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There’s A First Time For Everything And It Blows My Mind

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You may not believe it, but this is my first article I have ever published, with my own fair hands, on a website – not just any website, but ForbesAfrica.com, the publication I have ate and slept for more than six years.

I feel exhilarated, excited and on top of the world. What a way to take our precious content on the important business and entrepreneur story to every corner of the continent? The possibilities stretch out in my mind like an endless blue horizon. How many more lives will we be able to touch, for the good, with our incisive and measured journalism? How many more entrepreneurs could these words inspire to take the plunge? I feel as giddy as I did on my first day in the job 36 years ago.

It also makes me think about how communications for journalists have changed so rapidly in the two decades I have spent reporting from Africa. I arrived to the chatter of the telex machine – for those if you under 50, that was a huge metal box that would type out incoming news onto paper that we had to rip off and read. On top of this, very few people had expensive satellite television; all we had was the faint crackle of shortwave radio. When we journeyed to the bush, on stories, even day-old newspapers were scarce – it was so bad, we used to miss the deaths and funerals of prominent figures, only to find out months later that they had passed on.

In those dim days, even using a fax to file stories was seen as man landing on the moon.

But now the technology is on the march and so is our journalism. I work hard every day of my career to carry it forward through the pens and ambition of our crack young team of African journalists at FORBES AFRICA. What an enticing and appetizing prospect.

In the days of telex, crackly radios and dodgy fax machines, we still managed to send out many great stories that went down in African history. Just think how faster and further FORBES AFRICA can send those stories now.

Opinion

Even If We Conquer Death – Should We?

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“Nothing can be said to be certain, except Death and Taxes” – Benjamin Franklin, 1789

As we head into the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), there is the possibility that only one of those will remain a certainty.

While taxes may morph from employee-contribution-for-state-resources, to a nominal amount on the gains of technology, to a Universal Basic Income (UBI) – death may yet be conquered.

An increasing number of futurists believe that death is a disease; and like any disease it can be cured. Perhaps the most prominent of these is Ray Kurzweil, Google’s chief futurist, with a prediction accuracy rate of 86% (115 of 147 since the 1990s). Kurzweil believes by 2029, we will see signs of living forever when we reach ‘Longevity Escape Velocity’ – the point at which every year we live, we extend our lifespan by at least another year.

The oldest verified living person, Chiyo Miyako, died at 117 years old in July. However, the number of centenarians is up 44% from 2000 to 2014. Improvements in vaccines, antibiotics, hygiene and sanitation are all contributing factors to increasing survival to advanced ages.

READ MORE: You Only Live Twice

Coupled with affordable healthcare, food abundance, and a decrease in non-natural death causes (war, measles, diabetes), global life expectancy increased from 65.3 years in 1990 to 71.5 years in 2013.

The cost of sequencing the genome has decreased exponentially from approximately $150 million (2013) to under $1,000 (2015), a reduction of 150,000x. Once quantum computers become mainstream, the cost to sequence an individual genome could be cheaper than flushing the toilet! This could lead to mass customized medicines, further decreasing human mortality rate.

Additionally, the introduction of CRISPr allows scientists to cut out and replace living DNA; effectively eradicating almost all diseases and rewriting the genetic code that governs life expectancy.

And we haven’t even included advancements in nano-tech, AI to determine genetic diffusions, R&D into reversing aging, 3D printing organs, or human augmentation to the point of ‘the singularity’.

With life expectancy of, say 200, versus today’s 75, there are a number of considerations. Many challenge the conventional paradigms we currently deem normal. Questions of increased retirement, education systems, second, third or even fourth careers, children and life-savings, are obvious short-term issues to address.

At a micro level, which individual wouldn’t want to spend just another year with a sick loved one? However, at a macro level, this would be far from ideal. Arguably, the greatest issue we face is resource constraints caused – not by over-population per se (the United Nations projects a world population of 9.7 billion by 2050) – but by the number of consumers and the scale/nature of that consumption.

Across Africa, the median age is 19.4 years with a total population of approximately 1.3 billion, however, the average age of the continental leadership is 65 years old. Already Africa has a history of dictatorships, and with leaders living longer, will we have more authoritarian rule?

