The pace of change in our world is accelerating faster than ever. Changes in market conditions, disruptive technologies and volatile political environments are among a myriad of balls that business leaders need to keep their eyes on. With these rapid changes, it is becoming increasingly difficult for businesses to plan and position themselves to keep a competitive advantage. At this speed, many benefits of past experience and reliance on the “way we’ve always done it” disappear and often cripple progress for established and previously successful businesses.

We all know the stories of companies that once championed their industries with popular products, but disappeared after failing to stay ahead of the game of disruptive change. Businesses exist because they provide solutions to society’s problems. It does not matter how much your clients or the tender-awarding government likes you, if your products or services no longer solve the challenges users need to overcome, at a competitive price, people will stop buying from you.

A few years ago, businesses appointed a project consultant to help with a change management process for a project. Those days are gone. In the new innovation economy, success will lie in how comfortable an organisation is with dealing with ongoing change, but even more important, how active it is in initiating change. It is a huge and uncomfortable mindset shift for the majority of human beings that sustain and build businesses.

It requires that businesses:
-move innovation up on their agenda and continuously plan how they need to evolve
-do a quarterly or biannual assessment of how they are doing on change and disrupting their own business model
-redesign processes and procedures to keep them flexible and avoid that the “rules” become inhibitors of innovation
-train and measure employees on how they embrace change and generate ideas.

New products and technology come to mind first in a conversation about innovation. However, one of the biggest innovative benefits for non-technological businesses often lies in the unconventional interaction between processes, people or business partners. In Jan Fagerberg’s (2005: 18) words: “New combinations of existing knowledge and resources open up possibilities for new business opportunities and future innovations, and in this way set the stage for continuing change”. This means that game-changing business leaders should be looking for innovation improvements across all their business processes (including marketing, finance, office management) and joint ventures with the suppliers or customers.

In Namibia, the pace is fast AND slow. As an open and connected country we are exposed to and affected by global technology developments. Through our relationships with our trade partners and the currency link with the South African rand, we are often heavily affected by regional political and economic turbulence, while our own political environment and economy have been fairly stable since independence in 1990.

On the other hand, laws and local regulations struggle to keep up with these developments, and regulators are frequently left to enforce regulation that does not make sense in the modern day.

Government spending makes up a significant portion of the country’s GDP, and the majority of businesses either do business with government or has a large number of customers who supply to the government. Government processes are slow and bureaucratic, and tenders very seldom entice or support highly innovative new solutions.

While many (especially established smaller and family-controlled) Namibian businesses often struggle to do things differently, we have seen success for many that focus on innovation as a business culture, as well as a wave of innovative startups.

Due to the relative small size of the Namibian economy, Namibian business people often had to venture away from their core businesses to grow their revenue streams. The result is that some local business leaders have become experienced in dealing with diversity, running multiple business solutions and continuously looking for innovative products and solutions around their core businesses.

The call to Namibian entrepreneurs and business captains is therefore to:
-resist stagnation
-create a culture that welcomes and rewards doing things differently
-further develop their ability to operate multi-solution business, encourage a structured approach to innovation and continuously evolve their enterprises
-seek opportunities in the paradoxes of first and third world elements that we encounter (the solutions to these tensions will often be offerings that may become the “innovation capital” that will propel their business in the new economy)
-create partnerships with suppliers and customers that can unlock business process benefits.

Innovation is a broad subject that is studied and researched extensively by academics and business leaders alike. It could be difficult for business owners and managers to get their head around, and to strategically select the area of their business that requires and will benefit from innovation.

There are a number of Namibian institutions which specialise in helping businesses to guide the innovation process for business management teams. Interacting with these experts could be the game changer that many Namibian businesses need.

The Namibia Business Innovation Institute (NBII), housed by the Namibian University of Science and Technology (NUST) is a good example. The Innovation Institute services offerings include:
-Innovation Marketplace (IM) which features mostly public events that stimulate idea creation and an entrepreneurial mindset
-Entrepreneurship & Incubation (E&I) which supports young entrepreneurs with innovative ideas to kick-start their business via training and mentoring
-Research & Development (R&D) which advances product and process innovation as well as social media development.

Read more about NUST on the Institute’s website at www.nbii.nust.na.

FABLab Namibia also established in partnership with NUST which focuses primarily on start-ups:

“Over the past few years since the establishment of Namibia’s first FABLab, we have seen growth in youth driving their own ideas and following the entrepreneurship path. Multi-helix stakeholders are joining hands to promote entrepreneurship and innovation which is fostering a culture of change in the country. Over the past year alone, we co-hosted the first Namibian Start-up Festival where over 250 young innovators and stakeholders attended the event. We also hosted an ADDventure pitching den event where five local start-ups pitched their ideas to hard-hitting business experts. The first #pitchnightnam initiative was launched where the top ten SDG-aligned businesses pitched to a panel of experts and the two winners were awarded the opportunity to attend the top European Start-up event, funded by Finland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.”

Professional service firms with international affiliations can connect Namibian businesses with world-class innovation consultants, provide tools and host workshops to unlock innovation potential.

The PwC Business School is focused on creating and hosting learning experiences for employees that “open minds, change minds”.

The opportunities for Namibian businesses to transform themselves and propel the Namibian economy through active innovation are abundant. It calls for business leaders to look to the future, embrace change and manage uncertainty to steer their businesses to greatness!

Stefan Hugo is the CEO at One Africa Television. He is the coordinator of a cooperation between One Africa Television, 99FM and Venture Media, aimed at bringing innovative solutions to the Namibian media space. The goals of these three business taking hands include:
-offering their clients extended advertising reach across the joint-venture entities’ audiences and media platforms (including TV, radio, print, on-line and social media) 
-co-developing and sharing creative, relevant local content that informs, enables and inspires Namibians – reducing development costs and creating opportunities for Namibian brands to associate with the magic of positive change in our country.