The new year is a period of introspection and renewal, says Jake Shepherd, Synthesis Co-founder and Technical Director, and this explains the widespread tradition of resolutions.

However, did you know that studies have shown that less than 25% of people actually stay committed to their resolutions after just 30 days, and only 8% accomplish them? So, instead of making resolutions, I suggest that we commit to learning new skills.

The acquisition of skills is needed far more today in our fast-paced technology-centered world then it was in the past. There is a lot of talk about the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) and how Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning will have a massive impact on the social fabric of society. This is scary. The unknown is always scary. However, from my experience whenever there is a threat then there are also opportunities.

The question then is what are the skills we all need today to take advantage of these new opportunities? We need to become three things: A lifelong learner, a human Panado and a master storyteller. These are three skills for life that will help you navigate whatever the new year brings.

For starters, what is a lifelong learner?

South Africans have always been known for being generalists. The reason being is that we are not big enough for people to find employment doing only one thing. We also pride ourselves in being flexible and resourceful and nothing captures this ethos better than the phrase “’n boer maak ‘n plan”.

This philosophy is needed today more than ever. The days of a person doing a course at university to qualify in a career and then work in that career for the rest of their lives is quickly becoming outdated.

We need the skills to learn new skills. Learning something new is hard, it means you need to spend time and effort trying to get good at things that you can’t currently do very well.

A lifelong learner needs to:

  • Be motivated to spend the time needed to learn something new. Think about it, what rewards will motivate you? Give yourself a treat when you reach each new milestone;
  • Have the patience to practice the skill until it becomes second nature; and
  • Look out for the next important skill to learn.

One of the advantages of living today is that we have access to the best teachers in the world via the internet. We can use this opportunity to learn lots of different skills across many areas. We human beings are really good at making connections and looking at the world from new angles. We can take two totally different things, join then together and create something totally new. It is here that opportunities are born.

Synthesis works in the world of emerging technology and by definition, emerging technology is constantly being created and refined. The moment you stop keeping up to date is the point where you start being left behind. The hard part about this is that you can never afford to coast. However, there are tremendous rewards for those who keep up and the success of Synthesis today is evidence of these rewards.

What is a human Panado?

Life is hard and often painful. One of the greatest motivators we have is the need to avoid anxiety and pain. There are whole professions that are dedicated to pain relief. I want to suggest that we should start viewing ourselves as people who are dedicated to pain relief.

In business there are pains. In fact, I would say that the reason a person has a job is because they are willing to do something that someone else is not able to or finds too painful to do themselves. This is the same reason a client pays a company to provide a service that they need to be done, but do not want to do themselves.

When I think of my most valuable employees; it is those who I would miss the most if they were to leave; the ones who uplift their colleagues with a smile and a laugh; in short those who take away the pain. The human Panados.

Think of those people in our lives who are examples of amazing positive energy. These may be people who despite having been confronted with massive challenges in their lives are extremely hard workers who always go the extra mile. They are an inspiration and seem to uplift everyone around them. South Africa is fortunate to have Nelson Mandela as a national hero who did exactly this.

So how do you become a human Panado?

  • Make at least one person laugh or smile every day
  • Look out for what needs to be done that no one is doing
  • Look for opportunities to take ownership
  • Carry the heaviest load you can manage and reduce the burden on others

In short: Take away the pain.

So, what is a master storyteller?

Each of us is a storyteller, however, we need to understand that the nature of the stories we tell ourselves profoundly affects who we are and who we will become. A master storyteller knows the impact their stories create and chooses wisely.

A bad story might make you feel like a victim or it might tell you that someone else is a villain and that is why you cannot get ahead. For example, the world is rigged in favour of the wealthy, they create the rules and that is why I can never succeed. The problem with these stories is that they make you feel helpless. There is nothing you can do to fix the problem. The other person who caused the problem must fix it!

A good story has the opposite effect – it empowers you. You are the one who can make a difference. For example, the world seems to value competence so for me to get ahead I will need to master a set of skills that will set me apart from everyone else. You are no longer helpless, you know what to do and you make a plan.

In addition, we also have a responsibility for the well-being of others. A master storyteller learns to see the potential in others and holds up a mirror for them to see this potential in themselves. They tell the stories that weave meaning and purpose into our lives and inspire those around them with a vision of a great future.

At Synthesis we assist our clients to envision a future where they could be adding 10x more value and becoming 10x better than they are today. Our vision is that companies that embrace emerging technology and put in place effective processes will not only become globally competitive but will uplift the communities they serve as well. We want to be the partner that assists our clients on this journey. A journey that is kicked off and shaped through the stories that paint the picture of awesome possibility.


Our future is unknown and the unknown often causes fear, uncertainty and doubt. However, we can learn and master the skills we need to navigate the future.

During this time of renewal and self-reflection let us all commit to:

  • Becoming a Lifelong Learner so that we can adapt and change to meet the challenges ahead. In the words of Nelson Mandela: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”;
  • Looking for opportunities to reduce the pain in the world around us; and
  • Mastering the stories that create greatness.
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