The Professional by Profmed

Winning the future

In the 1980s, Palesa Sibeko played MS-DOS game, Digger on her engineer father’s PC.

At high school in a now-free South Africa, she had the chance to pursue technology, music, gaming and communication – and parlay her interests into a wide-ranging work life.

And now she’s helping grow a new generation of girls in tech careers.

_The Professional _is a podcast from Profmed Medical Scheme about how the world of work is changing in surprising ways. Palesa Sibeko is part of this new workforce.

As a child, she wanted to be a scientist, musician and writer – and she didn’t see them as mutually exclusive. She’s already at home in this strange new landscape, someone who’s comfortable jumping off a cliff and building her parachute on the way down.

Starting with a BSc degree in molecular cell biology at Wits University, she made an unexpected jump from bio-sciences to music. She made another unexpected jump next. She worked for South Africa’s first social media company, Cerebra, in 2007, a year before Facebook and Twitter went mainstream. “We were creating this thing as we’re going along,” she says.

Palesa says brands had to adjust to giving up control of their message, because de-centralised social media means anybody can say anything about your brand.

But there were also surprises and cautionary tales. For instance, remember Mxit, the free instant messaging service born in Stellenbosch in 2005 – two years before the word “iPhone” even existed? At its zenith, it had seven million users in 2013, and it was bankrupt by 2015.

“Mxit was taking advantage of the mobile explosion. I was coming up with text-based games and creating opportunities for brands to reach that huge audience. Part of their success was being able to run on as many phones as they did. Some of the early messaging apps were geared towards the fancier phones.” But Mxit worked on everything.

But they didn’t innovate fast enough. Whatsapp overtook them. “They also didn’t see the explosion of smartphones coming, they also probably didn’t anticipate what data would become as opposed to the voice call, such as was the case when most people didn’t have smartphones.”

The lesson? “There’s just this complacency when you’re the top. Keep innovating, even when you’re at the top of the game.”

This is crucial for companies, but also for people. Palesa’s innovation was to strike out on her own. She left Cerebra at the end of 2011 and co-founded a company called Inquisition.

We wanted to make people happy about work. We were trying to change individuals in teams: how do you get them to work better together and give them a methodology to do that?

Palesa Sibeko

Inquisition evolved into another company called BetterWork – looking at ways of harnessing the potential of multi-talented, multi-skilled employees. And Palesa is using a technique that she didn’t learn during her science or music studies, but while creating experiences for mobile and social media users. It’s called design thinking.

The fantastic thing about design thinking is that it gives people permission to use their creativity to start tackling or just exploring problems, which is not something that organisations typically give people an opportunity to go into.

Palesa Sibeko

Design thinking is a process of innovating, testing and refining. It can be applied to virtually any field. It’s particularly useful in solving so-called “wicked” problems – problems that are ill-defined and don’t have an easy or obvious answer. It’s also great when you need to empathise with an end user; it helps you understand what someone might want or need, and how you can help them.

For instance, one South African resort group was struggling to attract black visitors to its resorts in the post-Apartheid scenario.

“We took them through this creative methodology to get them to start thinking about what that person’s experience will be when they get to their resort.” Because even the smallest of changes can have enormous ripple effects, design thinking can help you identify things that might not seem crucial – but are.

One group suggested we should start greeting people in African languages. People from other cultural groups started to feel more comfortable because now they were being acknowledged. It’s a small action that can have such a radical change. And from a customer service point of view, that’s very successful.

Palesa Sibeko

With Inquisition and Better Work, Palesa is helping transform businesses from the inside out, using nudges to prompt profound organisational change.

But there’s more she wants to do; focusing on hardware instead of software… So she co-founds another company, of course…

With SIGNL we decided that we wanted to be hardware focused – lots of people are making apps and software, but we wanted something that was tangible.

Palesa Sibeko

The fourth industrial revolution demands that people – and businesses – can and must be more than just one thing. A world in which people don’t work set hours or in single departments – or even in formal office spaces. A world in which people spontaneously collaborate and innovate – and strict reporting lines become outdated.

The problem with a world in which everything seems possible is that it can be hard to focus.

The temptation is to try to be all things to all people – but that can be overwhelming.

Palesa wants to make sure that the next generation of girls in this strange, sometimes confusing new world of ours feels at home. She runs a non-profit initiative, Girls Invent tomorrow, to educate and mentor girls about opportunities in science and tech. She’s worried that we’re already lagging behind in South Africa, even before the fourth industrial revolution has even properly begun… “And there is a shortage of women in these spaces.”

