South Africa aspires to raise the standard of living of all her people.
How do we achieve this?
In the past year I have been asking this question and progressively understanding my observations in the context of the work that I have done with information technology, strategy and economics over the past three decades.
As an engineer, the first port of call in such an inquiry is to ask “who has gone before?” Is there a pattern or model we can draw on in order to understand what is required to generate sustainable enduring wealth that reaches all levels of society?
The answer is that in most of the world we do NOT find such a model. It is absent in Africa, South and Central America and most of Asia barring Japan and Singapore. It is present in much but not all of Western Europe with countries like Germany, Switzerland and Sweden probably the leaders in the field. It is more or less evident in the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada and in some components of Australian society but in the latter cases there are still indigenous peoples who are living in relatively poor conditions.
So, what characterizes those societies that do have universal or close to universal national wealth at a level that raises even the poorest of the poor above the bread line and to a level where there is some hope of enduring revenue earning capability?
The common thread in creating wealth is the ability to harness technology and methodology in such a manner that it leverages the capabilities and capacity of the citizens in such a manner that they create more valuable outputs than they require in order to subsist.
The common thread in achieving this objective is what I will call “wisdom” which I define as “mature, value creating knowledge and experience harnessed to create wealth”.
In order to understand value creating wisdom we need first to define value creating knowledge.
In this context we are NOT discussing knowledge in general. It is possible to acquire knowledge that does NOT create value.
Forcing children to learn a language that is not used anywhere else in the world may be satisfying from an ego and cultural view point but if it takes place at the expense of knowledge in areas like numeracy, English literacy and semantic understanding, mathematics, science or other value creating knowledge, such knowledge acquisition is not value creating.
Why do I mention English specifically?
Whether we like it or not, English has become the common language of the world of commerce today. In order to be able to transact in the mainstream economy it is increasingly necessary to have a good to excellent command of English.
Value creating knowledge is “facts, information and methodological instruction systematically and progressively acquired towards a goal of equipping the recipient of that knowledge to act in a value creating way”.
In order to deliver such knowledge it is necessary to have a clear long term view of how value is created and liberated to the benefit of large numbers of people.
In order to do this it is vital that the definition of the knowledge to be conveyed is defined by those who have firsthand knowledge and experience of operating in high value economic circumstances.
Leaving the definition of the educational milieu to those who see education as a vehicle for experimental and unproven ideologies is a recipe for disaster. South Africa is currently faced with the consequences of such an approach with increasing indications of looming catastrophic economic consequences.
Value creating experience can be defined as “value relevant knowledge applied in practice in a manner that equips the recipient of the experience to act in a manner that creates valuable outcomes, that is outcomes that achieve an agreed value creating objective.”
The approach of apprenticeships and other formal on-the-job supervised experience such as applied in engineering, law, accounting, medicine and many other trades is a key element of gaining value creating experience.
A necessary element of such formal apprenticeships was a requirement for examinations and / or submissions to evidence that the person being trained had in fact adequately acquired the experience provided at a level that permitted that person to operate unsupervised or a least under less supervision in the future.
Learnerships without such high standards of quality control are of doubtful or no value.
In the same way, attempts to downgrade the standards applied to engineers and other professionals in order to meet ideologically inspired racial quotas fundamentally undermines the capability of our economy to compete on a global stage where the only criteria applied to our products and services is whether they are competitive in terms of price and quality.
Technology is a harsh judge of knowledge and experience.
It is completely unyielding.
One bolt accidentally (is less politically correct terms “negligently”) left in a turbine, as it is alleged in some quarters happened at Koeberg two years ago, will do millions of Rands worth of damage no matter what the ideological background of the person who lacked the formal disciplines (knowledge and experience) to ensure that they did not make such a mistake.
This same harsh reality applies to education, agriculture, medicine, economics or any other field of human endeavour that is necessary to gear the resources of a nation in order to create sustainable value that will uplift the entire population economically.
