South Africa Needs More Disruptive Innovators than Politicians

2016-08-09 14:15

The local government elections have come and gone and South Africans have made their choices. The next big challenge for those entrusted with the hopes and aspirations of people, is to form effective governments that can deliver efficiently, the requisite public goods that a country like South Africa requires. It also requires those voted into power, to create an enabling environment that encourages ordinary citizens to be disruptive innovators (Christensen C., Innovator's Dilemma).

There is definitely space for politicians in any society, but it seems to me that we have an oversupply of politicians and under-supply of disruptive innovators, an equal measure of disruptive providers of funds as well as institutions that will support disruptive innovators and their ideas. Historically, at least from a traditional economic point of view, every society required land and natural resources, capital, labor and most importantly, entrepreneurs to make things and grow. The strong emphasis has always been on entrepreneurs, in other words, people with ideas about how to mix and match skills, capital and land to solve problems of whatever nature profitably.

Of equal importance however, this also required visionary providers of funds to fund the ideas and make them bankable, to start businesses and to scale them up etc., Equally, the support infrastructure to help, guide and build and develop the entrepreneurs, their ideas and businesses. If one looks at East Coast of the USA for example, one notes the significant contribution of people like Georges Doriot, founder of ARD (see Spencer Ante's Creative Capital). On the West Coast as well, one notes the contribution of the likes of Don Valentine etc.,

With the advent of digital technologies however, the barriers to entry have been lowered significantly, albeit not enough in South Africa, where in most industry sectors, market structures are still dominated by about four or five established players. Regardless however, the requirements to start a business have reduced significantly.

What we require, is more entrepreneurs with a disruptive innovation bias. In other words, entrepreneurs who have "transformative orientation and bias." These are people who would be fired up by the need to provide to "non-consumers" either due to lack of money, time and skill "cheaper or new market disruptions that bring them into the consumption fold. To borrow Schumpeter's parlance, these are entrepreneurs who first and foremost are fired up to serve "factory girls" first and "queens" later.

We also require an environment that encourages those that are not happy about something, to generate potentially profitable ideas to solve. I am reminded that one of the reasons Steve Jobs came up with the Apple Mac was that he wanted a computer that did not make as much noise so as not to disturb his meditation.

To make this happen however, we need to change the conversations that we have daily. The media has a role to play here. More share of voice needs to be given to disruptive ideas, people, businesses, funders and thought leaders. We also need to change the metrics that we use to measure politicians. We cannot continue to measure ourselves, officially and otherwise by the number of newspaper advertisements with our faces on them, Facebook likes, Twitter impressions or LinkedIn views.

Politicians need to be measured on the pipeline of disruptive innovators and their impact, at every stage along the entrepreneurial development chain. The big, hairy and audacious goal (Porras and Collins) is that during term of office, a politician must have helped develop at least 500 entrepreneurs. This should exclude immediate family members, friends and tenders. Where tenders are at play, they should only be used as seed funding for a defined period only. At the beginning of term of office, politicians should submit strategic plans clearly indicating the key milestones towards the end goal, the resources the will require, the support etc.,

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