Recognising cause and effect
Anyone can wish for a different future, but unless you put in the work, nothing will change.
Research into the process of change has come up with a deceptively simple formula: D x V x F > R. For change to happen, dissatisfaction with current circumstances, multiplied by a vision for a different future, multiplied by the success of first steps towards that future, must be greater than the resistance to change.It is very important to note that it is a multiplication sum, not addition, explains change expert, Dr Frank Magwegwe. That means that if any of the first three elements is zero, the total is zero. Nothing happens.
We all know people who are deeply dissatisfied with their circumstances. They have a big D. They may even have a vision for a different future, a big V. But they do nothing that might move them towards that future. They do not take first steps. The F in their change equation is zero. Without taking those first steps, nothing will happen – except that they will become more and more unhappy.
Frank often calls the “first steps” of the change formula “baby steps” but listening to the guests on our podcasts, that sounds too easy. These stories all start in the same way: with hard, focused work in defiance of surrounding circumstances. Every one of them was deeply dissatisfied with their circumstances. Each had a vision for a different future. So far, so average – the same is probably true of many youngsters. What made the difference is that every one of our guests recognised education as the bridge to that vision of the future, and then committed to their education with relentless focus.
Economist Isaah Mhlanga and academic Dr Dorothy ‘Dots’ Ndletyana describe their teenage years in almost the same words. When their classmates and friends were out on the streets playing ball or just hanging out, they were working. “It was a conscious decision,” says Isaah. “Every Saturday I will be going to the library when others are playing. I understood I had a particular mission to achieve, and I was okay with (others thinking I’m weird). I think this is something that has become part of who I am. I am not afraid to be different as long as it is for a good cause.” “I was not a quick learner,” says Dots. “It was not easy. I had to spend lots of hours on my schoolwork.” There were many unemployed youngsters on street corners where she grew up. Her father had no sympathy: “He would say, ‘Don’t think you are going to end up lazing around like that.’ We were expected to go to school and to do well.” Pilot and social entrepreneur, Asnath Mahapa, also had a father like that: “He picked me up from school and I think I was number 5 for something. He asked what happened, and I said the exams are difficult. He said, ‘Then they would have been difficult for number 1 and number 2 and number 3 … that’s no excuse.’”
“The goal was bigger than the pain,” says Isaah. He quotes actor Denzel Washington: “Do what you have to do, to do what you want to do.” This includes an uncompromising assessment of your circle of friends. “In the normal parlance we call our friends ‘scheme sakho’, your scheme. I would say, if this does not work for my vision, if it takes me from studying, I’m going to de-scheme you. There are so many distractions. Part of making sure that you succeed is to remove as much distraction as possible” – even if it means letting go of certain friendships.
The same clear understanding of cause and effect rings out from his take on what is often called “Black tax”, the responsibility of a successful family member to support others in the family. If you are the only one who can provide, you will have to keep providing, he says. Helping those around you to become independent builds the future for everyone: “You can go back hundreds of years – the success of different families was possible because one person in that family took the responsibility of making sure that the whole of the family is taken care of. The rest of the family is educated, is involved in business. Teach a man to fish and he will have food for the rest of his life.”
Frank picks up on this: “There is a lot of evidence (both in South Africa and in other societies like America) that shows the impact of first-generation people going to university and what that means for their families. It happened with me – I was the first in my family, I helped my sister (to graduate), she and I helped our brothers. It’s not only the family; it’s also the inspiration that flows from the example – someone looks at Isaah and says, ‘Here’s someone from Dobsonville, he did this, I can do it too.’”
What would Isaah say to a young person who comes to him for advice? “You can change your background, but you have to have the commitment to that vision. You must be prepared to feel the pain for that which matters to you.”
There is cause and there is effect. Nothing will happen if you don’t take the first steps.
*You can get better at navigating change. Enrol to our Change Programme, an interactive course based on decades of science, that can help you find the growth and opportunity in all change.