SingularityU South Africa Summit 2017: Future proofing Africa the exponential way

The inaugural South African conference of Singularity University was held recently at Kyalami under the theme #futureproofAfrica and covered topics such as robotics, AI, crowd sourcing, fintech, space and medtech. In the closing session, conference organiser Bohdanna Kesala asked delegates “Now What?” and after 2 days of intense exponential thinking this was probably the most pertinent question on everyone’s minds. Especially with such high quality panels and speakers at a conference, it’s necessary to filter so much progressive information for practical application. I was particularly interested in the Innovation at Work session when Larry Keeley presented insights from his recent book; this being his 17th Singularity conference meant he was likely to provide some real value and he certainly didn’t disappoint.

Keeley is co-founder and strategist at Doblin, the innovation practice for Deloitte where he champions breakthrough thinking about innovation and business. Despite lamenting from the stage that “people just don’t read books anymore” his latest work represents over a decade of his team’s research into just how, and why, firms have achieved exponential growth through innovative practices. Neatly colour coded into a 3 part framework is his “Ten Types of Innovation” which were discovered nearly 20 years ago and now widely taught in business schools. Through this simple but intuitive structure he provides business leaders with much needed discipline in the otherwise overly-creative and sometimes chaotic world of innovation.

Doblin has researched numerous firms and mapped their innovative practices to this framework to build a common understanding of successful innovation. Guiding principles from this research help companies focus effectively, for example he believes a lot of failure comes from too much focus on products, while “successful innovators use many types of innovation”. Whole Foods and Zara have been successful because they focused on innovating structure and process, respectively. Virgin is an excellent example of brand innovation while Gillette leveraged their quality and innovation culture to build market leading profit models. Importantly however, “Successful innovators analyse the patterns of innovation in their industry, then they make conscious, considered choices to innovate in different ways.” Those conscious, considered choices would be well informed by learning from more of Keeley’s insight and the impressive thought leadership at Doblin, his book is definitely on my reading list.

“The Cutting Edge of Human Rights” was another insightful session at Singularity U South Africa 2017 presented by Alex Gladstein from the Human Rights Foundation. He is also VP at the Oslo Freedom Forum and previously advised the British Parliament on foreign policy. Declaring that the biggest problem facing humanity is authoritarianism he presented some daunting statistics and insights about the impact of limited freedom on the world’s population. He is involved in a range of projects that support citizenship activism in many of the most affected countries and reminded us all of the dangers of great technology falling into the wrong hands, especially people with excessive power. One such project is Flash Drives for Freedom which secretly sends thousands of donated flash drives into North Korea containing films, ebooks and information from the rest of the world. Considered the most closed society in the world, North Korea bans any outside influence on their citizens such as books, internet and movies. The Human Rights Foundation aims to empower them with information and uses old technology such as flash drives to democratise information in an otherwise undemocratic society.

The vibe at Kyalami was inspiring and the feedback from other delegates was excellent; most importantly we must all harness this exponential learning opportunity for our teams and organisations by asking “Now what”?

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