What’s the whole point to Suits & Sneakers?


As we rolled out the Suits & Sneakers concept in 2015, we created an ecosystem centered around giving value first before asking our audience for anything in return and we believe this is the key reason why our concept has grown so quickly and why random strangers tell others to join them at our events.

Sometimes when something grows so fast, it’s almost impossible to keep everyone on the same track… I wanted to take a moment to explain to you why Suits & Sneakers is so important, how the whole thing works and what we’re trying to achieve. Ultimately, we want you to join us after reading this article.

(If you’re ready NOW, you can register for FREE here: http://suitsandsneakers.nutickets.co.za/2076)

South Africa is in a rather precarious spot at the moment and I hate it. It’s something I’ve been worrying about for ages for many reasons. About two years ago, I took a step back and really asked myself what I could do to make a tangible difference for my country. I’m just one person… How do I go about creating something BIG? This was the burning question that never left me.

About two years before this, I got into public speaking almost by sheer accident and the first 18 months were absolute bliss. I was paid by a lot of companies to talk on a host of different topics around the country and from that aspect, I was loving my life. And then one day, a penny dropped for me. It’s all good and well that I walk into the offices of these companies or speak at these big conferences and it’s even better if these people are impacted BUT what about next week? Or the week after? I started to wonder about the longevity of my message and I realized there was none.

When companies hire people like me and others to talk to their staff, they are trying to develop them and get them to see things from another perspective but this methodology is flawed. It’s like a sugar rush. The other thing companies do is send their staff on the odd 1-day workshop to up-skill them but that too has the same effect. So I started to analyze training and development in the work place as a whole and the deeper I looked, the more I realized how broken the model is.

Here’s how I see it: If you want to become proficient at anything in life, you have to make that thing a habit. Ideally, you want to ritualise it in your life everyday. So while, at times, the formal education system sometimes appears to be lagging behind, at least the learning takes place at school and varsity on an everyday scale. That’s why the world believes education makes all the difference and it does.

The problem is that we leave school and varsity with a warped conditioning believing that we know everything there is to know. All we have to do is gain some real life and work experience and we’re set. So we get to work but the only priority is about “doing”. Although companies talk a lot about employee development, they place no real value on continual learning in the work place excepting for the odd 1-day workshop or “motivational” talk. You’re there to work and if you learn during that process than cool. If you want to take it further than that, you can develop yourself in your spare time.

But people rarely take responsibility for their own personal development even though the key characteristic of most successful people is continual personal development. So there’s a massive disconnect.

What if heads of companies decided to take full responsibility and implement a system that trains their staff daily in the workplace? Companies pay for their employees’ time so they could inject this kind of thinking into the culture of the company. And this is why they should:

Let’s take Discovery and their famed “Vitality” program as an example. What they’ve got right in my opinion is that they’ve managed to change their members’ behaviors by gamifying the process. Go to gym, earn points. Eat healthy, earn points. Go for regular check-ups, earn points. The more points you earn, the higher you’re placed in their tiering system. The higher in the tiering system, the more things like flights, hotels, iWatches, smoothies, etc. are subsidized.

But what Discovery know very well is that it may cost money to subsidize these benefits but by doing so, they’ve changed their members’ behaviors and in turn, these people are healthier which ultimately results in less claims and more money for Discovery.

So what if we were able to apply the same system to ritualized learning in the workplace on an everyday scale? I think companies would have more motivated, more informed and better developed staff which can only be a good thing for our country. At least this is the idea in my head.

It’s my opinion that there’s two types of education: formal and informal. When you get a tertiary education and thus a degree, that’s formal. There’s a curriculum and you write exams after to prove you know the material. You even get a shiny certificate for all your hard work and all the money you paid. This system has been around forever and there’s loads of universities and colleges to satisfy the demand.

And then there’s informal learning… That’s when you read a book or read articles on the web, watch a TED talk or listen to podcasts. The whole process is super informal, generally more fun and no one ever quizzes you after. Informal learning could also happen via a mentor or just listening to someone who’s successful. Watching the way someone else does something or listening to a story of how someone achieved something has value.

In fact, I believe this kind of learning has become vital to move forward in the time we live in. There is a man I admire deeply and follow closely who goes by the name of Sir Ken Robinson. He has the most watched TED talk of all time called “Do schools kill creativity?” and in that talk, he discusses the inflation of academics. His premise is that in the 1960’s, if you had a degree but you didn’t have a job it’s because you didn’t want want. In 2016, you can have a degree and still be sent home to play video games because there aren’t enough jobs.

