Connect with us

Adapt & Change

Stuart White

The World in Black-N-White

I have lost count of the number of presentations I have been to by government departments and parastatals to deliver their latest plans to upskill the workforce, create employment, and diversify the economy.  I’ve been attending such presentations over the years because I think the work is important.  And I’ve noticed a trend.  As the years have passed, when it comes to the Q&A session, an increasing number of people are asking, “This is all very nice, but when are you actually going to implement these plans?”

And my answer is, until we stop seeing these challenges as technical, and start recognizing them as adaptive challenges, we won’t.  Obama said change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we've been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.  Organisational Psychologist Celia Potgieter suggests that our approach to change here in Botswana may be maladaptive:  That it is change for change’s sake which might solve A problem but doesn’t solve THE problem because we confuse a technical fix with an adaptive  core alteration.   

“A technical challenge is easy to spot.  Its beginning and end are clear, its resolution is easily provable, and the appropriate person to solve it is the subject expert. I recently heard a worrying rattling and scraping noise coming from the back of my car whenever I accelerated.  So I took it to the mechanic (the ‘subject expert’) and explained the problem.  He carried out a series of diagnostic tests, and in less than an hour, found a stray piece of metal which had got stuck in the brake pad, and removed it.  Problem solved.  This is a technical challenge.

An adaptive challenge is one which involves people, and requires behaviour change.  Imagine my friend, who at the relatively young age of 56, underwent triple bypass surgery following a heart attack that almost killed him.  Haim had been a heavy smoker his whole adult life.  It formed part of his identity.  Without cigarettes, he ‘didn’t feel like himself’.  The surgery was successful, but the surgeon had concerns.  He met with Haim and his close family members, and told them that they had only bought Haim some time.  Unless Haim stopped smoking, started engaging in gentle exercise, and cut down on his sugar intake, he would die within a year.  

Haim was highly motivated to change his ways, and so was his family.  He had optimum motivation (not to die!), access to all the information and resources he needed, and a loving, supportive family – all the crucial ingredients for success.  But Haim couldn’t maintain the new lifestyle, and following two further heart attacks, he sadly passed away.  This is an adaptive challenge.

Human beings have evolved to become really good at solving technical challenges, but we are very poor at adaptive challenges.  This is why, according to a large study conducted by McKinsey, 74% of change initiatives in organisations fail.  And in organisations with other 5,000 people that figure worsens to a staggering 81%!. Why is this figure so poor, and why is Botswana as a nation suffering the same fate? Because we try to solve adaptive challenges with technical solutions.

I’ll give you an example.  Within Organisation ABC, there is a team.  We’ll call it Operations.  The Operations Team has 12 team members, and they have just lost their manager to another department.  One of the 12 team members, we’ll call him Laone, is promoted to become the new team manager.  Fresh in his new role, Laone calls a team meeting.  He is now in a room with 11 people, and an elephant.  Laone knows there is an elephant in the room, he’s a smart man, but he doesn’t want to tackle it. 

So the meeting agenda items are worked through, whilst three of his team members are sitting there feeling angry and confused that they weren’t selected to manage the team, two of the older team members have quietly decided that nothing is going to persuade them to take instructions from someone their junior, and one team member doesn’t care who the manager is because she is best friends with the CEO’s wife.  Laone knows he has a dysfunctional team on his hands.  But rather than face the challenge head on, he goes back to his office, picks up the phone, and calls Thandi’s Team-Building Services to arrange a one-day team-building event to fix his team.  

I can tell you now, that spending a day running around outside and doing blind-folded obstacle course races, no matter how much fun it is, is not going to fix your team’s interpersonal problems and transform them into a high-functioning team with the shared values of trust, commitment, accountability, healthy conflict, and quality results.  This is an attempt to solve an adaptive challenge with a technical solution.  It does not work.

In the same way, every time Botswana tries to make major shifts in the nation’s strategy, such as employment creation or economic diversification, by spending lots of money employing consultants and producing frameworks, policies, and plans, and thinking that the work is now done, we are attempting to solve adaptive challenges with technical solutions alone.  It won’t work.

So what can we do?

Well, to start with, we need to bring into the mix people who understand human behaviour, such as psychologists and behavioural economists.  We need their expertise to keep a focus on maintaining an adaptive approach to the adaptive challenges we face. Secondly, we need to be willing to have the difficult conversations, and not leave that elephant hanging around in the room.  A well-renowned change-maker recently told me that in her opinion, for Botswana to move forward, we need to engage in tough conversations, for example, around the impact that colonialism has had, and continues to have, on the nation.  How can we know ourselves if we haven’t understood what brought us here?