Girls Invent Tomorrow focuses on the STEM – science, technology, engineering, and maths. But because of Palesa’s background in the arts, she prefers STEAM – a term that’s gaining traction in scientific circles – science, tech, engineering, ARTS and math… STEAM investigates the same scientific concepts but uses inquiry and problem-based learning methods generally associated with the creative process. Like design thinking.

For Palesa it’s important not to lose sight of who she’s designing for – to make sure that the tech she’s developing is human-centred – to keep people at the core of problem-solving.

This drive to keep in touch with her creative side even in the world of robotics, coding and tech – that makes Palesa stand out. It’s what’s going to set her – and others like her – apart, in a rapidly changing world. And it’s what’s going to keep her relevant for decades to come.


Recommended

by NEWSROOM AI
Read More
Gauteng Matric Revision 2020: Business Studies Module 1

Gauteng Matric Revision 2020: Business Studies Module 1

The Gauteng Department of Education and 702 are handing back the keys to every matriculant’s future.

Gauteng Matric Revision 2020: Accounting Module 1

Gauteng Matric Revision 2020: Accounting Module 1

The Gauteng Department of Education and 702 are handing back the keys to every matriculant’s future.

Gauteng Matric Revision 2020: Economics Module 1

Gauteng Matric Revision 2020: Economics Module 1

The Gauteng Department of Education and 702 are handing back the keys to every matriculant’s future.

OUTsurance commits R102 million to support COVID-19 efforts

OUTsurance commits R102 million to support COVID-19 efforts

OUTsurance is helping South Africa out in its greatest time of need.

Consumers advised to avoid panic buying as it may lead to over-indebtedness

Consumers advised to avoid panic buying as it may lead to over-indebtedness

SPONSORED CONTENT: Consumers are being encouraged to exercise caution and restraint through this difficult period.

Counselling a nation

Counselling a nation

"We are stuck, experiencing cycles of violence," says clinical psychologist Nomfundo Mogapi, but she says there is hope.

Popular articles
Lockdown: Companies with good service on social media - and those without

Lockdown: Companies with good service on social media - and those without

Consumer journalist Wendy Knowler investigates which companies are meeting their customers’ needs on social media.

How did a single Netcare hospital become the epicentre of Covid-19 in KZN?

How did a single Netcare hospital become the epicentre of Covid-19 in KZN?

Bruce Whitfield interviews Richard Friedland, CEO at Netcare – owner of the hospital at the epicentre of KZN’s Covid-19 outbreak.

Expect no price hikes or shortages (except rice, pasta) from us - Tiger Brands

Expect no price hikes or shortages (except rice, pasta) from us - Tiger Brands

Tiger Brands CEO Noel Doyle assures South Africans that there are sufficient supplies of most of the company's products.

Dis-Chem launches drive-through COVID-19 testing sites

Dis-Chem launches drive-through COVID-19 testing sites

The company says the tests will cost R850 each and it may take 24 to 48 hours to get your results back.

#COVID-19: Old Mutual offers 4bn worth of free life cover to health workers

#COVID-19: Old Mutual offers 4bn worth of free life cover to health workers

The company is making it available to approximately 430,000 registered healthcare workers on the front-line of the pandemic.

Lockdown shelters in Tshwane helping reunite the homeless with their families

Lockdown shelters in Tshwane helping reunite the homeless with their families

Joanne Joseph speaks to City of Tshwane administrator spokesperson Omogolo Taunyane- Mnguni to find out more.

Only fruit and veg, fresh meat, grocery, spaza shop permits to be issued - Cogta

Only fruit and veg, fresh meat, grocery, spaza shop permits to be issued - Cogta

Deputy Minister Obed Bapela says permits fro cooked food will not be issued as well as furniture shots.

Savanna Virtual Comedy Bar launches on Thursday, featuring comedic heavyweights

Savanna Virtual Comedy Bar launches on Thursday, featuring comedic heavyweights

Bruce Whitfield and comedian John Vlismas share a few Covid-19 jokes and discuss the launch of the virtual comedy club.

[Active citizenry] Assist Kate Ballenden give 100 food parcels to those in need

[Active citizenry] Assist Kate Ballenden give 100 food parcels to those in need

Ballenden says she has given out 60 food hampers so far and aims to pass the 100 mark.

[LISTEN] Why the first 1,000 days of a baby's life matter

[LISTEN] Why the first 1,000 days of a baby's life matter

Azania Mosaka speaks to psychologist and Ububele executive director Katharine Frost.