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By Fundisile Serame

This part of the Innovation Management Series addresses the first phase of the ‘Innovation Value Chain’. This stage is called Idea Generation. There are two key things each organization needs to address in the Idea Generation phase: 1) source of high-quality ideas, and 2) key performance indicators for ideas generated. In other words, where does the firm originate its new ideas? How does it measure its innovation performance?

Let us for a moment consider: where do sparks of good, high-quality ideas come from? This is a question that all organisations are intrinsically interested in, whether they admit it or not. The fact is, innovation is not a linear process. Innovative ideas can emerge from desperate spaces. In a corporate context, these sources can be in-house within a unit, collaboratively through cross-pollination across units, or they can come from spaces external to the firm. While some environments seem to breed innovative ideas effortlessly, others tend to squelch new ideas.

It is natural that managers would look first look in their immediate space, inside their own functional groups or business units, for creative sparks.  They prefer to talk to their immediate colleagues rather than reach out to counterparts in other departments or divisions as they tend to have a pretty good sense of what’s around them. There is also a certain level of comfort that comes with the knowledge that a unit is within the manager’s sphere of control, and that control is lost once that boundary is transcended.

After all, innovative systems have proven to gravitate towards the edge of chaos. However, companies that majorly lean on ‘inside unit’ innovation approach tend to experience a shortage of good new ideas. Research by Morten & Birkinshaw (2007) on the subject found that this is partly due to the inability of managers to forge adequate quality links and networks with others outside their company. Those in search of the bigger sparks need to realize that great innovation is ignited when fragments of ideas come together, be it through internal or external networks.

For an organisation to develop ideas, they need lots of other ideas to connect to those it already has. This is no different from how a human brain functions. There has to be some sort of a fertile environment where these random ideas collide, a system of incubation where one hunch can be connected with another hunch lurking in someone’s mind to create new forms. There exists an interrelationship between innovation idea quality and idea providers’ network connectivity, as one 2009 German study found.

Great drivers of scientific innovation have been historically attributed to increase in connectivity, allowing for individuals to borrow from other people’s creativity to create their own. Organizations get smarter by creating liquid networks and ‘accidental connections’ both internally and externally to improve on quality of ideas going through its innovation funnel.

Internally, this is achieved through cross-unit collaboration wherein insights and knowledge from different parts of the same organization are combined in order to develop new products and businesses. However, this is not easily achieved in big firms as decentralized organizational structures and geographical dispersion make it hard for people to work across units. Getting outside of your comfort zone and making connections to get perspectives is what every organization should strive for. Companies do need to assess whether they are sourcing enough good ideas from outside the company and even outside the industry. They need to tap into the insights and knowledge of customers, end users, competitors, universities, independent entrepreneurs, investors, inventors, scientists, and suppliers.

Though there is evidence that an external ideas sourcing strategy is perhaps the most critical, many companies still do this poorly, resulting in missed opportunities and lower innovation productivity. In part this is due to companies suffering from the damaging “not invented here” syndrome.

Sony is an example we can learn from. After having had an impressive track record throughout the 1980s for developing new-to-the-world products such as the Walkman and PlayStation, the company suffered from this syndrome as admitted by its former CEO Sir Howard Stringer. Even as rivals were introducing next-generation products such as the iPod and Xbox, they continued to believe that outside ideas were not as good as inside ones. Thus, it missed opportunities in such areas as MP3 players and flat-screen TVs and developed unwanted products like cameras that weren’t compatible with the most popular forms of memory at the time.

For a firm to have an understanding of their strong links when it comes to idea generation, it has to candidly introspect and ask itself three key questions:

* Do people in our unit create good ideas on their own?

* Do we create good ideas by working across the company?

* Do we source enough good ideas from outside the firm?

Answering these key questions will involve identifying key performance indicators for each source, i.e. the number of high-quality ideas generated within a unit, across units and externally. Once the organisation has done its introspection and determined if it’s an idea-rich or idear-poor company, it needs to develop strategies that will help leverage its strong links and fix its weak links.

