Da Vinci: delivering managerial leaders who think and do differently

Tshepho Langa (Executive: Business Development) speaks of Da Vinci and how the Institute has set itself apart

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Arriving at The Da Vinci Institute/School of Managerial Leadership in Modderfontein, close to Johannesburg yet a world away from it, there’s no doubt this is a learning organisation in a class of its own.

The setting is rustic and serene, traffic jams unheard. Four flags on flagpoles dance merrily in the sky above the main building, each representing something extraordinary about The Institute and what it stands for. Just outside the front door stands a larger-than-life model of a rainbow-coloured cow, decorated with painted human hands. Inside, on a nearby table, is an enormous tome of the life and times of Renaissance genius Leonardo da Vinci, opened at a fresh page every day.

Somewhere in the building is the shaggy, purple cow (also featured on one of those four flags outside) that is so beloved of thousands of students and graduates who have come to treasure its rich symbolism – notably Da Vinci’s commitment to diversity and recognition of the unique contribution of each person.

Even more remarkable than these symbols, though, is the ambience, ethos and educational mode of The Da Vinci Institute, and of course its people—staff, students, alumni and stakeholders, among them some of South Africa’s most innovative corporates.

Exercise your brain

When still a newcomer to The Institute, I was instantly struck by how close-knit, almost family-like, the atmosphere is (in and outside the facilitation rooms), by how much passion and excitement is exuded, and how differently people think – how they exercise their brains, in fact.

How many professors and CEOs, for example, have the chutzpah to go on a radio show like CliffCentral.com and argue with the likes of talk show Gareth Cliff about anarchism, individualism and hierarchies? Meet Professor Ben Anderson, CEO of The Da Vinci Institute, who did just that and survived to tell the tale.

As a consciously niche academic institution with a unique student experience and a unique learning mode, what does The Da Vinci Institute deliver, in practice, that sets it apart from more mainstream institutions?

Here are just a few of the differentiators that have made its programmes sought after among individuals and organisations that value the abilities to genuinely think out of the box (pardon the cliché), solve real work-based problems and want to contribute towards a sustainable and transformed society and economy.

Mode 2 and what it really means

The Da Vinci Institute is a Mode 2 educational institution. That means its students take a personalised journey of self-discovery and co-creation rather than following a well-trodden, predictable path. Students are assessed through assignments and research projects.

Classroom learning does take place, but this takes the form of interactive learning opportunities where lecturers in small groups, typically with fewer than 20 people. The focus is on the creation (not transmission) of knowledge that is transdisciplinary, socially relevant, can solve work-based problems and contributes towards the professional development of the people involved.

Case studies are extensively used, so that students can learn from the real-life successes and failures of real organisations, and the ins and outs of doing independent research are thoroughly covered.

But the real test comes in the workplace itself. Students, almost all of whom are employed professionals or entrepreneurs in business for themselves, identify existing or potential problems in their own workplaces that they can investigate and resolve through a work-based challenge.

TIPS is tops

In carrying out these work-based challenges, Da Vinci students are required to put into practice the Institute’s patented managerial leadership framework known as TIPS™, which stands for the Management of Technology, Innovation, People and Systems.

The essence of the TIPS framework is that it supports a brand of management that goes beyond financial considerations and instils a profound understanding of how technology, innovation and people can be managed for competitive advantage.

TIPS, by the way, is not just theory. As the only tt100 Business Innovation Awards Programme demonstrates, TIPS is used by some of South Africa’s most sustainably successful enterprises—emerging, small, medium and large—to grow and flourish in circumstances where others might only see challenge and struggle.

Speaking of struggle, another differentiator at Da Vinci is the level of student support.

Phenomenal student support

The Da Vinci mode of delivery is so different from the norm that it can be daunting, especially for adult learners with demanding day jobs, family lives and outside interests. That said, the support that students receive is simply exceptional. There is no such thing here as facilitators not answering their phones or taking days, weeks or longer to respond to an email, text message or Whatsapp from a student.

On the contrary. To quote one of our master’s graduates, Zain Donnovan Reddiar, in his speech at his September 2017 graduation: “The team were accessible to the highest level, every visit to the campus was a life-giving family experience, and the academic support was extraordinary… This is much more than I had bargained for. The experience was phenomenal.”

Indeed, nothing anyone from Da Vinci could say is anything like as compelling as the words of our students and graduates who have experienced the unique Da Vinci learning journey for themselves.

Here are a few of them:

“Sometimes you have an idea of what needs to change but you don’t know how to go forward, or if you take it up with somebody, they might say it’s not very important right now. You need to know what to do, where to go and how to back yourself up. Now I know how to do that, and it’s because of my studies at Da Vinci.”

- Zipphora “Zipps” Swanepoel, second-year BCom Business Management student

“I did something that changed the world and changed someone’s situation. I know I can do more amazing stuff; I’ve done it before and I can do it again.”

- BCom Business Management graduate Lucky Macheke, commenting on the results he achieved at the workplace by thinking and acting as a managerial leader instead of an ordinary employee

“A couple of years ago, I was very insecure in my career and scared to interact with people. I had a huge lack of self-confidence. This degree gave me skills and knowledge and so much more, and I’ll never stop studying now.”

- Lenard Strydom, BCom Operational Risk Management graduate and national SHEQ manager for a major company in the metals industry

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