With an increasingly aging active workforce, what is the future of jobs? Especially coupled with the replacement of labor with 4IR technologies (robotics, AI, automated plants) and youth unemployment upwards of 50%. From a capitalist perspective, efficiency gains and profit maximization will drive business decisions. However, are we further creating a situation whereby the Gini gap increases while the rich, aging, experienced reap the benefits of longevity? Are we sitting atop a socio-economic time bomb with increasing inequality?

Advances in technology will definitely drive the upward age of longevity toward the 200 mark. However, there are a number of considerations – both moral and social – that we have not begun to think about, as a species. Ultimately, the question is no longer if death (like taxes) is inevitable, but rather: even if we can conquer death – should we?

 By Craig Wing, a partner at FutureWorld International, driving innovation and futures thinking across organizations globally. He is a thought-leader on 4IR, future of work and corporate culture.

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It’s About Time For Success For Entrepreneurs In Africa

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As a teenager it dawned on me that my undergraduate academic ambition was going to be threatened when my father lost his job. My dream to become a petroleum engineer was deflated in a matter of days. I was concerned about my future and afraid I would be tagged as a failure. During this unpleasant and frustrating experience, I questioned the rationale behind my dad’s choice of paid employment. If he had started a business, maybe things would have turned out differently. That was a tipping point for my search for success in life.

In 1999, I found a book that answered the question of how to be successful. The Success Journey, written by John C. Maxwell, sparked my hunger for knowledge, which led me to start visiting a public library built by the Catholic church in my town, in southwestern Nigeria. I made that decision because I had read in the book that knowledge is a prerequisite for success.

My need to be successful and influential was so strong that it birthed inspirational dissatisfaction in me. In the same manner, I have observed that many successful business owners often start with a burning desire and this desire takes up most of their time, most of their resources and almost all of their energy. I believe that is what counts for entrepreneurship.

On the other hand, I have also encountered many African start-up entrepreneurs who have ideas that lack that yearning. All they have is a wish that may or may not be achieved, and a template-guided business plan. Most of these plans remain on paper and are eventually buried. Some that succeed in starting their own business don’t get to live their dream beyond a few years.

READ MORE: A Little African Dream In Gangster’s Paradise

Other than the fact that many African countries have a poor rating on the ease of doing business index, a core factor that accounts for a business’s inability to survive is the lack of a burning desire. Success is for the hungry and desire is the emotion that will see it come to fruition.

It is important that a target is clearly defined before commencing with a business plan and allocating responsibilities. This helps everyone to effectively focus on crucial matters. In the present business space, time is more essential than money. The rate at which business disruption happens is so fast that many business leaders are constantly on their toes to just remain in the game. With this in mind, attention should only be given to what is important – the key drivers of the desired result.

Obviously, entrepreneurs in Africa are finding it easier now than a decade ago to hire tools, and raise capital to produce products. But, realizing the ability to rent time is highly unlikely in the near future. Time is inelastic. Therefore, we must focus on what really matters to get the desirable business result.

To better manage time, an entrepreneur should focus on what they have control over. When you focus on concerns that you can’t control, you may lose sight of things within your control.
Also, ensure your beliefs and values align with the desired business result because these influence your time and attention.

Setting goals, and planning for them, are instrumental to time management. This will help guide decisions as well as allowing you to delegate where necessary.
I have accepted the simple paradigm that nothing makes one entrepreneur more successful than the other in an industry as much as what each person does with time. Time creates everybody’s chance, but not everybody creates a chance with the time they have.

– Victor Mamora

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Should we be worried about Generation Z joining the workforce? Here’s why not

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In the next year or two, the workplace faces an unprecedented situation where for the first time, due to the fact that we’re all living longer, five generations may be working side by side: Veterans (pre-World War II); the Baby Boomers (World War II – 1960s); Generation X (mid-60s – late 1970s); Millennials (aka Generation Y) (1979 – 1991); and last, but not least, the largely unknown factor: Generation Z, born after 1992.

It’s estimated that there are more than 2 billion of Gen Z worldwide. In South Africa, a third of the population is under the age of 21.

It may be too soon to be definitive about the characteristics of this generation, but they are said to be realistic, cause and value driven, entrepreneurial, financially prudent, and have boundless curiosity.

This is the first generation born into a fully technological environment – a world of being connected, being digital, and having mobile phones or tablets as a matter of course . They’re therefore more advanced in searching for information and figuring things out on their own.

