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Unstable systems offer huge opportunities to pinpoint a kickstarter for innovation

Unstable systems offer huge opportunities to pinpoint a kickstarter for innovation

Innovation and Systems Thinking by Rikus Grobler of Namibia Innovation Solutions

This short series focuses on the theme of analysing trends and getting insights to understand customers’ requirements as a starting point for innovation. I have touched on trend spotting, scenario planning and Big Data as applicable topics to this theme. To conclude with this theme, I want to look at Systems Thinking as the final piece of the puzzle of where to start with innovation.

Systems Thinking

What is a system? Take a few simple examples: The cars we drive are made up of systems (e.g. steering system, suspension system, emission system, cooling system, transmission system) and they are also components in other systems (our nation’s transportation system, the air we breathe – in terms of pollution, and our economy in terms of jobs created here and elsewhere to manufacture, buy, sell and service cars).

Your organisation is also a system in itself and part of the economic system. Systems are, in short, sets of processes in which both independent and interdependent elements interact to form a complex whole, generating one or more outcomes. The outcomes of a system depend upon how the parts (e.g., with the market for locally grown food) interact and receive influences from the containing system (e.g., the overall economy).

Systems Thinking is then the holistic approach to analysis that focuses on the way that a system’s constituent parts interrelate and how systems work over time and within the context of larger systems.

So just before you think I have completely lost my marbles, let me explain why Systems Thinking is such a powerful method of analysis and what it has to do with innovation.

As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, globalization grows our social systems in complex new ways. Technological advancement spawns system after system, each increasing in interdependence on other systems that have come before (Internet, software, GPS, power grid, mobile networks, etc.).

International trade ties nations together in powerful economic feedback loops. Policy changes in one nation inevitably cause ripple effects in another. Systems if ever they were separated, are determinedly moving towards interconnectedness as we hurtle into a globalized future. All of these systems feed into each other to produce extremely complex, unpredictable effects. Or, do they?

With the use of Systems Thinking, one can hope to better understand the deep roots of these complex behaviours in order to better predict them and, ultimately, adjust their outcomes. The basic idea introduced by Systems Thinking, is that to manage a system effectively, you might focus on the interactions of the parts rather than their behaviour taken separately.

As upsetting as unstable systems can feel, and as uncertain as future outcomes become, they create opportunities for innovation. Anything an organisation or individual can do to address opposing trends – to let steam out of the system, so to speak – will generate tremendous value.

In essence, the unstable system works like a magnet, attracting needed innovations to how the system operates.

To make it practical, just look at some of the challenges we currently experience in our economic- and social systems: the milk industry, the energy crisis, the weakening currency, the land issue, globalization, etc.

To find a starting point for innovation, identify the variables impacting the system (e.g., a market) within which your organisation operates. Then, identify trends underway in these variables. Identify those trends that are in opposition. Then ask, what innovations might deal with two or more opposing trends? Those are your dig sites to unearth new ideas for your organisation.

While complex, unstable systems are the hardest to track, they are filled with significant innovation opportunities, which can be unlocked through Systems Thinking.

Next Time

I have now finished with the theme of the starting point for innovation. Next time I want to look at how to successfully sell your ideas in your organisation.

I conclude with a relevant quote from Buddha: “All things appear and disappear because of the concurrence of causes and conditions. Nothing ever exists entirely alone; everything is in relation to everything else”.


Arnold, R. D., & Wade, J. P. 2015. A Definition of Systems Thinking: A Systems Approach. Procedia Computer Science, 44, 669-678.
Plantes, K. 2011. How to use Systems Thinking to Unearth Innovation Opportunities. Online:



About The Author

Rikus Grobler

Dr Rikus Grobler is a Namibian academic, inventor, entrepreneur, public speaker, and management consultant who specialises in the development of the innovation capability of companies and individuals. He holds degrees in Engineering and Law, and has an MBA and a PhD in Business Administration. He is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) of the Project Management Institute (PMI) and he has also completed studies in design thinking and patenting. He has engaged leading Namibian organisations such as The Capricorn Group, Agra, Old Mutual Namibia, The Bank of Namibia, City of Windhoek, The Government of Namibia, Afrox Namibia, and Hollard Namibia. An experienced professional with a background in manufacturing, information technology, tertiary education and financial services, Dr Grobler has been involved in innovation management for the past 10 years and currently holds the position of Manager: Innovation for the Capricorn Group in Namibia. He is particularly interested in creativity, innovation and invention, and his mission is to provide performance-enhancing innovation management services that enable organisations and individuals to fully exploit their creative potential to reach their goals.

Following reverse listing, public can now acquire shareholding in Paratus Namibia


20 February 2020, Windhoek, Namibia: Paratus Namibia Holdings (PNH) was founded as Nimbus Infrastructure Limited (“Nimbus”), Namibia’s first Capital Pool Company listed on the Namibian Stock Exchange (“NSX”).

Although targeting an initial capital raising of N$300 million, Nimbus nonetheless managed to secure funding to the value of N$98 million through its CPC listing. With a mandate to invest in ICT infrastructure in sub-Sahara Africa, it concluded management agreements with financial partner Cirrus and technology partner, Paratus Telecommunications (Pty) Ltd (“Paratus Namibia”).

Paratus Namibia Managing Director, Andrew Hall

Its first investment was placed in Paratus Namibia, a fully licensed communications operator in Namibia under regulation of the Communications Regulatory Authority of Namibia (CRAN). Nimbus has since been able to increase its capital asset base to close to N$500 million over the past two years.

In order to streamline further investment and to avoid duplicating potential ICT projects in the market between Nimbus and Paratus Namibia, it was decided to consolidate the operations.

Publishing various circulars to shareholders, Nimbus took up a 100% shareholding stake in Paratus Namibia in 2019 and proceeded to apply to have its name changed to Paratus Namibia Holdings with a consolidated board structure to ensure streamlined operations between the capital holdings and the operational arm of the business.

This transaction was approved by the Competitions Commission as well as CRAN, following all the relevant regulatory approvals as well as the necessary requirements in terms of corporate governance structures.

Paratus Namibia has evolved as a fully comprehensive communications operator in Namibia and operates as the head office of the Paratus Group in Africa. Paratus has established a pan-African footprint with operations in six African countries, being: Angola, Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa and Zambia.

The group has achieved many successes over the years of which more recently includes the building of the Trans-Kalahari Fibre (TKF) project, which connects from the West Africa Cable System (WACS) eastward through Namibia to Botswana and onward to Johannesburg. The TKF also extends northward through Zambia to connect to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, which made Paratus the first operator to connect the west and east coast of Africa under one Autonomous System Number (ASN).

This means that Paratus is now “exporting” internet capacity to landlocked countries such as Zambia, Botswana, the DRC with more countries to be targeted, and through its extensive African network, Paratus is well-positioned to expand the network even further into emerging ICT territories.

PNH as a fully-listed entity on the NSX, is therefore now the 100% shareholder of Paratus Namibia thereby becoming a public company. PNH is ready to invest in the future of the ICT environment in Namibia. The public is therefore invited and welcome to acquire shares in Paratus Namibia Holdings by speaking to a local stockbroker registered with the NSX. The future is bright, and the opportunities are endless.