Shape the Future Series: Leonardo Da Vinci

Shape the Future Series: Leonardo Da Vinci

Leonardo da Vinci

In our previous Shape the Future post we outlined the attitude of Conceptual Ability and profiled Charlie Munger, who for us, embodies what it is to have Conceptual Ability. In this post we look at the attitude of Being Knowledgeable which forms part of the Learning mindset under the pillar of Achievement Excellence.

At the Foundation we define Being Knowledgeable as actively extending your existing frontiers of a wide range of topics as well as deepening your expertise on your particular focus area.

Earlier this year Cape Town hosted the Da Vinci Exhibition. What was interesting about this exhibition is that not a single piece of Da Vinci’s original famous artworks was on display, and yet an entire exhibition was put together based solely on the non art body of work he amassed during his lifetime.

Da Vinci was one of the most knowledgeable men of his time. He started off as an apprentice to the artist, Andrea del Verrocchio. He became the quintessential polymath or Renaissance Man who had an unquenchable curiosity. He was a skilled painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer. His body of work includes architecture, sculptors, engineering models, scientific drawings and interesting inventions at various stages of development. Da Vinci also was a keen anatomist and painstakingly documented (through hand drawn sketches) the intricate structures of the human anatomy.

Recording his thoughts, life and travels (in great detail) in more than 13 000 pages of notes and drawings, Da Vinci was one of the most prolific journal keepers. His journals showcased an enormous and ever-increasing range of interests and preoccupations and his knowledge base allowed him to make connections which were not very obvious to thinkers of the time. He incorporated mathematics into his artworks such as The Vitruvian Man and The Last Supper.

So what five things can entrepreneurs (and future entrepreneurs) learn from Da Vinci?

  1. Increasing your knowledge (Intellectual Imagination) is key. You increase your chances of spotting an opportunity if you increase your awareness of what exists in the world around you.
  2. The devil is in the detail. Sometimes it’s the smallest of details that could end up derailing the implementation of our ideas. And by having an ever-increasing knowledge-base you can spot those details and know how to solve the challenges they might bring.
  3. Record your ideas. Sometimes inspiration hits us at the strangest of times and we need to be able to capture those ideas at that moment when we are struck by (that sometimes fleeting muse) inspiration.
  4. Mentoring is key. Da Vinci started his career as an apprentice, learning from someone else who had already achieved mastery in the particular skill set he was hoping to master.
  5. We must do! Leonard himself sums it up best, “I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply.  Being willing is not enough; we must do.”
In celebration of Youth Day – a glimpse into our youth shaped future

In celebration of Youth Day – a glimpse into our youth shaped future

The most recent class of Allan Gray Fellows at their graduation in March 2014.
The most recent class of Allan Gray Fellows at their graduation in March 2014.

There are a number of reasons to be discouraged about South Africa’s prospects right now.  At the macro level we are confronted by the recent down grade of the country’s credit rating.  Or the recent news that out of 148 countries participating in a World Economic Forum Report, South Africa came exactly 148th in terms of the quality of our mathematics and science.  It is more than I can manage to look and see which failed countries stand ahead of us in the Mathematics and Science pecking order. And this follows a few weeks after we had to process the news that the South African “Born Free” generation had turned their back on active citizenship with more than a million of them (a third of the total cohort) not having even registered to vote in the election.  Instead of leading us into a new future as a democratic dividend of our freedom, it seemed we were instead lumped with apathy and disengagement.

It was into this rather depressing context that a fresh wind of optimism came bursting into the Foundation last month following the deadline for the annual matric application for the Allan Gray Fellowship.  Every year all those matriculants who feel that they wish to shape the future as catalysts for the common good enter into the rigorous Foundation selection process.  Well over a thousand of these applications were received, all having navigated their way through the detailed questions around their previous track record, current activities and long-term entrepreneurial aspirations. And it is the content of these applications that paints a completely different picture of the future of South Africa.