A vital component of high value activity is self discipline.
Discipline has been a fundamental tenant of all successful civilizations over time. The current dispensation in South Africa which makes it a criminal offense for parents and teachers to discipline children is fundamentally at odds with what is required to achieve successful economic participation.
Experience that establishes that anti-social behaviour carries severe negative consequences is a vital component of developing a successful economy.
This point is NOT about tolerating wild and uncontrolled beatings by emotionally disturbed individuals acting in hysterical anger.
It IS about appropriate sanctions, including controlled physical discomfort unemotionally applied by mature and responsible human beings who care enough for the child being disciplined to understand that some level of pain is sometimes required in order to assist the subject to restrain themselves from inappropriate conduct in the future.
How is value creating wisdom (mature high value knowledge and experience) gained?
In particular, how is wisdom that relates to technologies and methodologies that create value attained?
In broad terms there are seven stages in the life of a human being that progressively work together to ensure the acquisition of value creating knowledge and experience.
Such knowledge and experience is not inevitable and it is only acquired in environments where there is active appreciation for such knowledge and experience and it is highly esteemed and coveted by those who go before.
It requires consistent application of knowledge and experience (frequently over generations) to gain the standards referred to above with regard to countries which have managed to eliminate poverty.
As will be seen from the points that follow there is a basis to assert that such knowledge and experience will only be fully acquired through exposure of several consecutive generations to environments which honour and respect high value knowledge and experience.
1. Birth context
There is increasing psychological and other evidence that our behavior as adults starts to form from the moment of conception and that it is certainly formed in substance by age five.
As much as it may be unpalatable ideologically, a child that is conceived by a mother in straightened circumstances, wracked with HIV, struggling to eke out a living and eating at most one unbalanced survival meal a day is at a serious disadvantage relative to a child conceived in a home where food is plentiful and there is less physiological distress.
We should be focusing more attention on the currently disadvantaged.
Accordingly, it will take generations to redress the imbalances that exist at this level.
2. Up to five years
Many core personality and behavioural elements, basic disciplines and pivotal directional life experiences are learned from the social and domestic context in which a child is raised.
As a person who is passionate about engineering, the application of the creative talents of human beings to create systems that work and perform value adding functions in society, I have come to recognize three cameo moments in my first five years of life that were pivotal in shaping my career direction.
Experientially I was an engineer by the time I was five years old. I was designing things, making things and solving problems at every opportunity and I continue to do that every moment that I have available to do this today.
Other engineers have confirmed to me that this has been their own experience and every indication is that it is the experiences in the first five years that will form the context for the rest of our lives.
Recognizing this uncomfortable reality is vital to achieving a high value economy in South Africa.
In particular, this requires that we recognize that a child raised in impoverished surroundings is at a HUGE disadvantage to one raised in a home with exposure to technology, adequate living standards and understanding of the true realities of global and domestic economics.
At the very least, if we aspire to be a world class nation competing as equals on the world stage we need to provide as much experiential exposure to children in disadvantaged homes as we can.
As a minimum this indicates the urgent need for a range of television and radio programs targeted at the less privilege and bringing the required knowledge and exposure on a continuous basis. This needs to be coupled with ongoing communication to society at large to enable parents to understand that access to this material is a fundamental if their children are to have any hope of a better life than the life that they are currently living.
During this period the caring but firm administration of discipline that includes physical discomfort and even pain – a short sharp application of a wooden spoon or light cane – is evident in every successful society.
3. Primary school
Effective primary schooling is vital to lay the foundation for the ability to create sustainable wealth.
Schooling should concentrate on the essential building blocks of numeracy and literacy that are vital to be able to acquire more advanced educational building blocks and economic activity in time.
As mentioned above one needs to clearly rationalize any activity that is not going to assist a child of limited means to become more able to participate in the value creating components of society.
