Thursday, August 25, 2011

The 21 st Century: Prosperity or Disaster. UNISA graduation Speech

©  VDS Brink 2001

[This material was derived from numerous sources. The book by John Naisbith, High Tech, High Touch stimulated many of the ideas on the content. The idea for the broad layout (Indispensability, adaptability and caring) obtained from a radio interview with Dr AE Rupert. ]

Bob Dylan wrote in the 60s //

“….come gather 'round people
wherever you roam
and admit that the waters

around you have grown

and accept it that soon

you'll be drenched to the bone.
then you better start swimmin'
or you'll sink like a stone ///

for the times they are a-changin'…”

"Master of ceremonies, prof Ngambi, prof Ferreira, honoured guests, ladies and gentleman"

In the next ten minutes I will touch on the changing times we are living in, then speculate on the effect it has on the world and on each of us. Lastly, I will share some thoughts in the context of tonight on how we are to approach the immediate future.

Over the years my interaction with the School of Business Leadership was, and still is a delightful experience. Thank you for this opportunity to here at this special moment and to deliver this short address.

{firstly: }

We are on the eve of a major war. A war that will have an impact on all of us for years to come. Just go to the nearest Engen station and note the latest fuel price ...

There is however another war already raging, it is more devastating than any other. It is a war for knowledge, ideas and the marketplace.

The battle lines move across national boundaries and often create more misery overnight any conventional war for the unlucky.

The turbulence of the 2000’s has many reasons behind it; the greatest being the information revolution. The most fascinating about it is that we ain’t seen nothing yet.

In these changing times, who in this room, even not the learned professors behind me, would have dreamt that the rand would be at less the eight to a dollar?

It is the best seen in the behavior of teenagers.

If we think of it, the past two years and the coming two years is a unique slice in history. It is the only time ever when teenagers are actually reading and writing! They thrive on email and manage their complicated love lives with Whatsup.

In Africa is looking towards 2003 with some of hope and optimism. But what about South Africa?  Last week we dropped out of the Cricket world cup. Cricket is the second most popular sport in our country. Millions of people were deeply disappointed yet unlike Germany, England or Holland no one threw bottles on the field, no one broke shop windows.

We handled it with dignity. We organized a tournament setting new standards and although the scoreboard at Kingsmead was a wet disaster; the bigger scoreboard told the story of a triumph for South Africa

South Africa is a wonderful place. I sense urgency amongst so many to make things work. We are doing better by the day, we are out of the target zone of international fundamentalists, our behavior is improving and the dollars, pounds and euros are flowing in.

Back to the future; The coming of biotechnology will be a bigger thing that Information technology. The topic alone is so involved but will have impact on every sphere of our lives. Growing of artificial limbs and glands, cloning, plants that glow in the dark, frost-free strawberries … The most tomatoes we eat and almost all soya are genetically engineered although Woolworths gives a different view on it. Within the next five years biotech will infiltrate almost every aspect of our lives.

The coming of the Hydrogen Economy is expected over the next twenty years. It will be bigger than even the industrial revolution.

Fasten your seat belts: the future will be fascinating and difficult.

The times are indeed a-changin’


How are we coping?

Come with me to the shelves of Exclusive Books.

“Nine vital food commandments”, “Four ways to a successful marriage”, “The two minute health check”, “Seven habits of highly effective people”, “Become rich overnight: ten key steps” and even “Seven secrets to a hot relationship”. The worst one is “how to cope with the teenager in the house in four easy steps!”

You do not cope with a teenager, you only survive them!.

It seems that seven is the winning number.

We swallow hands full of vitamins yet the only vegetables most of us ever eat are French Fries. Our emotional problems are solved over the shelf at Hyperpharm with a magic cure and we believe that our shape and size, looks and behavior can be quickly fixed with it.

May I make a confession here tonight: I spent many hours in the pharmacies of Pretoria looking in vain for a miracle to also make me ... tall, dark and handsome!

The world is drowning in an Elastoplast culture and the quick fix. Eventually it leads to disappointment.

Sitting here tonight celebrating the end of a successful study period was not easy.

There was no quick fix; it is the result of hard work, experience and the use of mentor-ship. All of us know what it is to attain success: there is no easy way..


There are wonderful books on personal strategy on the shelves, but please do not forget the lessons of old works, notable classical stories. In my view the some the best books on strategy are stories of the brothers Grim and stories like, “The Wizard of Oz“.

In the Wizard of Oz the main character is a girl called Dorothy. Before her was a mountain with the top hidden by cloud.  She asked the Tinman and the Strawman, how do I get to Oz and to the wizard?

The Tinman answered, Just follow the yellow brick road!“  

Ladies and gentleman, there is no yellow brick road anymore. There is no simple route towards a future more riddled with uncertainty as ever before.

Business will always be a people contact game. The inherent nature of people will remain the same and people skills will become more important in an uncertain world.

On the surface we look fine yet inside we are still human beings who are afraid, uncertain, love to be loved and hate to be hated. Perhaps the biggest challenge and opportunity lies in understanding this.

Ladies and gentleman, the winners of the future will not be the big and the powerful, it will not be the fast or the rich. The winners of tomorrow will be those that can change direction, are indispensable and can care for others.

All that really matters is indispensability, adaptability and a caring attitude.


Adaptability is unfortunately so difficult because before we can begin something new, we must end what use to be.

Before we can become a different person we must let go of our old identity, before we can learn new things, we must unlearn the old. Beginnings depend on endings. The problem is we do not like endings ...

Beethoven lost his ears and then wrote the most beautiful music in all history. A young man in France 150 years ago lost his eyes at the age of four and was banished for life to live amongst people with mental disability.

By the age of ten, he designed a written language for the blind and changed the lives of half a billion blind people. His name was, Louis Braille.

Natalie du Toit lost her leg. She is today .2 of a second off from qualifying for the Olympics.

The jobs of the future will be more and more without a label. Albert Hammond who sang about his parents this captured in another 1960’s song:

…..well, they used to sit and speculate upon their son's career,
a lawyer or a doctor or a civil engineer,
just give me bread and water, put a guitar in my hand,
'cause all I need is music and the free electric band.….

It will be less of what we are called and more of what we can do. It is about being indispensable.


Tonight is a milestone for all of us that received our degrees, as knowledge is the first step to indispensability. Indispensability is about taking the new knowledge acquired in the course and to combine it with the unique person I am. In this room are 500 people with 5000 stories to tell. We are all different, exploit it!

Look at those on that side of the room. Without their support it simply would not be possible. At this golden moment, may I suggest that when we get home tonight, cut of the corner of the certificate, write a letter, stick it on it and add a red rose. Give it to your the loved ones who sacrificed so much.

There is a new yellow brick road: the road of adaptability, indispensability and caring for others. This is the road of success in this turbulent world of ours. Embark on it, you will never regret the moment.

Consider yourselves lucky, we are living in the most interesting time in all history. We live in a country on the forefront of change. It is not and will not be easy, yet it will be abound with opportunity. I urge you grasp every moment and make the best of it.

To conclude, I believe that every person has been put on this earth for one purpose and one purpose only. It is to serve others.

It does not matter if you build a bridge, paint a picture or invent a labour saving device or even run a petrol station.

The point is we should try to leave this earth a better than you found it. If we do not do what we can within your own limitations, you are destined to be unhappy.

If we do it, our lives would have been worthwhile.

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