Keeping the training going when the lights go out


Using your WITS! in new ways - as you train in powerlessness

In SynNovation, we both facilitate practial innovation, and train people in innovation. We were scheduled to do a two-day Workshop in Innovation and Team Skills (WITS!) for 8 people, at NAMPAK RandD in Epping, Cape Town, on February 22 and 23. My partner Lu-Marie Sobey flew down from Johannesbrug to co-train with me. And then the Eskom Fiasco occurred.


Training - Our intensive experiential training in a unique group innovation process relies heavily on videotaping the group working on tasks, and using selections from this for feedback and learning. We also use an overhead projector (more flexible for experiential learning than Powerpoint presentations) and flip-charts, and many other fun props to stimulate creativity.

Logistics - We live on the 6th floor of a 14-storey building in Muizenberg, and have eight and a half flights up or down to / from our parking garage
The staircase in our building is dark - even in daytime you need a torch, so it would be difficult to carry bags of workshop tools AND carry a torch - down, and even worse, up.

Normally it takes 25 to 30 minutes to the Nampak venue in which we were to train - we knew we would probably have to allow double this time due to the Eskom-induced traffic problems - there and back

Actions to help in case of power failure

Thought up the 2 days before (but I still had a toss-around worrying night)

  • Print all hand-outs and pack all bags with workshop tools on 20th and early 21st, while there is power and light.
  • Make hay while sun shines - charge cellphone and laptop while there is power, and fill up car with petrol, while fuels stations have power
  • Charge and take along two batteries for the video camera, in case we cannot videotape sessions because of power failure - but can record using batteries, with the hope we could view them later
  • Borrow an old-fashioned, battery-operated tape recorder, so we could audiotape and play back sessions, in case we could not view videos
  • Take along our own flip-chart (in addition to the client's two) in case this gives us more writing space and flexibility
  • Take along extra non-electronic creativity tools and props
  • Hope that the venue has windows that can let in light, in case it goes dark - I had not checked this when I checked the venue (lesson for the future)
  • Take along a handful of torches and spare batteries, candles and matches in case we need to make our own light.
  • Carry the heavy flipchart and some of the stuff down to the car the night before - in case the lifts do not work next morning (just as well!)
  • Make careful checklist of everything that has to go along, so I'm sure I don't have to "run" up the stairs again in case I forgot something.


  • The power was off on both evenings of 21st and 22nd - meaning that I could not make extra copies, or print some documents, or the course certificates to hand out on the last day.
  • The power was off morning of 22nd, so Lu-Marie and had to get dressed by candlelight (takes longer than you think!), shower cool, and go down stairs in dark, carrying more of the workshop tools.

  • It took us more than one and a half hours to get to the venue - in stead of half an hour. We had allowed 75 minutes, so we arrived slightly late, while we had planned to be there half an hour before the time.

  • Luckily there was power for the early morning coffee / teas, but shortly after we had started - before we had even used the overhead projector - the power failed. We videotaped the first session using batteries. Power returned suddenly for a short while, and we could show the videotape.
  • But then the power failed again - and we were told the cafeteria could not prepare lunch as planned - so we had to order take-away pizzas - not our first choice for an energy-giving lunch.

  • When we needed to videotape the next session, we were still powerless, so the batteries had to work again. However, the power did not return, so we could not show that session - we did verbal feedback. And so on. Luckily the small group size we have for this training, helped to make this fairly effective.

  • I had an urgent proposal to prepare on the evening of 22nd - at least I could work on my laptop, with a torch pinched between my ear and my shoulder so I could see the keyboard - but that was SLOW going, and gave me a literal pain in the neck. I could not send off the mail, so had to get someone else to send it off next morning.

  • Luckily things were better on 23rd - less non-working traffic lights than on 22nd - and power all day at the workshop. And we got very good ratings for the workshop - showing that innovation works and "maak 'n plan" can help.

  • I find it unforgivable that the power in an industrial area like Epping should be cavalierly cut - has anyone calculated the economic and opportunity costs? And then Kadalie, Cape Town manager for public lighting, said he guaranteed there would be power for the Stormers match on Friday 23rd - that is really adding insult to injury! Since when is a sport event more important than production in a major industrial area, and in the city's only refinery, in shops selling perishable products, and than elderly people having to climb 14 flights up and down in high-rise buildings!
  • I heard today that a client who had booked a workshop for April had been so badly disrupted by the power problems, and had suffered such big losses in the past week, that they are postponing the workshop. Maybe consultants should record with The Skills Portal all such cancellations caused by Eskom's poor performance - so we can get an idea of the opportunity costs in our industry.

    What can we do to help?

    I am convinced that a few creative problem-solving sessions and training facilitated by SynNovation (and I am sure by other skilled consultants) could help Eskom:

  • to develop together fresh perspectives and practical action plans to help them address at least some of their current problems in new, more effective ways
  • To enable their staff to approach various tasks in more innovative ways in future, and to plan more effectively for the future
  • To work together in a more collaborative, productive way than they are able to do in the present climate
  • To work together with other stakeholders, such as municipalities, the media and major clients, to find shared ways to save on power, and manage the crisis in a less top-down, "we cut power as we see fit" way
  • To overcome some of the technical and maintenance challenges
  • To rebuild the morale of their staff who must be fully demotivated and embarrassed by the present situation and the way in which various issues (communication, affirmative action, maintenance, etc) have been handled.

    I look forward to hearing others' experiences.

    Truida Prekel

    Innovation Catalyst


    021 788 7718

    082 452 0341

  • Comments