A friend recently said that if your ideas aren’t having sex, they’re just masturbating.
I was attending a leadership forum for young activists and Gavin Marshall’s provocative opening caught everyone’s attention. Gavin – Head of Innovation at Mxit, Africa’s largest mobile instant messaging platform – believes that everybody can have great ideas, but real innovation only takes place once ideas are shared and given a chance to ‘mate’ with other ideas. A good idea, he says, can become better and more functional through collaboration.
Gavin’s absolutely right. Some of my most valuable insights have come after coffee with friends from completely different backgrounds: pastors, artists, businesswomen, lawyers, activists and so on. The world is such a fascinating and complex place that original ideas often evolve to be far more robust after receiving input from those who see the world differently. Often they don’t agree with what I have to say. Sometimes they help me explain the idea better. But always, the idea slowly churns and matures.
In 1951 mining, manufacturing and agriculture contributed almost 50% of this country’s GDP. This has dropped steadily over the last 60 years and in 2012 these three sectors contributed just under 25% of the GDP. The world is fast changing. According to the South African Institute for Race Relations, in the 1960s and 1970s South Africa experienced a sustained GDP growth of above 5%. The only time the economy grew this fast since 1994 was during the mini-boom of 2004-2007. After that though, since as early as 2008, the Western world was brought to its knees by the Great Recession. Citizens were outraged by the unethical conduct of bankers who maximised shareholder value to the point of destruction.
This was an example of financial innovation gone too far, especially in the field of derivatives. Ever since the rise of globalisation in the 1990s and the influx of hot money through the global economic policies, the world basically experienced a financial orgy. And forgot to use condoms. The property bubble burst, markets became sluggish, manufacturing output decreased, unemployment increased, anger from poor and working-class communities turned into protests and the disaffection of the middle and capitalist class became restless.
What does the future of work look like for South Africans? And where can great ideas mate?
The answer to this depends a lot on what we value. Whether we like to admit it or not, this paradigm of work-life and success being about bankers, the lawyers who represent them, accountants and other big business-type-people, still looms large in South Africa’s collective consciousness, despite the catastrophic consequences of the global meltdown. I still chuckle when I overhear businessmen getting excited about ’emerging markets’; haven’t these markets always been there, possibly for 100s of years? The ’emergence’ of course, is the opportunity to make more money, now that other markets are saturated.
But there’s a difference this time.
More people are starting to question GDP growth at the expense of social, economic and environmental wellbeing. At least for my generation, and the generation after me, money only feels kind of important. I say kind of, because our generation has been forced to ask more pressing questions, like, what DO we do when the icebergs melt. In our lifetime. Or, how do we build an understanding of economics that is inclusive and sustainable? We do not want to toil for endless hours giving the best years of lives to some faceless corporation, yet we want to make our daily bread through meaningful work; and make enough to feed our families and those we care about.
As I have written before, work spaces should accommodate not our uniqueness or individuality, but our “wholeness”, which includes our wellbeing. The New Economic Foundation, for example, was one of the first leading think-tanks to make an economic and social argument for a shorter working week – something that should appeal to all of us. And this brings us to the quintessential working problem: how do we find work that means something, and how do we do it with balance? This question, coupled with hard financial times, has driven many to start working for themselves so that they can produce and create on terms that they find more sustainable. And it’s not just tired lawyers or bankers, but small business owners, writers, musicians, designers of all kinds, and other creatives.
A Harvard Business Review blog titled ‘The Rise of Coworking Office Spaces‘ recently suggested that coworking office spaces, leasable by the day or month are multiplying in cities all over the US. Demand was projected to expand by as much as 40% in 2013. According to Benjamin Dyett of Grind – an invitation-only coworking space – these members can be described as ‘free radicals’, that ‘network endlessly and collaborate constantly. They choose when and how they do what they do, on their own terms. They don’t want job security, they want career fluidity.’
According to HBR this kind of work place does three things differently:
● They offer collaborative networks, built-in resources, and a dynamic ecosystem
● They foster innovation.
● They make starting a business simpler.
These kind of spaces offer South Africa’s own ‘free radicals’ an important opportunity. Armed with break-neck speed internet, access to designers, affordable ad hoc legal advice, access to capital and investors, and other integrated services, you’re exposed to a far more personal and exciting working community. Defraying costs is important for everyone counting the cents but so is the desire to constantly learn, understand and evolve, which is essential in order to operate in a knowledge economy.
South Africa is an exciting place because of all the challenges, not despite them. And the future will not simply be about growth and GDP. Truly collaborative spaces have the potential to allow for revolutionary ideas to ‘mate’ and create opportunities for complex problems to be solved.
While my ideas have plenty of sex, I’ll sit back with a good cup of coffee and enjoy the ride.
– Greg Solik
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The Inner City Ideas Cartel is dedicated to providing luxury, scalable office space to rent in Cape Town. Regardless of the size of your company we promise to provide an environment that is conducive to productivity and opportunity. Our member base ranges from the solopreneur, freelancing their way to greatness right up to mid size legal and tech teams battling the b2b corporate world. We’re a workspace hotel, not an ordinary office space.