Die Antwoord know right answers for success
A few months ago, my son Jonathan, who lives in Sydney, Australia, alerted me to the growing fame of a rap duo from Cape Town called Die Antwoord.
I read up on the group and hastily concluded I was probably a generation or two away from appreciating their peculiar variety of music and wayward antics. As a child of the 1960s, I had never really warmed to the chanted rhythm of hip-hop and certainly not to the profanity, violence and promiscuity urged in the lyrics of gangsta rap.
On the weekend, though, I picked up an article reporting on how Die Antwoord's new song, Baby's on Fire, had gone viral, a term used to describe the rapid rise in popularity of a video distributed by viewers to family and friends over the internet, through e-mails and websites. Out of curiosity and also drawn by an enchanting portrait of the group's Yo-Landi Visser on the cover of Lifestyle magazine, I investigated further.
I couldn't decide whether it was their unusual brand of art, humour or music that caught my attention and seduced me to spend hours wading through a number of their videos posted on YouTube, explaining why they are packing out shows around the world and becoming one of the country's leading musical exports. I have to admit it's not everyone's idea of entertainment (they swear a lot), but Ninja and Yo-Landi's colourful portrayal of street life in the Cape afforded me a better understanding of the relevance of hip-hop that I had sneeringly overlooked.
On paper it is difficult to rationalise their international acclaim. They don't play musical instruments, sing particularly well or dance in unison, but success doesn't always depend on whether you tick the right boxes. It's probably their quirkiness, irreverence and commanding stage presence that pull in young audiences from Sydney to San Francisco.
It's a lesson to us all. I know I am skating on thin ice, but you can't map your life according to a predetermined checklist. Can you imagine if we chose our life partners on the feedback of a questionnaire? Yet in business we are moving more and more in that direction as policy makers and regulators attempt to replace instinct and common sense with blueprints to address the inequity in society and a succession of rules to eliminate business risk from the economy.
Jamie Dimon, the highly revered CEO of giant investment banker JP Morgan, employs some of the brightest minds on Wall Street. Recently though, because of a lapse in judgment, his firm's sophisticated and complex risk management systems failed, resulting in large but relatively inconsequential losses that are likely to support the nation's watchdogs' call for stricter supervision and even more layers of costly back office administration.
The challenges and costs of discharging the heaps of regulatory demands imposed upon publicly listed companies are dissuading prospective businesses from raising capital on recognised stock exchanges, pushing them instead to the less testing route of private equity, where chief executives can focus on growing revenue rather than being compelled to attend countless mandatory board meetings and face persistent grillings by shareholders in pursuit of unfaltering high returns.
I have discovered that the scorecards apply equally in the employment of personnel where the majority of human resource departments select candidates on the success of their examination results rather than the inherent ability to communicate articulately, correspond clearly, build customer confidence and develop a passion for the business environment in which they operate.
In South Africa we have taken ticking the boxes to its limits and in the process have sacrificed the insight, impulsiveness and zeal needed by risk-takers to drive the economy. We instruct corporations who they should have as shareholders, who they can and cannot employ and now want to control where pensioners invest their money. Government tenders are not awarded on merit but rather on the fulfillment of certain political imperatives. It's hardly a mystery then why fixed direct investment is declining and why entrepreneurs are seeking opportunities elsewhere.
Not for a moment am I proposing scrapping all rules and regulations; that would lead to bedlam. But, on the other hand, the overzealous application of administrative controls stifles creativity and stunts development. Crowds applaud the danger-seekers: the golfer who abandons safety to attempt a winning stroke or the businessman who stakes all on a hazardous venture.
Die Antwoord's unintended success emerges from their unconventional scripts, radical dress code and daring behaviour. Their eccentricities have charmed millions and, as Yo-Landi pointed out in a prayer in her latest video, they have put her on the cover of FHM. What more can a girl ask for?