Message from Jon

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Keep on keeping on.

It’s unimaginable now, where we are. But it will pass; though what state will we be in when it has?

Fighting the virus is our battle, one we must win. But our war is to come out of this in good shape to reconstruct a new South Africa, a new idea of a nation in a changed world, and in a position to build prosperity for all of our people, not just a few. And each nation is in the same war.

It may seem absurd to think of this when our immediate battle is so pressing, but not to win this war will make the cost of our battles too great to bear.

Right now, one of the greatest services we can do for our society is to understand how to work in complexity, how to be generous, how to keep the value-generating activities going under new
conditions, how to change lenses, how to sustain and grow an economy in new ways. How should we think and manage?

This is a short talk about the need to keep on keeping on and how that, in the end, is our greatest service.



1. Is your prediction that May 2020 will be our big disaster?

We are dealing with mathematics and a virus that has no mind. A virus has one thing – it replicates and only wants our upper respiratory tract. So, it is mathematical, if it spreads, it will find that in people. What we have to do is stop it getting inside people’s chest. I do not know if May will be a big disaster or not. What I do know is that the rate of infection will increase in spite of this lockdown. And as it increases, the apparent rate of infection will increase because we are measuring things that happened weeks ago.

The actual rate of infection will start to decrease but we will not see that until later, as per with China and Italy’s experience.

We have got to know that what we are doing is worth it. The disaster will happen if we do not really double down on this and take it extremely seriously because it will
spread in the communities. We have got to commit and make a lower curve. Let us not speak about disasters, let us speak about coping and thriving.

2. If this virus is going to be with us and there is no vaccine. What happens to those businesses that need the consumer connection, e.g. coffee shops, restaurants, etc. Do they close up and innovate?

This is our opportunity – we work in an economy that is historically viable. I do not know if there will be a vaccine. We are all going to have to find ways to innovate.
People still love coffee; they just do not want to sit in spots where they might catch the virus. The thing about creativity is that you cannot say what the answer will be because it is created. When you enter into a creative space, you are trusting that you will get somewhere. The deepest capability we need to have is that we can learn our way through problems. The real skill is deep capacity, learning in action and in realtime. We are very good with experiential learning – that will help us find a way. I do not know what the answer is, but I know that we will find ways to sort it out.

3. What is the lesson we learn regarding the fragility of capitalism?

The model of capitalism that we have known is to make profit which is not okay. We have an issue of consequences spread out through pollution, climate change, and now other consequences through lack of full information systems. In the trajectory of the commons, where common assets and no one person wants to pull back, is that the capitalistic growth model cannot survive.

I am fascinated by groups such as extinction rebellion, not necessarily because of the group itself, but of the need to grow global movements of collaboration beyond government, beyond nations that will manage this.

The sort of capitalism that will emerge, will have to be one that is interdependent – we will have to learn to collaborate. That is going to be deeply difficult for many. The lesson is that the capitalistic habit that we have, is only a framework of thinking. It is a story in our minds, and we all believe it. But that story does not exist. You cannot see it.

We have to create a new story of how we work with money. The edges of money will start to dissipate – monetary systems will have to start to cope with people being without revenue. We are going to see different forms to capitalistic systems. We have to collaborate, to progressively find new ways. We all can help, and we must.

4. Do you think that we will eventually get back to normal or is this a total change of life?

I do not know what you think. We all have insights. In my opinion, no, I do not know what normal is anymore because normal is a habit too. Some of our previous normal was not so great; the highest Gini-coefficient is not a normal we want to carry on with, increasing pollution and climate change and the consequences of capitalism, our individualistic activities are not sustainable. I really hope that we do not go back to what normal is.

I hope this propels us into another future which will not be perfect because perfectionism is a pathology. We will be better, and then progressively better, and better. We will change the way we think about the quality of life. What is the quality of life? It surely is not consumerism; it surely is not what I am more than anyone else. It surely is about relationships, value, empathy, the capacity to create quality through work and business should be that – doing good. We should create entities of good, for people through business. And improve their lives. It should not exploit and steal them.

There will always be a counter-force; what we need now is another strong force which is going to push South Africa into a new way of being and actually, at last, through these difficult times, create a society that is more equal and far more prosperous and a far better place to live.

