Load shedding is an opportunity!

South Africans should stop complaining about load shedding and see it as an opportunity. That’s according to Martin Emrich, a consultant for German-based leadership development agency Management Centre Europe (MCE) … CHARLEEN CLARKE finds out how on earth he can view load shedding in a positive light (no pun intended).

No one knows the exact reason for the Eskom crisis. As Chris Hattingh, a researcher at the Free Market Foundation, so aptly notes: “If you counted every hair on your head, that amount would probably not add up to the amount of times you have read and heard about the causes of the Eskom crisis.”

He adds: “Corruption and state capture have been identified as the bedrock reasons why South Africans have been thrown into darkness. A few people have pinpointed the unions as the cause of the problem, because they are enraged about President Ramaphosa’s announcement that Eskom will be unbundled. Others have laid the blame on transformation policies, specifically black economic empowerment.”

There is, however, one thing that we all seem to agree on: load shedding is here – and it seems set to stay (or maybe even intensify).

This sorry state of affairs has had most South Africans up in arms. People are concerned about the impact on the economy. Some fear that businesses will go under – specifically thanks to load shedding.

Emrich, a senior associate at MCE and a man who has developed leadership development programmes for companies such as Daimler, Hugo Boss, eBay, Adidas and Toshiba, disagrees. “It would be easy to join the ranks of other small to medium-sized companies blaming challenges such as load shedding for a loss in production and revenue. However, this is the easy way out,” he insists.

Like most South Africans, Emrich does have concerns about the impact of load shedding. “Of course it is an economic threat to all South African organisations – especially small to medium-sized companies, which are more substantially affected than bigger organisations, and the situation is quite serious.

“Ted Bloom just said in an interview with the German newspaper Handelsblatt that load shedding may continue until the year 2025. I can see how this is highly frustrating for many entrepreneurs in South Africa,” he comments.

However, he says that load shedding is a challenge that must be viewed holistically. “One problem I see is that the South African electricity market depends strongly on coal. So, in the short term, South Africa needs more coal to produce more energy and, thus, electricity again.

“I firmly believe, however, that this should be just a short-term solution. In the long term, South Africa needs to invest more in alternative power generation. Alternative technologies such as geothermal power, wind power, hydro power and biomass power must be developed and exploited as quickly as possible.

“This is where smaller businesses come into play. Some spin-off companies from big South African universities are in the process of developing promising research projects in some of these areas of alternative energy resources,” he reveals.

Above all, Emrich calls for a complete change in thinking. “Companies cannot operate in the same manner that they have in the past, because the circumstances and playing field have changed,” he points out.

That’s all very well, but what should companies do to deal with the challenge of load shedding? “Get the whole team involved and come up with implementable solutions. A great mechanism to make use of is what we call ‘business model innovation’. This helps to establish a culture of change in a company.

“By combining theory and practical application, individuals are guided towards coming up with solutions for their business environment. Techniques like generative reasoning, causal modelling, assertive enquiry, design thinking and integrated thinking are used to obtain optimum results.

“Business model innovation involves reinventing two or more components of a business to deliver value in a new way. Developing new ways of looking at old problems to create new choices can be one of the most fundamentally powerful techniques any business executive can learn.

“Thanks to load shedding, companies and organisations increasingly find themselves in unchartered waters and it is vital that they become comfortable with this complexity, so that their daily operation is less about crisis management and more about efficient and effective leadership,” he stresses.

Practically speaking, Emrich says small to medium-sized companies can adapt their trading/operating hours in order to deal with load shedding. “With the ample information around load shedding schedules, small to medium-sized companies can focus on increasing output during those periods when the power is on, even if it means opening the doors earlier or closing later.

“They need to adapt or die! The opportunities for small to medium-sized companies to capitalise on the needs created by the power outage crisis are growing by the day. If they are creative, inventive and willing to think out the box, they will be successful,” he insists.

In fact, Emrich contends that opportunities for start-up companies, especially for small to medium-sized businesses, have never been so good in South Africa.

“The Eskom crisis has created masses of opportunities. Once again, it’s about looking beyond the problem and finding a solution. What do consumers need as a result of the load shedding problem? To name a few; batteries, solar power, generators and there are many more. Develop a solution for a current problem and you will never have to look back,” he urges.

Emrich believes that South African companies are living in times that can best described with the acronym, VUCA. “Today’s economy is characterised by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA). In this VUCA-economy, a big size isn’t always a competitive advantage. It’s not an economy of scale. It’s not about mass production. It’s not about who’s bigger.

“Rather, it’s about who’s quicker and more agile. It’s about who has the better guerrilla marketing idea, and who is able to grasp what the clients really want within the blink of an eye. This is the chance for small to medium-sized companies. They need to be small, creative and quick!” he stresses.

Going forward, Emrich says: “I believe anything that takes a company out of its comfort zone can be considered a blessing in disguise. This forces people to think out the box and come up with creative ideas to overcome challenges,” he maintains.

In fact, Emrich goes so far as to say that – despite load shedding – South Africa is ready for the next giant leap forward towards a more prosperous future. He concedes that this may not be a popular point of view.

“I am aware that many economists may challenge my position. I am very optimistic when I think about South Africa’s future, and I am not an economist; I am a psychologist. As a psychologist, I am impressed by the creativity, agility and inner strength of the South Africans I have been privileged to meet in this country.

“I believe that, with such great people, everything is possible, and I hope I can contribute to this massive growth that we will see within the next couple of years,” he concludes.

Published by

Charleen Clarke

My friends call me a glomad (a global nomad lest you don’t get it). That’s a particularly apt word, because I am always trawling all corners of the globe, looking for stories. As a result, I have slept in some seriously strange places – on a bed of ice in the Arctic circle, on the floor in a traditional Japanese hotel, on the sand dunes in the Wadi Rum Desert in Jordan … and even on the floor of a Thai cargo ship. Mostly however I tend to sleep on aircraft (if I had a dog, he would bark at me when I eventually come home). I am passionate about trucks, cars, travel, food, wine, people and hugs – so I write about all these things. Except the hugs.
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