Thirdly, we need to be willing to fail.  Many of those beautifully laid out plans will fail.  And that’s a good thing.  That’s how we learn.  Every baby knows this.  I’ve never seen a baby afraid to fall while it’s learning to walk.  We mustn’t be afraid to try out these new ideas.  As long as we fear failure, or change itself, there will be no action.

And finally, we need to change the narrative.  We need to stop talking about ourselves using negative adjectives.  We need to focus on the question, “How are we when we are at our best, and how can we create more of this?”  Instead of standing up at Q&A time and saying, “So when are you going to implement?”, ask “What are the first steps that I can take to support this initiative and help ensure its success?” Change isn’t easy.  But it is possible.”This article was written by fellow Organisational Psychologist Celia Potgieter and reproduced with her permission.

Continue Reading


The Daring Dozen at Bari

8th December 2020

Seventy-seven years ago, on the evening of December 2, 1943, the Germans launched a surprise air raid on allied shipping in the Italian port of Bari, which was then the key supply centre for the British 8th army’s advance in Italy.

The attack was spearheaded by 105 Junkers JU88 bombers under the overall command of the infamous Air Marshal Wolfram von Richthofen (who had initially achieved international notoriety during the Spanish Civil War for his aerial bombardment of Guernica). In a little over an hour the German aircraft succeeded in sinking 28 transport and cargo ships, while further inflicting massive damage to the harbour’s facilities, resulting in the port being effectively put out of action for two months.

Over two thousand ground personnel were killed during the raid, with the release of a secret supply of mustard gas aboard one of the destroyed ships contributing to the death toll, as well as subsequent military and civilian casualties. The extent of the later is a controversy due to the fact that the American and British governments subsequently covered up the presence of the gas for decades.

At least five Batswana were killed and seven critically wounded during the raid, with one of the wounded being miraculously rescued floating unconscious out to sea with a head wound. He had been given up for dead when he returned to his unit fourteen days later. The fatalities and casualties all occurred when the enemy hit an ammunition ship adjacent to where 24 Batswana members of the African Pioneer Corps (APC) 1979 Smoke Company where posted.

Thereafter, the dozen surviving members of the unit distinguished themselves for their efficiency in putting up and maintaining smokescreens in their sector, which was credited with saving additional shipping. For his personal heroism in rallying his men following the initial explosions Company Corporal Chitu Bakombi was awarded the British Empire Medal, while his superior officer, Lieutenant N.F. Moor was later given an M.B.E.

Continue Reading


A Strong Marriage Bond Needs Two

8th December 2020

Remember: bricks and cement are used to build a house, but mutual love, respect and companionship are used to build a HOME. And amongst His signs is this: He creates for you mates out of your own kind, so that you may find contentment (Sukoon) with them, and He engenders love and tenderness between you; in this behold, there are signs (messages) indeed for people who reflect and think (Quran 30:21).

This verse talks about contentment; this implies companionship, of their being together, sharing together, supporting one another and creating a home of peace. This verse also talks about love between them; this love is both physical and emotional. For love to exist it must be built on the foundation of a mutually supportive relationship guided by respect and tenderness. As the Quran says; ‘they are like garments for you, and you are garments for them (Quran 2:187)’. That means spouses should provide each other with comfort, intimacy and protection just as clothing protects, warms and dignifies the body.

In Islam marriage is considered an ‘ibaadah’, (an act of pleasing Allah) because it is about a commitment made to each other, that is built on mutual love, interdependence, integrity, trust, respect, companionship and harmony towards each other. It is about building of a home on an Islamic foundation in which peace and tranquillity reigns wherein your offspring are raised in an atmosphere conducive to a moral and upright upbringing so that when we all stand before Him (Allah) on that Promised Day, He will be pleased with them all.

Most marriages start out with great hopes and rosy dreams; spouses are truly committed to making their marriages work. However, as the pressures of life mount, many marriages change over time and it is quite common for some of them to run into problems and start to flounder as the reality of living with a spouse that does not meet with one’s pre-conceived ‘expectations’. However, with hard work and dedication, couples can keep their marriages strong and enjoyable. How is it done? What does it take to create a long-lasting, satisfying marriage?

Below are some of the points that have been taken from a marriage guidance article I read recently and adapted for this purposes.

Spouses should have far more positive than negative interactions. If there is too much negativity — criticizing, demanding, name-calling, holding grudges, etc. — the relationship will suffer. However, if there is never any negativity, it probably means that frustrations and grievances are not getting ‘air time’ and unresolved tension is accumulating inside one or both partners waiting to ‘explode’ one day.