5. What is the impact of a high HIV infection rate?

It is huge – there are 2.5 million HIV positive people who are not taking ARVs (which I read yesterday); they are extremely vulnerable. We cannot afford this as an economy, let alone on humanitarian grounds. So, the point is, what we are facing is a potentially serious situation, however, we will and can get through it. It is going to require a change of activity – how we work, how we be. It is not going to last a month or two, this is going to last longer. We have the capability, intelligence and global support. This is a time when great economies, if they pitch in around Africa, will be remembered for generations. If America came in to help us now, they could but they cannot because they have got the highest rate of infection. If China came to help us, Africa will be China.

It does make all our existing vulnerabilities invisible.

6. The environmental benefits to South Africa?

There are two things, the immediate benefit through lack of activity but it is going to change because of a population that is not working, that is traumatized – we are going to see other negative activities if we do not move. What it may do, is change our view about what is tolerable in terms of projecting damage, either socio-economic or economic onto the environment.

7. What is the reason our economy has not transformed?

We have been stuck in a time of state capture, the abuse that was experienced by most people through colonization and apartheid – it is something that will take a long
time to come to terms with; and identity politics and corruption. It is a crime against everybody, and especially the poor. We have to fight it.

I do not know how long it will take the economy to recover. After a 3 week lock down there will be consequences. We are going to have to dive into a new world at the same time, so all of our mandates have changed. We have got to learn new skills and understand how to work virtually, how to innovate virtually, and above all, we are going to have to find the capacity to trust each other, because without that, without directly looking at someone in the eyes and see the human being there is no science of race. We are all the same. Whatever the other difference is, political or national or gender, we have got to see that we are equal as humans and we will have to start working that way. We will see that that is the only salvation for us now. It is going to
change the world, let’s hope in a good way.

We change the authority, to enable lower power distancing, via very strict regulations and changes in aviation. The same thing is happening in medicine which has got a high degree (approximately 400 000) in unnecessary deaths in the US health system alone, due to avoidable medical error, often due to power dynamics and information shortages.

8. Video footage showing people acting as if it is business as usual

If we do not get into lockdown, we are all in danger. I am impressed by President Ramaphosa and his story to the army about being there to help us (which is very true). If people carry on with business as usual, then we will have major consequences. We all have to educate and share and believe in the capacity of the human mind to change, some cannot but it is a power shift. We have to change the majority to think that way; about all the methods we can, the creatives need to get online and connect.

9. Do the majority of business leaders have the capacity to adapt?

No, I do not think the majority do, some do. In times like this, business leadership changes. In times of crisis, new leadership emerges, and so it should.

10. How can you help clients in the manufacturing industry when they have no work?

Get IP from the US/UK/wherever it is to build low cost, easy to manufacture ventilators and other medical equipment. Keep looking for risk funding to help establish those here. Get your manufacturing people making stuff that is going to save lives. They will get revenue, eternal gratitude and will keep their businesses going. We all have to adapt.

11. How can the MBAs adapt to digitalization support?

We have massively changed our methods already onto virtual and they fully work.

We are going to share everything that we have learnt with every other institution and we are going to be very public about doing that.

12. The need to innovate and protecting IP?

Under these conditions, IP becomes technical. What is the point of being number one and holding all this stuff in a world that is not prosperous anymore and does not exist, what have you got? We have to share IP, yes people will exploit but it is one of the roles of government and ourselves is to step in and to stop that happening.

13. If I could reshape the economy in the next 5 years, what would I prioritise?

Right now, health, and I would create a massive innovation around education to make sure that there is a pipeline of people and I would change the way we see education from one thing here, and help people understand that learning is lifelong and education is not a degree. We are going to have to educate, motivate, encourage. Above all, I would work on changing the dynamics between human beings so we all see each other as the same and all our families interdependent.


Dean and director and Henley Africa, activist, speaker and educator. Founder and chair of MBAid (NGO). Founder of #CorporateActivism #NoMoreBribes #NewAfricanHeroes #FamilyFriendlyLearning, #HenleyICE, #HenleyFIRE, #HenleyEARTH (Environmental Activism through Research and Training @Henley).

Driver of ‘We build the people, who build the businesses, that build Africa’

Director and designer of MBA, leadership and executive programmes. 30 years in strategy, creativity and innovation. Director of innovation centre in New Zealand. Resource at YPO Africa Ignite. Also ex-airline captain, senior executive in the European aerospace industry, aerobatics competitor, flight examiner and instructor.