4. Secondary school
Primary school lays the foundation in terms of numeracy, literacy, discipline, study habits, exam technique, social interaction, leadership and other fundamental building blocks that determine whether a child is able to participate in high economic value activities in later life.
Secondary school should build on this foundation to equip children with high value knowledge and experience that equips them to become economically active in time.
Again, if one’s objective is to achieve high value then the subjects delivered must take account of what is required in order to achieve a high value career objective.
5. Tertiary education
Recognizing that not all children will be in a position to obtain tertiary education it is nevertheless highly desirable that the education process is directed to supporting those with the intellectual potential to achieve the highest standards of education possible.
This requires recognition that taking account of the elements of this paper it is realistic to expect that some children will have the potential to operate at University level with the potential to compete internationally while others will only have the knowledge, experience and aptitude to operate at less advanced academic levels.
The blurring of the distinction between technical and academic qualifications is another South African policy that has compromised the capability of our people to compete globally in a manner that uplifts our economy to the benefit of all our people.
6. Apprenticeship (to age 30 or 40?)
The importance of formal apprenticeships with clearly defined hurdles for acceptance into a trade or profession has already been stressed.
In practice, depending on the occupation, high value activities require further supervised development to the extent that it can be argued that in the occupations that create high economic value in the long term it is necessary for a person to continue to work under the supervision of a experienced individuals for as long as age thirty or even longer.
It is experientially evident that an engineer is not in a position to prove the ultimate governance and technical leadership of a large and complex engineering system until they are at least in their forties or possibly even fifties.
That is how long it will take to develop the knowledge and experience to successfully manage such large and complex projects.
7. Maturity of wisdom
The more I consider the question of how to raise the South African economy to a point where all our people are above the threshold of poverty, the more I have concluded that it requires human beings with mature wisdom, at least in their forties and quite possibly frequently in their fifties to lead sustainable economic change.
It can be argued that the current economic woes of the world are a consequence of people with inadequate knowledge and experience (wisdom) taking decisions that have had huge economic consequences. Much of the global economy in areas such as sub-prime and other areas of economic insanity have been driven by individuals who lack the mature wisdom to know that in economics “what goes up must come down”.
If one has never experienced economic meltdown or, at least, lived with someone who has, it is very difficult to visualize that the 2010’s could be similar to the 1920’s.
The first hand experience of the Great Depression of the 1920’s has almost died out and those who do have first hand memories are in old age homes and regarded as senile and unreliable sources of crabby conservatism. Even those of the next generation, those who grew up with parents scarred by the horrors of the Great Depression are largely regarded as over the hill and not to be considered as worthy sources of high value economic wisdom.
Yet their cautionary words, IF heeded a decade ago might have spared us the trauma of what is yet to come. But then again, the possibility of an enduring 90 year economic cycle cannot be entirely discounted!
Qou vadis South Africa?
South Africa today finds itself actively seeking to empower people who lack the knowledge and experience to have informed opinions at a global economic and technical level.
Yes, redress is necessary.
No, unqualified, untested, wholesale redistribution of power and cash will not create sustainable economic wealth.
The greatest travesty of South Africa’s history is NOT the inequitable distribution of property and cash, it is the inequitable distribution of knowledge and experience and, unlike property and cash, mature value creating knowledge and experience takes decades and even generations to gain.
Thus, while one can arguably fast track the acquisition of knowledge and possibly fast track the acquisition of experience it is debatable whether one can fast track the acquisition of high value economic wisdom and the ability to create sustainable wealth that uplifts the poorest of the poor.
Accordingly, the single greatest challenge facing South Africa today is to cease conducting social experiments based on ideology and the adoption of sober policies over multiple generations that speak to a consistent plan of action to raise educational and experiential standards across the board in the shortest practical time.
