine it’s not 2017, but 1917. Back then, you had this guy Edison that was an inventor, his inventions spawned two major companies – General Electric and RCA – that connected America through the birth of the music industry,” he says.
“Borrowing on the arts of the past, music was put onto records, played on Edison’s invention (the gramophone) and distributed across America through radio playtime. Fast forward a hundred years and today the gramophone only exists as a trophy at the Grammy’s – it’s happening again and we’re reimagining the distribution and creation of music all over again,” Will explains.
“Although we might have forgotten who invented the instruments we play, we live in a time where we could, through coding, redefine what it means to make music.”
“Right now is a time to invent, and with artificial intelligence, or augmented or virtual reality we can have virtual instruments, which makes this the perfect opportunity for the creators to be at the centre of defining how those experiences should unfold. It’s an amazing time with the democratisation of everything imaginable for creative people to really tap into their creativity,” Will declares.
On the aftermath of disruption – what happens after disruption has occurred?
“It’s simply going to be a small period of time before the next disruption takes place, so I think it’s important to see disruption, or change basically, as something that will simply increase its pace over time, says Silberbauer.
“So what I focus on for my company is developing the competency to respond to change. We’re exercising our change muscle – and this is important because it’s not about doing social media well or focusing on a video platform – it’s about having the competency to consistently continue to change all the time.”
Silberbauer clarifies that there are four main ways to respond to disruption and companies can either: “deny it’s happening; try to catch up; lean in and embrace it or they can basically try to create it.”
While it’s difficult to create disruption in both companies and individuals, Silberbauer believes it’s possible to be open to it by focusing on the company’s culture, ensuring diversity and creating openness to respond to opportunity, which is an important part of ensuring that an organisation is not blindsided by disruptive change.
Will.i.am believes that disruption happens when corporations get so caught up in greed and maintaining the status quo that they forget to innovate: “Look at the music industry. We got so greedy that the industry forgot there are other was to distribute music.”
“Look at Kodak, they got so greedy that they never imagined people would be taking more photos on their phones than on cameras. When you’re a company and you get caught up in how you distribute your product and make money, it can only last for so long before someone sees a better way to go about bringing the product to customers through a new experience. And that’s what disruption is,” he says.
Mariéme Jamme, tech entrepreneur and founder of iamtheCODE, sees disruption as a volcano: “What happens after disruption? It doesn’t stop. People are still angry and still frustrated and when nothing is happening, the response is disruption. That’s why I focus on the marginalised, excluded communities – women and girls that have suffered a lifetime of exclusion – because I know they’ll be the people who will not let this volcano cool down, they’ll carry on.”
On the importance of creating events like the BCX Summit to stimulate conversation and shift mindsets:
Rich Mulholland, Founder and CP3O of Missing Link, notes that “innovation doesn’t happen when you start doing something new – it happens when you stop doing something old. It’s very scary to step away from the comfort of old things.”
Ian Russell, CEO of BCX highlights the difference between innovation and invention and admits that although BCX is South Africa’s largest tech company, the reality is that in Africa, we have limited access to skills compared to the rest of the world.
“That’s why we need to take what’s been invented and look at new ways to use it. We’ve outgrown the traditional ways of doing business, and as an organisation, we needed to press the reset button. We needed to reinvent our company’s approach and our country’s approach to change,” Russell says.
On the issue of preparing the workplace and workers for disruptive thinkers:
Russell affirms that the future lies in the hands of the upcoming workforce.
“I might have been the future once, but this is now the kids in school, coming through a different way of thinking into a platform-based world where opportunity lies in coding to create a different type of ecosystem. We need to find ways to help the education system to ensure that critical thinking and creativity isn’t something that’d educated out of kids.”
Charlie Ayers, the chef who fed Google, feels that people need a reason to do things differently and that it’s important to “do what you think is right, what your heart tells you to do.”
“In this respect, it’s important to not get caught up in what others are doing, but rather to focus on how technology can help you redefine your mission and your vision to do things differently.”
On whether or not Africans need to be worried about being replaced by robots and left jobless:
Mulholland says that we’re focusing on the wrong end of the stick, “the one thing we need to understand when we talk about artificial intelligence disrupting the world as we know it, is that work was never the end game. The end game is lifestyle and living a better life. For this reason, we need to get out of the mindset of preserving work as a concept, because if we get to a stage where other intelligence is doing the tasks we performed before, this could allow us to live a better life, and that’s not a bad thing, it’s a win.”
The other thing we need to understand, Mulholland asserts, is that “…we are going to go through some sort of infrastructure inversion, in that we can’t see what we’re solving for right now – for every job that doesn’t exist with new technology – that’s not a person unemployed, that’s three new ideas for jobs that could exist.”
“Every time we shut down one thing, we’re opening the opportunity for many other things. This will seem scary to you, if you’re completely caught up in one thing or it will seem exhilarating if you’re excited about the change that’s coming.”
On skills needed for the future and their development, and how to ensure that Africa’s talent remains in Africa:
“We need to help them with the platform that allows them to scale. The only reason innovators would leave is if they felt they couldn’t reach the market or commercialise their ideas,” Rabana says. “It’s important for us to retain coding and development skills, because Africa has real problems and her people are the only ones that can solve them. All we need to do to help them is to solve the channels to market.”
Jamme reiterates that it’s important to teach the next generation that it’s possible to sit down, learn coding languages and to …” create your own opportunities. We can create a new world through teaching boys and girls to code, and that’s what disruption is about.”