Inspiring us with a new way of creative thinking, Mokena Makeka tells us how problem solving makes for big ideas in his talk titled, “Technology and the Age of Endarkenment”.

How are pyramids, hydraulics, music, mnemonics, fake news and societal trauma linked? But where do we find inspiration and what is our purpose? This is how problem solving and creative thinking work together.

This Cultural Leader provides insight on how creative thinking can inspire and reinforce bigger ideas and make them happen. 

Trust us, it’s worth taking the time to watch this exclusive video that will definitely expand your thinking!


Mokena Makeka is one the 40 cultural leaders of WEF17, Davos/Klosters alongside such luminaries as Shakira and Forest Whitaker, recognised for speaking truth to power and seeking to change the world for better. He is also a Creative Imagineer and Creative Designer at Makeka Design Lab. 

A sought after speaker and thought leader on African cities, design, social and spatial practices, and demographic change. He is also the founder of the House of Makeka, a premium lifestyle suite of design and product experiences working to change the world through smart and exquisite design.

“I design therefore I am. Beautiful things which have a purpose are the only things that deserve to exist.” – Mokena Makeka

If you are feeling particularly inspired, check out our creative thinking course

Video transcript:

The notion that reason allows you to have dominance over nature. Landscape people so that I’m not saying all the ideas were great. What I’m saying is that it was the beginning of an age of ideas. And this is an image of the Oracle Adelphi. And she’s actually sitting on a chair and you notice that there’s some steam coming up. So scientists have proven that half the time that we thought this oracle was giving us knowledge it was probably because the sulfur from the the vents in the ground were actually making her high.

And because of that she gave mystical knowledge being high and somehow people paid for that.

But it’s an interesting thing because at that time that was the highest authority of knowledge that was available if you were going to go to war or get married or decide whether to get married or not. You would actually consult the oracle. And Oracle change.

When I was young. This was the Oracle Encyclopedia Britannica. My father bought a set and every time it was summer vacation I would sit down. And spend three or four weeks trying to go through number seven. Number eight. Number nine. Number ten. And for a long time we really believed if there was anything to be known in the world it was inside here.

Inside 13 or 14 books.

But the Oracle is changed today. This is the Oracle. And there’s no way you can cram the information in Google into 13 books. But what has happened though. Through that trauma through that change between the one form of a very pedantic linear lot knowledge to this one that is very Polly Vaillant which is very complex which has no boundaries which is all over the place. Is that truth is now under question.

And with truth being under question the role of the designer in that context becomes even more complex.

This is an image of Twitter when Nelson Mandela was about to be pronounced as dying. CNN and all the traditional news.

Avenues had no clue. I found it on Twitter literally within three minutes what was happening I was following. People were saying they parked outside the house. They said people are moving in. There’s an ambulance in this. So all of a sudden the territory of knowledge which it had been through a traditional news network has been thrown out the window totally disrupted by organic knowledge that is brought in by different people. Now you could argue how do I know that what’s on Twitter is true because it’s not really moderated. Who is the authority who provides clarity.

I’m not so sure that we’re going to be in a world where authority is going to be the defining act of how we make decisions. I think we have multiple authorities now. We have multiple agencies and multiple complexities.

Now what do we do in the context of this multiplicity. This is a symbol from where we get the word sabotage. And essentially it comes from you know I think French or Belgian when workers saw the first machines that could help do laundry and they were threatened by the machine because they saw the machine was taking their job away. So they took off the stubble and threw it into the machine hence sabotage. So what do we do when we’re confronted with new forms of technology. New forms of production. Do we throw a shoe at the machine.

How do we engage with it. Do we make the machine better or do we critique the machine. The word robot or robot in English actually comes from Czech. It actually means slave. And it’s quite interesting if you look at our science fiction movies how we are terrified. Of what would happen when our slaves fight back. We are obsessed with this notion of machines that begin to fight for their own rights. They begin to articulate their own needs and desires.

Not just needs and desires you worry about dominance.

We worry about our roles and we worry about creativity and with the Fourth Industrial Revolution which is upon us now which allows you in this day and age to shoot your enemy from the comfort of your chair which allows me to survey you value phone in terms of G.P.S. in terms of where you’re going.

There’s so many ways that technology can be abused or used properly today. So the question is is technology an ambivalent device for moving forward or is there a morality behind how we use and deploy technology. When I was in first year. I had a lecturer who almost as UC TV engineer you almost burst into tears because you used to design landmines.