In seeking such an objective it behoves us all to:
n stop thinking on racial lines;
n stop applying apartheid in reverse;
n stop devaluing proven knowledge and experience;
n desist immediately from all actions that deliver the message to those who have high value knowledge and experience that they are unwelcome because of the colour of their skin;
n recognize that we have to do everything we possibly can to retain the knowledge and experience we already;
n regain those we have driven out;
n and attract other knowledge and experience to augment and gear the capacity and capability that remains;
n establish reliable methods of counseling, mentoring and coaching for those in power who have the integrity to recognize that they lack relevant knowledge and experience.
In addition to this we need to:
n honour and support parents in disciplining their children;
n honour and support educators in disciplining their students;
n reinstate performance based measurement of students at all stages of the educational process;
n reinstate discipline in all levels of our society and offer experiences that actively discourage criminal elements from continuing in crime;
n permanently terminate those whose lack of discipline is tearing society apart, specifically reinstate the death penalty for murder;
n introduce whatever measures are necessary to afford children in CURRENTLY disadvantaged homes and communities the opportunity to gain exposure to knowledge about technology, methodology and ways of being and doing that create value;
n terminate immediately those educational activities that are not conveying value creating knowledge and experience without fundamentally damaging the present methods and practices i.e. make outcomes education work (do NOT abolish it, that experiment will be more costly than we can afford);
n recognize that true sustainable wealth in South Africa is NOT about redistribution of assets it is about raising those who lack to the same standard as those who have in terms of opportunities to gain knowledge and experience.
If South Africa is to raise itself out of poverty and into universal life about the poverty line then we need to focus on that which creates wealth – high value, appropriate, knowledge and experience at a mature level that understands the fundamentals of using technology and methodology to leverage human resources in the creation and execution of high value economic endeavor.
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Dr James A Robertson -- has been involved in the effective application of Business Information Systems, including but NOT limited to ERP, since 1987 and in the profitable and effective use of computers in Business since 1981.
Drawing on a diversity of experience, including formal military training in Quick Attack techniques at the Regimental Commander level, Dr Robertson has developed highly effective methods of investigating any sub-optimal Business Information Systems situation -- be it an established system or a stalled project or any other source of Executive frustration -- quickly and concisely diagnosing the root cause of the problem and prescribing concise practical actions that Business Executives can effectively act on see the Pulse Measurement page and also the Sample Reports page for redacted real reports.
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All evidence indicates that the established players do NOT know how to deliver stable, reliable high value solutions that WORK.
There HAS to be a better way!
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By Engineering I mean the formal, structured, highly disciplined, highly systematic, highly practical approach that consistently delivers results in ALL areas of human endeavor where formally trained and certified engineers are the ONLY practitioners permitted to operate -- think large buildings, factories, motor vehicles, aircraft -- highly complex systems that work at a level that we take it for granted that they WILL work and where failure is all but unthinkable and, when it happens, attracts immediate public attention and rigorous investigation directed at ensuring that such failures are prevented in the future -- in fact, everything that the management consulting industry that implements complex software systems is NOT
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In 2003 I undertook an in-depth analysis of all the information and experience that I had gathered with regard to the factors giving rise to Business Information System failure including ERP and general IT and classified this information into a number of categories including "The Factors Causing Failure" and "The Critical Factors for Success" based on this I developed a two day Course "The Critical Factors for Information Technology Investment Success" which is still offered today.
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Strategic Essence: The Missing Link in Business Information Systems
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092 Doing things differently and better -- ASCO Case Study 2-- BPM Summit 2013
088 Strategic ERP Invesment -- ASCO Case Study -- Service Management Conference and Exhibition Africa
026 Information Architecture and Design of FIS for Rennies Group -- Financial Information Systems Conf
018 CRM Risk Control: Designing and Implementing an Integrated Risk Mgmt Sys -- Integrated Risk Mgmt Conf
011 V3 Consulting Eng: Benefits of MIS to Professional Practice -- SAICE 15th Ann Conf on Computers in Civil Eng
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