So I think there’s a balancing act at play really. A suit is a great piece of attire but you don’t wear it to gym, when you’re at home with your kids or when you’re socializing with your friends. That’s when you would wear sneakers. The line has become blurry and you need to know when you wear a suit (formal education) and when to wear sneakers (informal education). That said, thanks to the internet, informal learning is more readily available than ever before which means every human being can empower themselves on an everyday basis.

So as you can see, I believe there’s a great need for informal learning in the workplace everyday and the aim of Suits & Sneakers to become the university of informal learning. So when I think back to my original question of what I could do to make a tangible difference for my country, I figured that if I could empower fellow South Africans then get them to help others do the same, that was my best shot.

So how do you get something like this off the ground? My thinking was to go out there and create mass awareness by making a massive noise through the two types of events. At first, I started the big Suits & Sneakers events which would take place 2-3 times a year as well as the smaller FIXED events which takes place weekly. Slowly but surely, others are starting to jump on board and help us. Here’s how you can get involved:

The next big Suits & Sneakers event takes place on the evening of 17 March at the Sandton Convention Centre and it’s FREE TO ATTEND. At the time this article was published, we had 2000 people registered and we are expecting around 3000 people on the night! We have previously run two similar events last year July and November which has helped us create the momentum we have right now.

First, we have some really cool sponsors who enable us to make this event free but the main idea is to remove every barrier of entry to our learning platform. We don’t want to hear of people who wanted to join us at our event but never had the money to afford being there. If you can register and then get yourself to Sandton Convention Centre on 17 March, you will have a seat!

We have four South African speakers doing their best to teach you something new from an informal learning perspective. That means no boring powerpoint presentations or classroom-style teaching. We have asked Vusi Thembekwayo to talk about business from the perspective of being on the board of four JSE listed businesses before the age of 30, Tony Leon will talk about the state of South Africa as a nation in a very precarious time, Gilan Gork will talk about body language and how it affects every day relationships and Dusty Rich will talk about career advice from the other side (most parents want their children to become doctors, lawyers and accounts; not comedians).

Another key feature we are proud of is the “Business Expo” where we hand pick businesses big and small to join us on the night to showcase who they are and what they do. Businesses are selected by invite only. The fee for small businesses is waved because we believe it is our duty to provide this platform and support small businesses who are the engine room of our economy.

Guests also have the chance to spend some time networking with fellow guests. This is done with some structure via network pods which consist of a facilitator and 5-9 attendees. Think of this as “speed dating” for business networking. If you’ve met someone interesting at a network pod, you might want to skip the next session and approach that person to discuss potential synergies in greater detail. You could skip all the network pods if you choose and simply stay to socialize. You could go home straight away. We don’t think you will but it’s all up to you!

This is where life gets very exciting. We are now starting to run smaller events almost each week that are also free. These smaller events are called FIXED because they focus on a specific topic on the night. This means that if you really enjoy what the bigger event has to offer, you can start joining us for the smaller events almost each week which means the learning is far more ritualized.

These smaller events are the lifeblood of Suits & Sneakers because they are more about real informal learning and less about creating a show (although we focus on creating an amazing experience). Our guest speaker has a bit more time and can get a bit more depth. This kind of event also allows for greater input from the audience which is really key. Follow us via the difference social channels to keep in touch.

The first aim is to get YOU to join us on the night. You can register for free by following this link: http://suitsandsneakers.nutickets.co.za/2076.

Once you have registered, all we ask you is to help us spread the word and get others to join us! This whole concept is about making a difference in South Africa and this is the best way I know how to do that. The last nine months have been an absolute blast as we’ve attempted to make a difference in other people’s lives.

I know most people want to help, they just don’t always know how. I’ve made it simple for you. You can join us and it won’t cost you a cent. There is enormous power in numbers and if we do this together, we could create real change. This is why I’ve become obsessed with the concept you know as Suits & Sneakers. It represents a chance to change the world around us and I’m taking that chance with both hands.

Mark Sham is the owner and founder of Suits & Sneakers and believes emphatically in informal learning and human development. You can like him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter!

If you would like to keep in the loop with all things Suits & Sneakers then please like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. We actively use social media channels to educate you and even entertain you!

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Mark is an entrepreneur, writer and speaker. He is the founder and CEO of Suits & Sneakers and also founder of the Impello incubation hub. Mark loves to travel the world and is hell bent on disrupting education for people of all ages.