Reading through these documents with applicants describing their inspiring and powerfully held dreams and explaining some of the extraordinary achievements they have already undertaken, all perceptions of a disengaged, unskilled next generation are shattered.  These submissions provide a unique window into the future and it is a future about which it is worth getting very excited.

From every corner of the country, in leafy suburbs and deep rural communities, orphaned or in more traditional families, children of truck drivers or executives, these ambassadors of change, a real rainbow nation group, describe a new way, a way fueled by innovation and focused on solutions rather than problems.

Outside of the global recognition in fields as diverse as debating, sporting codes and world knowledge olympiads, it is the deep felt passion and strategic understanding of how to go about shaping the future that is most impressive. A consistent thread through the thousands of answers is a deep sense of empathy and an earnest compassion that the status quo must change.  Interestingly there is no word about politics nor any suggested reliance on government to provide the solution. It is clear that this group at least appreciates their own agency over change and is not afraid to do things differently, starting with themselves. They show an enlightened understanding that they become responsible for poverty if they do not seek to stop it.

The range of different activities is refreshing: From selling chickens, to importing technology and products from overseas, to a plethora of potentially powerful education initiatives or simply selling enough produce to ultimately provide their family with a proper home. In amongst the many forms we learnt about a new platform for future designers, a sophisticated network for the selling of wholesale luxury items, a clever way of harnessing surplus capacity while people wait in queues, apps to facilitate greater productivity or another addressing the fundamental need for developing computer coding capacity in our future learners.  All of this describing initiatives that haven’t  taken place before anyone has even finished high school.

And while some might have a concern as to whether this energy and activity will actually lead to real future endeavour, it is not one shared by the Foundation.  Over the last few years we have become more convinced that such potential, when properly nurtured, is difficult to stop. It was not too long ago that we were reading similar applications from the likes of Kholofelo Moyaba and Douglas Hoernle and many, many others. It has been our experience that great imagination is the precursor to powerful action and there is no shortage of imagination in the pages of these applications.

“We should have great confidence in the ability of youth” – Mr. Allan Gray
“We should have great confidence in the ability of youth” – Mr. Allan Gray

As we acknowledged the contribution of youth to our past on 16 June, I am reminded of something  Mr. Allan Gray often says – “We should have great confidence in the ability of youth.” Indeed we underestimate them at our peril. Reading through the 2014 Fellowship Application forms, I can’t help but think that he is right. And I can’t help but be optimistic about what the future holds when the potential of these young South Africans is realised.

Dominic Obojkovits, Pixel Boy and taking Personal Initiative

Dominic Obojkovits, Pixel Boy and taking Personal Initiative

Dominic Obojkovits

At age four Dominic Obojkovits played his first video game, Spyro the Dragon. Now, a mere 16 years later he is the co-founder of games studio Giant Box Games and designer of Pixel Boy, a game that was recently released on Mac, Linux and Windows and will be available on Nintendo and PlayStation consuls in future.

Dominic’s been averaging four hours of sleep per night for the last few weeks. The reason: Pixel Boy has to be flawless. Dominic and his Canadian business partner, David Nickerson, want to find and fix all bugs before introducing it to the world. They have been at it for more than two years. He’s quick to remark though that this most recent stretch of sleep deprivation is nothing compared to the Fellowship Selection Camp where two hours of sleep per night were the norm.

If it took such a short time for Dominic to get to this point of being a successful games designer one wonders what the journey was like and what the next 16 years of that journey might hold. Born in Vienna to parents Karen and Günter, he grew up on a farm in Limpopo. With fine artists for parents Dominic was exposed to creativity and knew he wanted to make things from the time he was in diapers; he recalls playing Legos amidst paint brushes and canvasses.