And he was so excited as an engineer to design landmines because the cool thing right you got a so-called see somebody steps on it explodes. To him it was all an academic exercise until he realized what was happening in Angola where he was actually shown people who lost their limbs. And one of the things he said to me is that don’t just design you have to design with an attitude and with a meaning and a purpose or you will create things that are going to hurt people.

So machines can be benevolent. I mean I should determine it before they can be useful that can be helpful. And technology is not something to be scared of. This is. Might be out of your generation this due to my hero. Captain Kirk Star Trek Rock’s 1960s. The cell phone. Video is ahead of its time. Also in the Georgia Jetsons cartoon. So that’s also I like watching science fiction and cartoons. They actually predict where things are going. And now it’s a ubiquitous device.

That almost everybody has cell phone penetration in South Africa I think. I think it’s one point four phones per person. We have more cell phones and people in this country.

So what does this fourth industrial revolution actually mean. Maybe it’s important to just cover what what these steps are. So the first rule is mechanization we spoke about it this double the printing press. Those original devices that we spoke of before that it was even more hydraulics the making of pyramids then mass production electricity infrastructure sewage. All of the big infrastructure that makes our cities work. The third revolution electronic I.T. systems automation the beginning of data and the fourth which is really all right now. But the fourth is not just about drones.

It’s not just about biological technologies. It’s not just about amazing prostheses or heart surgery. The Fourth Revolution is actually a social revolution. And that’s why I want to go back to this issue of technology. The social revolution that we have before us. Is that.

Many things are going to die within the next five to 10 years of you. Big business is already dying.

Uber has already shown us the death of typical taxi systems Macron in France has shown us the death of traditional political party systems. Trump himself has also shown in the death of the traditional Republican Party everything around us is imploding.

We are actually in a moment of trauma and change but I don’t think we as a planet are aware of it. But if you look at the way that even now businesses operate where you don’t necessarily have to have 200 staff but you can have five staff members and diversify your workforce across the world. This is part of this social revolution. So the world is much more networked. It’s much more neuro. It’s not linear. It’s not like Encyclopedia Britannica. It’s very very complex and Polly Vaillant. And in this poly valence see almost everything seems equal.

And that is the danger of our time. There’s so much information out there. Snapchat Instagram all of these things competing for our attention.

But sometimes it all seems the same somebody can actually use the phrase fake news and it has credibility because we have lost our center in terms of what is our position in relation to the technology of our time.

So a portrait 200 years ago or before would have been dead on. Now portraits can have three or four images at the same time.

This is our reality. When we say we’re African that’s a word which has multiple identities. That go beyond race to go beyond culture that even go beyond territory. When we say we’re human beings even the definition of what is male and female is now slowly being challenged and changed. What is sexuality what is politics. What is youth. What is age.

The only thing it’s missing from this image is somebody holding up a keyboard. I didn’t have a chance to photoshop that in but I do like this image because if you think of the hammer and sickle which which pretty much was a metaphor for workers in the last two centuries there’s a megaphone there.

So it’s not just about production but it’s about communication and how do we communicate and who we communicating to and who is our primary audience who is our tribe who is our community in that multi poly valence world. Who are the people who we want to reach to give our message to and that can be a political message that can be a marketing message it can be religious message it can be a sexual message. It could be Twitter where you just shout into the dark and see who responds to you.

Trauma. So some of us right now. Are still throwing the symbol at the machine. And I think we need to be cautious about these people.

These are organizations who are disrupting the structure of who we are. Idea of our society. Breaking it down but also trying to preserve a very particular reality for themselves. I use this image here because. I teach at university and there was a lot of debate I insisted the students in terms of the fees must fall campaign but I actually wondered and I said this to them is the issue about fees. Or is the issue that the type of education that you have right now will be outdated in the next five years.

Because of the complexity of the world that you’re facing out there. Well we don’t know five years from now what type of job descriptions are going to be able to provide your work. The World Economic Forum is shown that if you are studying accounting right now. Within the next five to 10 years your job will be taken out by a machine or something else. Are we re gearing our universities to begin to imagine what this trauma break is. What are the learnings that we need to remember to take forward and what are those things that we need to forget.

And that’s why I’m here because I love creativity because all the data shows that creatives are the future the ability to connect across different dots.

The ability to sit outside of your silos and to produce new knowledge because if there’s one thing that computers can do computers cannot produce serendipity.

Computers are very uncomfortable with failure. Computers are unable to innovate but they’re able to iterate.

Human beings innovate.

So as designers in the school and in the space. When you think of the knowledge that you’re been given by your lecturers or your clients or your beliefs et cetera you are in a very unique time and space to be ahead of the curve in terms of what you learn in terms of what you want to learn in terms of what you give the world.

