On being nimble and expanding your worldview: Q&A with Fortune Gamanya (EMBA)

UCT GSB PRESS OFFICE - 1 August 2018

Whether you’re an organisation facing down the Goliath of the 4th Industrial Revolution, a woman in the workplace or an MBA student embarking on a new trajectory, you need to be lean and agile and ready to engage, unapologetically, on your own terms, says the founder of Luminary Advisory & Consulting and EMBA alumna, Fortune Gamanya.

There is much talk of the 4th Industrial Revolution, but what does it mean for Africa?

People say Africa will ride the wave of the 4th Industrial Revolution, but to do so I think we need to have a better understanding of the unique African context - otherwise it will pass us by. We know that copying and pasting solutions from elsewhere does not work in Africa. Right now, I don’t think we are asking the right questions about Africa. Albert Einstein is purported to have said that given an hour to solve a problem, he would spend 55 minutes defining it and five minutes solving it. We need to take a good investigative look at Africa, and then Africanise the 4th Industrial Revolution. This in fact is the theme for our inaugural Luminary Leadership Conference in March next year.
For business, this means that we must innovate at the point of need, coming up with technological solutions to real issues on the ground. Innovation is not fancy gadgets and apps. Innovation is meeting the needs of the system and the people. Only then might we unlock the investment potential of the continent.

In a world where digitisation is rapidly changing the rules, what are the biggest challenges facing business in SA?

The biggest challenge to large organisations is the lack of agility and nimbleness of legacy systems. How often do we hear, when looking for innovative solutions: “that would be great but our systems won’t interface with it.” When a customer-centric solution is pitched, inevitably there is an issue with the system that renders it impossible or limits its impact. The answer then becomes a patchwork around what is possible within the system. A business that is held ransom by legacy systems and a “this-is-the-way-things-are-done” philosophy needs to start worrying about start-ups that are innovating and meeting the customer’s needs. We have already seen how nimble start-ups like Airbnb have been able to win sizeable market share in markets that have been dominated by established, less agile businesses.

Given all this, how does one future-proof a business?

Organisations need to rethink and restructure towards agility - being nimble enough to leapfrog into creating solutions and experiences for customers that are meaningful. One needs to look at value from the perspective of the customers instead of from the point of policy and what the system will allow. That modus operandi is unlikely to work in the future when lean thinking, nimbleness and agility, will be vital to resilience.

As it is August, Women’s Month, what are the challenges facing women in the workplace and how do we counter them?

I like to look at data before speaking of challenges. The data tells us there is minimal movement of women into leadership positions. If one considers the top-40 JSE-listed companies, there is only one that is led by a woman. That statistic alone is worrying. Where are all the women? Data also suggests on-going pay gaps.
Having said that, I believe we have a responsibility to change that narrative by choosing to engage in a way that will bump us into a different set of data. We need to think differently.
Take me for example. I am a consultant, and as such I engage with the client, get a brief, write a proposal quoting possibly the same fee that a male counterpart would. Should the client return negotiating for a much lower fee, I don’t see that as being because I am a woman. I see it as the client trying to get the best possible deal, and so I engage as a professional, arguing about the value and worth I bring, and the reason why I have quoted that. I engage as a human being and an equal before I engage as a woman. We have to engage differently in order to change the data. We need a new narrative. This will require us being committed to educating people to engage with us differently, it will require us relentlessly creating spaces for our voices to be heard. I am mindful about my choice of words; not fighting but creating. Fighting assumes we are angry and have been provoked and I am saying let us gracefully create a space for ourselves and occupy it unapologetically. Let us speak out truth about being conscious about the status quo and our strong desire and commitment to changing it.

You are a believer in the importance of owning one’s story. What is yours?

I grew up in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, raised by my granny and my mom. I did not grow up as a “have”, but my mom and granny created an environment filled with so much love, and so much what I call “enoughness”. We lived in a little house, in retrospect it was actually a love-filled mansion. My granny taught me the analogy of using your five fingers as a perspective on the state of the world. She would say that your fingers are not the same length; they remind us that there will always be someone better than us, more privileged, more everything. The key is being content with yourself and your circumstances… and never yearning to be someone else, if you are a thumb, be a thumb in the best way that you can, if are forefinger be the best forefinger there is and don’t try to be something else in the world! I recognise the amazing role my granny and mom played in making do with what we had, and never feeling less than anyone else. It speaks to the person I have become.

You recently completed an EMBA cum laude at UCT’s Graduate School of Business. What does education mean to you?

Education is the continual expansion of your worldview. Having studied towards a diploma in Civil Engineering at the Bulawayo Polytechnic, I headed to South Africa in 2003 as things were beginning to turn in Zimbabwe. I fell in love with the GSB when I was still at Toyota and I studied towards an Associate in Management, which was awarded with distinction in 2010.  After I left Toyota as a certified Toyota Way Facilitator, which Lean Thinking is based on, I taught lean thinking at the GSB as part of its Executive Education team. Then I turned my attention to the EMBA. I never thought of the EMBA as a means to access a better job. Instead it was the richness of the experience and its ability to shape and mould me that drew me. Part of the programme is based on the work of Professor Roger Martin’s theory of Integrative Thinking. One of his propositions is that “the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function is the sign of a truly intelligent individual”. It might sound simple but it is not easy because our worldviews are so ingrained and I found that the EMBA helped me develop this skill and I work on it daily.

The other thing I would say about the EMBA is that if you are open to the experience, to the convergence of people – not only those teaching you but within your class – who are usually people with strong views and high intelligence, then everyone around you can teach you something. The beauty is not in the piece of paper at the end but in the process, which enriches you as it challenges and pushes you. It is a most worthwhile pressure cooker.

FORTUNE GAMANYA is Founder and Chief Luminary of Luminary Advisory & Consulting. A strategy, lean management, leadership and team development facilitator, she also lectures on lean thinking on some of the UCT Graduate School of Business’ executive education programmes and is a recent graduate cum laude of the school’s EMBA. Formerly employed by Toyota Tsusho Africa, Fortune is passionate about leadership practices that create organisations fit for human beings and changing the narrative of women in the workplace. She is married, and a mother of two boys aged nine-and-a-half, and five. For more information on her work go to http://luminaryac.co.za

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