Companies that rely on in-house (unit-based) ideas, for example, need to build external as well as internal cross-unit networks to generate ideas from new connections. They need to figure out their approach to ‘democratizing’ their innovations and whether building external networks should be based on solution-network or discovery network approach. These two approaches are distinct in that while solution-network is geared toward finding answers to specific business problems, discovery network is geared toward unearthing new ideas within broad technology or product domain.

When all is said and done, a firm’s performance on idea generation is highly dependant on their ability to foster an innovative cultural environment. Some environments are powerfully suited to the creation, diffusion and adoption of new ideas while others are not – which tends to be the case with big firms. On how this kind of culture can be fostered, for starters – firms need to spend less time in formal meeting rooms to encouraging creativity.

They need to nurture the spirit of the ‘coffee space’ and to think of innovation as something that happens all the time, not just on special “creative” days. As for emerging markets, like Lesotho, local companies could greatly benefit from developing innovation strategies that seek to leverage knowledge, creativity and experience of networks both locally and of other leading emerging markets especially in markets that have stagnated and growth opportunities remain elusive.

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LEC to switch off households over debts



MASERU – The Lesotho Electricity Company (LEC) will from Tuesday next week begin switching off clients who owe it money.

The LEC issued a seven-day ultimatum to all customers who owe it on Tuesday last week. The deadline ends on Monday.

It is expected that the LEC will begin switching off households that have defaulted.

The state-owned power company, however, is not going to touch any government department or business entities that owe it on grounds that they are in payment negotiations.

The LEC move comes barely two weeks after it cut electricity supplies to the Water and Sewerage Company (WASCO) thus causing it to fail to pump water to communities countrywide for more than two days.

The LEC says it is owed close to M200 million by government departments, businesses and individuals.

The LEC spokesman, Tšepang Ledia, told thepost that the government and the businesses will not have their electricity cut because they are in negotiations.

“We are in negotiations with the government and businesses and hopefully they will pay,” Ledia said.

“We advise the ordinary people to pay their debts before the 20th of March 2023 or else we cut the services,” he said.

The LEC says it is running short of funds for its daily operations.

In December last year the company increased power tariffs by 7.9 percent on both energy and maximum demand charges across all customer categories for the Financial Year 2022/23.

Last week the LEC boss, Mohato Seleke, said postpaid consumers and sundry debtors owe the company M169.4 million.

He said unless the debtors pay he will be unable to buy electricity from ’Muela Hydropower Project, Eskom in South Africa and Mozambique’s EDM.

This, he said, could cause serious load shedding in the country and could be devastating for businesses.

Seleke said the LEC spends M630 million monthly to buy electricity.

“If postpaid consumers do not settle their debts this could prevent the LEC from being able to buy electricity which can lead the country to encounter load-shedding,” Seleke said.

Seleke said collecting debt from government department ministries was a challenge as there is an understanding that since LEC is a state-owned company, it will continue supplying government agencies with electricity and they will settle their bills when they have funds to do so.

Seleke said the LEC has lost M21 million to vandalism during this financial year.

Relebohile Tšepe

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Bumper payout for former mineworkers



MASERU – AT least 11 316 current as well as former mine workers are set for a bumper payout after Tshiamiso Trust began disbursing the first billion Maloti to workers who are suffering from silicosis and tuberculosis.

The payment comes two years after Tshiamiso Trust began processing claims for the historical M5 billion settlement agreement between mineworkers and six gold mines in South Africa.

Speaking at the payment announcement in Maseru last week, the Trust’s CEO, Lusanda Jiya, said it has been two years since they officially began accepting claims.

“Our people come to work every day with the mission of impacting lives for the better, and the first billion rand paid out to over 11 000 families is just the beginning,” Jiya said.

“We know that there is no compensation that will ever be enough to undo the suffering endured by mine workers and their families,” he said.

“However, we are committed to deliver our mandate and ensure that every family that is eligible for compensation receives it.”