It’s said that Generation Z will have jobs that have not even been created yet. But that’s not the only thing we aren’t sure of. Although there’s some indication of who they are and the influences shaping them, their characters are still forming and their role in the workplace is yet to take shape.

And, let’s face it: organisations are still struggling to analyse the challenge that Millennials pose in the workplace. These include fitting in with organisational culture, their communication style preferences and negative stereotypes of each generation. All these need to be managed in the workplace.

What exactly are they going to do when Generation Z arrives?

Business as usual

Popular wisdom argues for a fairly predictable set of approaches – all of which are wise. And increasingly people are understanding that while there are important differences between generations, they can be complementary and there is a significant opportunity for both ends of the age spectrum to learn from each other.

Listed staffing agency Robert Half asked chief financial offices where the biggest differences (and therefore opportunities for learning) lay between generations in the workplace. Thirty percent said “communication skills”, 26% said “adapting to change”, 23% said “technical skills”, 14% said “cross-departmental collaboration”, and 7% noted “no differences”.

The gist of tried and tested approaches is to:

  • encourage collaboration between generations;
  • facilitate mentoring;
  • allow for a cross-pollination of knowledge, where older employees share their experience, and younger employees contribute technological know-how, newer techniques and innovation.

It has also been well argued that managers should take the lead in adapting their management style rather than expecting staff to change.

The crucial bridge for Generation Z

But just how different will Generation Z really be? The Millennials (aka Generation Y) has been described more than once as “Generation X on steroids”. All indications are that Generation Z will take this up a notch. Emma Davies, Human Resources Manager for South African construction company ALEC, says the organisation has already experienced this to some extent with work experience students:

They are a very politically aware generation, and they have been taught to question everything, but to do so respectfully. The toddler stage of asking ‘why?’ does not end!

Both inside and outside the workplace, listening skills, patience, tolerance and humility will become more and more crucial for older generations. And two-way mentorship will become even more important than it has been with Millennials.

Generation Y has already pointed to some important changes that need to happen. Because they want involvement and feedback and are generally outspoken they have played a role in creating a more inclusive workplace as teamwork has become central to their work life.

This will be a crucial tool in making the most of the skills of Generation Z. This, combined with their strong communication skills and self-awareness, will emphasise the importance of teamwork.

These integration skills may prove crucial in helping to manage Generation Zs. Millennials, in this sense, may function as a bridge. This isn’t to say it will all be plain sailing, even if older employees are patient and ready to learn from the youngsters.

Generation Y and Z’s desire for connectedness and relationships on the part can be used for more successful mentorships. A desire for learning could also help alleviate tension with Generation Xs, Baby Boomers and Veterans, who may otherwise experience them as disrespectful or arrogant.

Focus on the similarities

But stereotyping needs to be avoided. South African organisations are very familiar with the effects that negative racial stereotyping can have on teams and productivity. They need to guard against the same thing happening with different generations. By fixating on minor differences and taking them out of context, and by failing to appreciate similarities, organisations could be missing an opportunity.

More than that, the differences between generations might be smaller than we think. Research from the University of North Carolina showed that Millennials want the same things as Generation X and Baby Boomers: challenging, meaningful work; opportunities for learning, development and advancement; support to successfully integrate work and personal life; fair treatment and competitive compensation.

And all three generations agreed on the characteristics of an ideal leader – a person who leads by example, is accessible, acts as a coach and mentor, helps employees see how their roles contribute to the organisation, and challenges others and holds them accountable.

The chances are, Generation Z won’t be too far off this mark either.

Respect and common sense is key

Implicit in this list of characteristics of the ideal leader is respect – of self and others. In business, as in life, the fundamentals of mutual respect go a long way in building positive workplace cultures. Respect will be key in managing multiple generations too.

All that’s really needed is a commonsense approach that maintains a focus on individual needs, honours each person’s contribution, and strives to keep older workers engaged alongside newer hires so as to avoid losing institutional knowledge.

It may also help to remember that each generational shift evolves organically – and so, too, will the workplace, if we are open to allowing it to do so. – Written by Linda RonnieSenior Lecturer in Organisational Behaviour and People Management, Graduate School of Business, University of Cape Town

Originally published in The Conversation

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