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By Fundisile Serame

Much has been written about innovation as a cornerstone of business growth and key strategy for competitive advantage, so there is no need to belabor the point. Yet, innovations measured in concrete outcomes that reach the streets and the balance sheets remain elusive to many big businesses and startups alike. There continues to persist an absurdly high rate of mission-critical innovation initiatives that culminate into visions that are lovely to think about, but doable and profitable only in some remote, imaginary world – which Mark Payne, the founder of Fahrenheit 212, calls ‘unicorns’ in his book ‘How to kill a unicorn’.

The lion’s share of corporate innovation projects (over 90%) are not making it to markets. This is according to 45% of 100 chief innovation officers surveyed by Fahrenheit 212, a global innovation consulting firm, in 2014. So, why are firms struggling to transform ideas into commercial outputs? Why is there such low rate of innovation productivity?

Given that mobile technology and social media have have been major drivers of innovation across industries in the last decade, one might expect technology companies to be leading their more traditional counterparts who have used these technologies to penetrate and retain markets. Telecoms companies in particular, facing slow growth, have registered little success in global innovation compared to non-tech counterparts. Five of the top ten global innovative companies in 2015 are nontech companies, according to BCG (2015) survey. On the entire list of 50 companies, 38 (76%) are nontech companies.

It is certainly not for lack of trying that large firms always have to play ‘catch-up’ with start-up driven innovations. In Boston Consulting Group’s tenth annual global survey of the state of innovation, for instance, 79% of respondents ranked innovation as a top-three priority at their company – the highest percentage since the annual survey began in 2005. Neither should it just be expected that companies that show innovation aspirations in their business will get it right by blindly following what successful innovators are doing right. To suggest that there is a general shortage of ground-breaking ideas that can take these firms to new heights would be misleading. What is clear from evidence that has emerged in recent years points to a lack of a systematic approach towards managing innovation efforts.

The reality is that great ideas can come from anyone within and outside the business. Sourcing from outside the organization may involve customers, business partners and, more importantly, leverging an existing entrepreneurship ecosystem. However, great ideas are not enough. There are often fewer barriers to idea generation than idea implementation. Generating ‘great’ ideas can be so empowering that it is easy to get lost in the euphoria of it all and to celebrate ‘failures’. But innovation is not just a ‘feel-good’ exercise. How these ideas are validated and channelled through the organisation to see the light of day is the essence of innovation success, which many firms are grappling with. In many organisations, innovation processes in place are so broken that the excitement that comes with the idea of creating ‘new’ value tends to overshadow the importance of modelling the process and managing the value chain – and that is a management issue.

According to Wazoku, a company that provides innovation management platform and services, effective innovation management requires three things: a defined process model, a focus on innovation, and the right tools to manage. Managers do not exclusively have ideas that would ‘shake-up’ markets the same way disruptive innovations like Uber and others have done in recent years. Innovation is a cross-functional and multi-disciplinary activity that is collaborative in nature.

However, regardeless of the innovation management model an organisation adopts, creating an innovative organisation is the responsibility of management – be it top management team or a subset of it. Executives, as leaders of organisations, need to both inspire and manage innovation efforts. According to Swedish Innovation, leaders have dual roles when managing innovation, i.e. they stimulate innovative results as they facilitate ideas and initiatives coming from individuals and teams in a bottom-up model whereas they are the primary means for the organization to realize its innovation goals and strategies in a top-down approach. A fundamental challenge is to balance these two roles.

For leaders to succeed in managing innovation there are certain attributes that have proven to underpin innovation success. BCG, in its 2015 survey of global innovative companies, found that many executives identify as critical and interrelated an emphasis on speed, well-run (and very often lean) Research & Development (R&D) processes, the use of technological platforms, and the systematic exploration of adjacent markets. Speed in execution and adoption of new technologies is the major source of differentiation for true breakthough innovators while R&D processes significantly influence the pace of innovation. At least the top 15 global innovative companies, Apple and Google holding the top two spots, are all strongly associated with many of those capabilities. Excellence in the systematic pursuit of these adjacencies is a characteristic common to the most innovative companies.

With that said, an assumption that all organizations face the same obstacles to developing new products, services, or business ventures is a fallacy. The reality is that challenges to innovation vary from firm to firm, and what works for one company may not apply in another’s situation even if they operate in the same industry. Innovation ‘best practices’ are not always ‘importable’ into a company because of the uniqueness of obstacles and challenges to developing new products and services faced by organizations. One company may be great at generating ideas, but lack the discipline to bring those ideas to market. Likewise, a company that excells in excecution, may not have have the ability to source, screen or even decide on high-impact ideas, let alone measure their innovation efforts. Although innovation is messy, fuzzy and complex by its very nature, there is a case for a deliberate and systematic innovation management method that goes from ideas to commercially valuable outcomes. Such a method needs to consider a company’s uniqueness in processes, management and culture.

So, how do firms keep their innovation management processes efficient? Morten & Birkinshaw (2007), in the Harvard Business Review offer the ‘Innovation Value Chain’ framework to address just that. The Innovation Value Chain is a framework for considering existing processes to creating innovations, suggesting that the process of transforming ideas into commerical outputs needs to be viewed as an integrated flow, similar to Michael Porter’s value chain for transforming raw materials into finished goods. The Framework challenges executives to take an end-to-end view of their innovation offorts as opposed to reflexively importing innovation practices which only address a part and not the entire value chain, to ensure all weakest innovation links are addressed.

In the framework, innovation is viewed as a sequential, three-phase process that involves idea generation, idea development, and the diffusion of developed concepts. There are six critical tasks that managers must perform in all the phases, each being a link in the chain, i.e. internal sourcing, cross-unit sourcing, external sourcing, selection, development, and companywide spread of the idea. Along the innovation value chain, firms need to find the strongest links (activities it excels in) and weakest links (activities it struggles with).

This is not to suggest that innovation management gets easier with a framework in place, nor does it seek to bring a hierarchical chain of command similar to that of normal business operations in corporates as this can stifle innovation. The point is, regardless of the framework a firm adopts, there needs to be some application of a deliberate and systematically tailored end-to-end approach to generating, converting, and diffusing ideas that brings sanity to the madness of innovation.

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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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