When we look at Rwanda and our battle to be a middle-income country, you understand that it is a question of mindset. We need to change our mindset in order to think on the level that developed countries think. The abundance of foreign consultants is an illustration of this, yet it is not purely about education but mindset.
Skills are one thing, mindset is another. Sometimes a foreigner with lesser qualifications than a Rwandan can excel simply due to a different mindset.
In importing labour we are attempting to import a more dynamic mindset and one that is better suited to the global market.
Mindset is not about what you think, but how you think. We went from irrational thinking, to rational empirical, to analytical thinking and now systemic thinking.
In this digital age we need to be able to analyse and disseminate information quickly and efficiently. In the last century there was a shift towards what is called analytical thinking. This is when you analyse a given subject from the top to down specialising as you go along.
A major flaw in this system of thinking is one gets a narrow view of the given topic, and has no means of applying it to the wider field.
Hence we have moved on to systemic thinking, this stresses more emphasis on how a given subject affects other aspects. The aim is to integrate a process and fit the components together.
Imagine a situation where a bureaucrat spots the most minor of discrepancies and throws out a file instead of solving the issue on the spot.
This sends it through the whole bureaucratic process again further clogging the system. This egocentric behaviour does not allow the system to function properly because workers do no empathise with others.
Systemic thinking always takes a holistic approach, always reminding people they are part of a larger whole. So a clerk in one ministry must cooperate with other people on his level to make life simpler, shifting blame is not compatible with systemic thinking.
Any failure is a systems failure.
This type of lateral thinking involves questioning why things are done they way they are, and how to make them better.
For example in Toyota they challenged workers to each make savings and efficiencies in their given area. We need to empower workers to be able to make common sense decisions that can speed up the process provided they improve service.
Managers must use their staff as a source of ideas to encourage lateral thinking. When I see something inefficient in Rwanda I often ask “why is it done like that?”
The answer is always a shrug “it’s always been done like that.” Few people are willing to look at things differently and changing the simplest of things is impossible.
We need all aspects of life in Rwanda to click together; we need to all ask how we can all make life simpler for ourselves. We cannot have separate arms working out of sync.
That is the main challenge we face this year to physically link our services through technology but even more important is to psychologically connect through lateral and systemic thinking.
Rama Isibo is a social commentator