Artistry, in his view, forms the backbone of many great tech companies. What makes them great, in his opinion, “is not competent programmers … it’s competent designers; I’m giving all the credit to the artists.” It comes as no surprise then that he draws constant parallels between games design and something as artistic as cinematography. He takes Film subjects in addition to his Computer Games Design subjects at the University of Cape Town. Dominic envisions future games being made in the same way that films are made – with a group of creatives. He explains, “In five or ten years I hope to see myself running one of South Africa’s primary game studios … as the director of the studio I’d employ programmers, artists and musicians and then storyboard the idea together and … assemble it there.”

While he has great appreciation for the arts and depends greatly on it to inform his design thinking, Dominic is thankful to have discovered soon enough that his talent lay with computer programming and not the more artsy film directing or comedy writing (avenues he considered seriously for quite a while). That he would end up in a more behind-the-scenes career was evident from the way he played games or watched others play. He recalls, “I’d watch my cousin play … and enjoyed watching how he would interact with the world and then I wanted to create my own world and get that interaction from other people ‘cause I got more joy out of watching people play than I got out of playing myself.”

These early, somewhat removed interactions with games influenced his design of Pixel Boy. His plan was “to create a wold; how you experience it is entirely up to you … with games we actively encourage people to draw different interpretations from the work.” One of the game’s unique features is allowing players to create their own combinations of powerups (one of 94 million), which in gaming terminology means collecting bonuses that gives the player (or, more accurately, the computer character) more strength or firepower. “We gave the creativity of powerup generation to the player … I still see players regularly creating things I’ve never witnessed before.”

What the Foundation calls Personal Initiative – the quality of making things happen and celebrating the satisfaction of bringing new things into being; being independent, proactive and self-starting – is something Dominic Obojkovits has plenty of. Of his association with the Foundation Dominic says, “The Foundation has helped me solidify how I want to move forward ethically and … helped me understand what my purpose is. I know part of that purpose is furthering South Africa.”

Only after he points out that the gaming industry is the most profitable entertainment industry in the world (for example, Grand Theft Auto 5 made $ 800 million on the first day), I understand the significance of his wanting to do business ethically. He explains, “when I create a game it’s because I want to communicate with people … a game allows me to communicate a concept to millions.” He wants to speak out against drug addiction and racism but with this caveat: he won’t slap these messages in someone’s face, like a pop-up ad appears in a browser; no, he’ll weave it in subtly so that those who want to ‘read’ his messages will. For the rest it will simply be a game of elves and orcs.

Written by Alexa Anthonie.

Is intrapreneurship a myth or could it be a key differentiator for your business?

Is intrapreneurship a myth or could it be a key differentiator for your business?

Allan Gray Orbis Foundation National Jamboree, Spier, Western Cape.

Anthony Farr’s latest blog post published on Ventureburn.

In recent years the power and potential of entrepreneurship has become more and more entrenched in public debate and the attention on this particular field of human endeavour has increased exponentially.

This shift was well captured by Jonathan Ortmans, CEO of Global Entrepreneurship Week, when commenting that, “Entrepreneurship has been transformed from a subject of narrow commercial significance into one of substantive cultural consequence that signifies the potential of human endeavour for the benefit of all.”

And it is in this seeking “benefit for all” that increasing attempts are being made to harness the entrepreneurial spirit in a range of different contexts, not least in the big corporation itself, with growing interest in the notion of intrapreneurship (applying entrepreneurial principles within an existing company).

But before we get too excited about intrapreneurship’s potential there are two challenges to its obvious appeal. The first one is philosophical. Economist Joseph Schumpeter, the founding father of entrepreneurship theory, established the notion of “creative destruction” whereby innovation happens and society moves forward through the role of entrepreneurs in “incessantly destroying the old and creating the new”. So can intrapreneurship overcome the inherent tension of unleashing a force that will ultimately be seeking to destroy the platform from which it has been launched?

The second is practical. There are issues with the inherent compatibility of entrepreneurship and established business. Simplistically entrepreneurship is not management. They are activities in very different stages of Land’s system change cycle — entrepreneurship in the invention or search phase and management in the improvement or replication stage.

