I have recently been reading and been in conversation around the concept of renaissance and transformation. I found some opinion pieces on the African Renaissance and I in particular read, for the umpteenth time, the groundwork done by John Kotter, published under the title Leading Change (Harvard Business Review, January 2007,). As a point of departure, here are some reflections: I do understand that both of these concepts refer to an exceptionally multifaceted and sometimes chaotic state and process, which should never be undervalued. So, how do we seek simplicity on the other side of complexity in brief conversations such as these? How do we, as Africans, make sense of this so that we can be the change, the transformation, we so desperately desire? I want to start by sharing reflections on the obvious – this side of complexity – to, in future conversations, assist in sense-making.
First, though, I want to explain my understanding of the two concepts used.
Renaissance indicates a rebirth, a starting from scratch, a sense of tabula rasa, almost a reawakening from a deep paradigmatic sleep. This starts in the minds of people first, and not with an announcement and a set of activities or a batch of clinically designed interventions. It is in the first place a mind-shift; moving from a state of almost unconscious, competent, mindless habituated thinking and going to a state of mindfulness, a state of consciousness, where we gracefully act and facilitate a new way of thinking, being and doing.
Transformation, to me, means a change of form, i.e. a second order change. Not a first order change where everything is business as usual and we only have to ‘move the furniture around’. I want to share an example with you (a banal example, I concede): if you take a worm with twenty pairs of feet and one head with one set of antennas and you want it to be better, to move faster, and to make more of the resources available, etc., you could offer it some kind of incentive to achieve this. If this is not successful, you could add another ten pairs of feet, add an extra head on the other side of the body with an extra pair of antennas, and perhaps then you may see results. Now, if that suffices, if that gives you what you want, then this first order change (moving the furniture around) was all you needed. It, however, was not transformation. If, however, you need to move from A to B in seconds, to cover distances that worms could only dream about, and to facilitate cross-pollination at great speed and efficiency, you may want to consider a second order change, a transformation of the worm. In the context of our example we may have to ‘kill’ the worm (the paradigm) in it its current form, surround it with a chrysalis (a space for deep reflection), set other processes in motion to strip and rearrange the old DNA and then, through a progression of reawakening, sanction a rebirth, a glorious struggle to escape the old thought prison, dismantling the scaffolding of the current paradigm and allowing the emergence of this colourful butterfly, equipped to circumnavigate the changed landscape with far more sophistication, and demonstrating a new way of thinking, being and doing.
If I witness Africa’s leaders, the abundance of resources presented, the considerable latent human dividend slumbering in our youth, the remarkable intellectuals, etc., I cannot but recommend that – to bring all of this together to the benefit of ourselves as Africans and the world – we need a rebirth of thought, a reawakening, a new network of neurons firing in a vastly different way than in the past. On how we should go about achieving this I would like to venture a few possibilities, and share them with you in articles to come.