The Epidemic of Overseriousness in South Africa

Play as an antidote to Overseriousness

Play as an antidote to Overseriousness

This is a 5 minute talk I gave on 16th July 2015 at the Future by Design event held at the University of Cape Town Graduate School of Business in Cape Town. 

I have no experience or expertise of the future but what I do have is Foresight. To quote Bobby Godsell, “ We cannot predict the future but we can hear its footsteps approaching.” And to my mind, the footsteps approaching are in big, ugly, black boots. We are experiencing a crisis of Leadership in South Africa. In a study quoted at the Business of Design in May, for a research project undertaken in sub saharan Africa, 57% of employees are not engaged and 33% are actively disengaged. That means that we have only an engagement rate of 10% of employees at work. 

According to an article in the Mail & Guardian this month, "South Africa is stressed out and suicidal". We have 21 South Africans committing suicide every day with 20x more South Africans attempting but failing to take their lives. We have the 7th highest rate of suicide in the world and in a recent study conducted by Bloomberg we are the second most stressed-out nation in the world, following Nigeria. 

This clearly shows an epidemic of Overseriousness. The symptoms of Overseriousness are disengagement, cynicism, fear of failure, lowered quality of output (mediocre work) and an increased focus on overbureaucratisation, more building of systems and processes to attempt to control the environment. 

We live in a world where Volatility is no longer symptomatic, but systemic. With markets growing and changing exponentially and levels of complexity rising, the environments we operate in are now inherently environments of uncertainty; part of what is now our new DNA. And for that we need new systems of being and leading. The beauty of design thinking is that it is a response to a world of uncertainty. It encourages us to experiment and play, to iterate and prototype not to over-invest in one solution. 

Design’s wingman is Play.

Play gets us out of Overseriouness immediately. Imagine doing a 2 min exercise like the one we just played that immediately increases your confidence, your creativity, your sense of mastery and purpose, your attention and your levels of engagement. This is what Play does. It is an urgent and necessary requirement to build into our new ways of leading today if we want to break our current crisis in leadership and our immanent epidemic of Overseriousness.