Jiya said the Trust is limited both in terms of the time in which they can operate, and the extent to which they can assist those seeking compensation.

Broadly speaking, the eligibility criteria include among others that the mineworker must have worked at one of the qualifying gold mines between March 12, 1965 and December 10, 2019.

Secondly, living mineworkers must have permanent lung damage from silicosis or TB and deceased mine workers representatives must have evidence that proves that they (the deceased) died from TB or Silicosis.

Tshiamiso Trust has a lifespan of 12 years, ending in February 2031.

Over 111 000 claims have been received to date, through offices in South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, eSwatini, and Mozambique.

The Trust is working with stakeholders in these countries and others to mobilise its efforts and expand operations.

The history of silicosis in South Africa goes back to the late 1880’s when the first gold mines began operations.

The gold was stored and locked in quartz, a special rock that contains large amounts of silica.

Crystallised silica particles can cause serious respiratory damage if inhaled.

In the earlier days of gold mining, dust control, health and safety standards and the use of PPE (personal protective equipment) were not as advanced as they are today.

Tshiamiso Trust was established in 2020 to give effect to the settlement agreement reached between six mining companies.

The companies are African Rainbow Minerals, Anglo American South Africa, AngloGold Ashanti, Harmony Gold, Sibanye Stillwater and Gold Fields.

The settlement agreement was reached and made after a ruling by the Johannesburg High Court as a result of a historic class action by former and current mineworkers against the six gold mines.

Justice for Miners is a coalition of interested parties in the mining sector launched at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg in 2020.

The Johannesburg High Court approved the setting up of the Tshiamiso Trust to facilitate payment by the companies to affected miners.

Keith Chapatarongo

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Farmers cry over cost of livestock feed



MASERU – Lehlohonolo Mokhethi is a farmer who has been running a successful poultry business, thanks to a small loan he got from a local bank.

He now has 300 chickens.

He says his vision is to rear 5 000 chickens by 2025 and employ 30 youths. But he is now grappling with a new challenge: the ever increasing cost of chicken feed.

That is threatening the viability of his business.

“The biggest challenge is that food prices increase every day, feeding is expensive,” Mokhethi said.

“It is quite difficult to make profit in business if each and every day food prices increase. Today I am buying a bag of food with a certain amount then the next day the price has increased,” he says.

“Our customers fail dismally to understand that food has increased and the Chinese are taking our market because they sell at a low price thus I run at a loss.”

Last week, a top attorney in Maseru who is also a prominent farmer, Tiisetso Sello-Mafatle, called a meeting for farmers to discuss these challenges.

She says the government must regulate the prices of livestock feed.

That is critical if the farming business is to succeed, she says.

Attorney Sello-Mafatle says farmers must come up with a structure for livestock feed prices which they would present to the government for gazetting.

“We should state our regulations and give them to the government to make everything easy for both parties because we cannot wait for the government to make regulations for us,” Sello-Mafatle says.

She adds that “farmers should be bullish about what they want and never have fear endorsing new things”.

“I will not be challenged or cry (because of) what life throws at me but I will cry when things are not happening the right way,” she says.

Mafatle says farmers need to know who they are and know the capabilities they have.

“This will help a farmer in becoming the best in any field they are in once they are confident about themselves,” she says.

Karabo Lijo, another participant, said they have to influence the cost of inputs in agriculture, especially livestock feed.

“We have to go back to cost-price analysis where as farmers we are able to derive the selling price and the break-even point in our production,” Lijo said.

“We can also derive the stable or constant mark-ups on our products,” he said.

“We need to do research to increase the ability to produce byproducts which are likely to have the longest shelve life,” he said.

The meeting urged farmers to diversify their products by introducing such things as mushroom farming. They said mushrooms can grow very well in Lesotho due to its favourable climate.

The farmers also demanded that there should be regulations on how land can be sold or borrowed in Lesotho.

Tholoana Lesenya and Alice Samuel

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