The rules of the game are fundamentally different between these two, with the former requiring skills such as observation, experimentation and curiosity to create something useful. The latter is more focused on planning, compliance and process. Despite the interest in intrapreneurship, is it really possible to apply different rules to the same phase? Do oil and water really mix?

The answer lies with the third phase of system change after invention and improvement – namely obsolescence. Change is the overwhelming reality and without it any system or company will inevitably move to obsolescence.

We have been given the most dramatic illustrations of this in recent times with the examples of Kodak filing for bankruptcy in 2012, having discovered digital photography nearly 40 years previously, only to then ignore it, or Nokia moving from the most dominant market position in the smartphone industry (43.7%) in 2008 to less than 3% in 2013.

If it is then clear that companies have no choice but to embrace change, then it is equally clear that the best mechanism for harnessing change is entrepreneurship. So understanding the limitations of fully applying entrepreneurship within an existing business, as discussed above, there is still a crucial role for intrapreneurship in ensuring the long term sustainability of businesses.

There are three key principles that can make this a reality. The first it to create the opportunity for entrepreneurial thinking to feed into the organisation. It is this mindset that will catalyse the benefits of intrapreneurship.

I recently attended the Global Entrepreneurship Congress in Russia and had the good fortune of meeting a number of key role players within the global entrepreneurship field. One such person was Ingrid Vanderveldt, a seasoned entrepreneur in the USA and also the first Dell entrepreneur-in-residence.

Started in September 2011, Dell’s Entrepreneur-in-Residence programme (EIR) is focused on “helping Dell drive strategy and takes our ability to listen and act on what customers need to the next level.” This in itself is unusual as EIR type roles are usually found in venture capital firms, which form part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem rather than a corporate organisation.

Dell recognised that entrepreneurial thinking was key to enhancing their business strategy and so became deliberate in their approach to fostering entrepreneurial mindset within the organisation.

This entrepreneurial mindset should then become part of the culture; a culture that rewards the skills of invention and experimentation in initially contained environments, often in stand-alone projects.

In 2012, First National Bank was named the world’s most innovative bank of the year at the BAI-Finacle Global Banking Innovation Awards – a first for South Africa and surely a first for banks! How did it achieve this? A deliberate part of First National Bank’s strategy was to develop an innovative culture internally.

It did this through a staff competition, where winning innovative ideas would receive a monetary prize. This was different from other reward and recognition initiatives in that the prizes awarded were significant and outside of standard employee benefits. Then CEO Michael Jordaan said that, “Effectively, every employee can be an innovator and can change the way we conduct business.”

This points to the last principle, individual ownership — the defining characteristic of entrepreneurship. And if this can be achieved at an airline then it should be possible almost anywhere. Southwest Airlines founder Herb Kelleher based his company ethos on the philosophy of never being satisfied with status quo.

He said this of his competition: “They can buy all the physical things. The things you can’t buy are dedication, devotion, loyalty – the feeling that you are participating in a crusade.”

How did Kelleher enroll his staff into Southwest’s crusade and engender the philosophy of not being happy with the status quo? The most important lever was to launch various initiatives to empower staff to act independently.

But the accountability associated with independence must be weaved together with increased rewards. In return for their participation in the company’s strategy to become the largest and most respected airline carrier in the world, employees were offered the following:

  • Freedom to pursue good health
  • Create financial security
  • Travel
  • Make a positive difference
  • Learn and grow
  • Create and innovate
  • Work hard AND have fun, and;
  • Stay connected.

Unsurprisingly, Southwest is still the record-holder for the longest-running profitability streak in the US airline industry, 41 years and counting. It is also the domestic airline industry leader in the USA in terms of customer satisfaction.

Intrapreneurship is no myth and will become an increasing differentiator as the rate of societal change continues to accelerate. Our best insurance against future obsolescence is to harness the power of entrepreneurship through embracing the principles of an entrepreneurial mindset to foster an innovation culture that allows individual ownership. Who said oil and water don’t mix!