Then again there’s some of us who are still throwing shoes at the machine. The people who are taking advantage of this multi poly Vaillant world. Navigating it to find their own channel to their own tribe their own audience and actually finding power. The people who will rail against fact and truth because they know if they shout it’s fake fake fake fake enough times.

Repetition never sign. Remember the average person will believe the mnemonic act. And begin to doubt that which is true. So we have people who say that. Climate change is not changing.

That things are business as usual. There are also some people who believe that the world is flat.

And that the sun revolves around the Earth.

Imagine being Copernicus and doing that very dangerous drawing where you begin to communicate that actually the sun is the center of the solar system. It was both a scientific act but it was also a creative act. It was also a political act. It was also an act of preserving knowledge. He gave his life up. For Truth.

I’m not saying you guys have to give up your life for design or creativity but I just want to show you the importance of what you do as creatives. Yes it’s fun and it’s amazing and we love being cool things. But there’s a bigger purpose to why we do what we do because we hold the memories. Of a society whether it’s in music literature architecture sculpture graphics. We capture the spirit and the moment of the place.

So what happens when the light goes out. You have in darkness.

You have a multi poly violent world with lots of information but no meaning. You have a place that’s full of distraction but no purpose. You have a place with lots of activity but no action.

It’s very easy to be busy doing nothing at all. I know that I was a student I had those moments.

So go back to why I put this image up. You’ve got to watch Bladerunner first one and the second one because conceptually it’s one of the most interesting movies. You have this dystopian world which is kind of a blend between Jakarta and Tokyo.

Hyper technology robots that could pass off as human robots that have reached a moment where they believe that they are human and humans are threatened by the power of these robots. You have Harrison Ford a frail human being. Having to engage and take down. A super creature. Because that’s his job description because these robots sometimes get out of hand. But the metaphor between that is very similar to what I said to you or showed you when I showed you the the Visigoths taking down the statue of Caesar. It’s a contestation of two knowledge systems.

It’s a contestation of two opinions. It’s a clashing of two worlds. Now in this space we’re privileged because to some extent we are quite homogeneous. But you know that if you don’t have a cell phone today and you don’t have data you are probably as dis-empowered. As homo sapiens with fire and Cro Magnum without fire. If you are unable to communicate to form your networks to be able to form knowledge to be able to multiply it affect your disenfranchised from the system. So my last two slides really and I’m biased because I’m an architect but my message to you as creatives is that I want you to start embedding in your creativity.

The means by which you can make statements about what’s important to you about design and creativity and so on. What’s important too about society. So whether you’re working in graphic design or sorry I mean that.

Graphic Design Communication websites. There is a chance now during this very particular time this transition between the third and the fourth industrial revolution that you can be part of a voice about what is the power of design that you’re not merely here to serve clients but you’re here to do what the architects when they did this building did they knew when they worked with the stonemasons and the gargoyles that they were going to make something that was going to outlive them.

When that person was making that stained glass window it was a beautiful piece of work but it is also a form of preserving knowledge for future generations. I don’t want this generation to be the generation that forgets how to make concrete. I want you guys to be part of that generation that actually builds on the knowledge that you have that is savvy enough to sift through all of the noise and social media and to stand apart and to know the difference between fake news and bad news. To be able to take the advantages of a linear encyclopedia botanical world and take all of the possibility of the Google world and multiply it and be effective and be kick ass designers into really cool stuff.

But you can’t do that if you don’t have a position and you can’t do that if you don’t know what to remember and you can’t do that if you don’t acknowledge that memory is an important part of the design act and design creativity. So repetition is significant but I’m also giving you the tools that you can see now about the power of other forms of design the impact of repetition and how it’s able to change your reality. You have that at your disposal right now. So in closing. This is a phrase which I mean I love it.

It’s been used in many different movies and so on. Wonderful poem it is like Rage rage against the dying of the light. Actually it’s really about a poet who’s on the verge of death. And it is about light in the eyes and keeping until the very last moment that the urge and the desire to stay alive. Although it was written in a very human specific way the light is also about knowledge the light is about your creativity the light is about your values the light is about you being activists from a creative point of view rage against the dying of the light.

Let’s not forget how to make. So let’s not forget how to make concrete. Let’s build upon our societies do amazing things. And my last slide is just my logo. So I wanted to say thank you for sharing with. With me this opportunity to give you a bit of philosophy. Do not be afraid of technology as much as our film writers would like to scare us with robots and machines and aliens. Don’t throw the shoe at the machine don’t abuse the power of the villains world that is out there.

Use it wisely and you can change the world. Thank you.