“Let not some men among you laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor let some women laugh at others: it may be that the (latter) are better than the (former): nor defame nor be sarcastic to each other, nor call each other by (offensive) nicknames.” (49:11)

We all have our individual faults though we may not see them nor want to admit to them but we will easily identify them in others. The key is balance between the two extremes and being supportive of one another. To foster positivity in a marriage that help make them stable and happy, being affectionate, truly listening to each other, taking joy in each other’s achievements and being playful are just a few examples of positive interactions.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “The believers who show the most perfect faith are those who have the best character and the best of you are those who are best to their wives”


Another characteristic of happy marriages is empathy; understanding your spouses’ perspective by putting oneself in his or her shoes. By showing that understanding and identifying with your spouse is important for relationship satisfaction. Spouses are more likely to feel good about their marriage and if their partner expresses empathy towards them. Husbands and wives are more content in their relationships when they feel that their partners understand their thoughts and feelings.

Successful married couples grow with each other; it simply isn’t wise to put any person in charge of your happiness. You must be happy with yourself before anyone else can be.  You are responsible for your actions, your attitudes and your happiness. Your spouse just enhances those things in your life. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “Treat your women well and be kind to them for they are your partners and committed helpers.”


Successful marriages involve both spouses’ commitment to the relationship. The married couple should learn the art of compromise and this usually takes years. The largest parts of compromise are openness to the other’s point of view and good communication when differences arise.

When two people are truly dedicated to making their marriage work, despite the unavoidable challenges and obstacles that come, they are much more likely to have a relationship that lasts. Husbands and wives who only focus on themselves and their own desires are not as likely to find joy and satisfaction in their relationships.


Another basic need in a relationship is each partner wants to feel valued and respected. When people feel that their spouses truly accept them for who they are, they are usually more secure and confident in their relationships. Often, there is conflict in marriage because partners cannot accept the individual preferences of their spouses and try to demand change from one another. When one person tries to force change from another, he or she is usually met with resistance.

However, change is much more likely to occur when spouses respect differences and accept each other unconditionally. Basic acceptance is vital to a happy marriage. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said: “It is the generous (in character) who is good to women, and it is the wicked who insults them.”
“Overlook (any human faults) with gracious forgiveness.” (Quran 15:85)


Other important components of successful marriages are love, compassion and respect for each other. The fact is, as time passes and life becomes increasingly complicated, the marriage is often stressed and suffers as a result. A happy and successful marriage is based on equality. When one or the other dominates strongly, intimacy is replaced by fear of displeasing.

It is all too easy for spouses to lose touch with each other and neglect the love and romance that once came so easily. It is vital that husbands and wives continue to cultivate love and respect for each other throughout their lives. If they do, it is highly likely that their relationships will remain happy and satisfying. Move beyond the fantasy and unrealistic expectations and realize that marriage is about making a conscious choice to love and care for your spouse-even when you do not feel like it.

Seldom can one love someone for whom we have no respect. This also means that we have to learn to overlook and forgive the mistakes of one’s partner. In other words write the good about your partner in stone and the bad in dust, so that when the wind comes it blows away the bad and only the good remains.

Paramount of all, marriage must be based on the teachings of the Noble Qur’an and the teachings and guidance of our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). To grow spiritually in your marriage requires that you learn to be less selfish and more loving, even during times of conflict. A marriage needs love, support, tolerance, honesty, respect, humility, realistic expectations and a sense of humour to be successful.

Continue Reading


Chronic Joblessness: How to Help Curtail it

30th November 2020
Motswana woman

The past week or two has been a mixed grill of briefs in so far as the national employment picture is concerned. BDC just injected a further P64 million in Kromberg & Schubert, the automotive cable manufacturer and exporter, to help keep it afloat in the face of the COVID-19-engendered global economic apocalypse. The financial lifeline, which follows an earlier P36 million way back in 2017, hopefully guarantees the jobs of 2500, maybe for another year or two.

It was also reported that a bulb manufacturing company, which is two years old and is youth-led, is making waves in Selibe Phikwe. Called Bulb Word, it is the only bulb manufacturing operation in Botswana and employs 60 people. The figure is not insignificant in a town that had 5000 jobs offloaded in one fell swoop when BCL closed shop in 2016 under seemingly contrived circumstances, so that as I write, two or three buyers have submitted bids to acquire and exhume it from its stage-managed grave.

This content is locked

Login To Unlock The Content!

Continue Reading
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!