Three tales that unlearner Graeme Codrington told


Keynote speaker at the 2023 CHRO South Africa Humane Capital Summit, Graeme Codrington kicked off the evening by challenging HR leaders to self-reflect.

Renowned unlearner Graeme Codrington delivered the keynote address for the thought-provoking CHRO South Africa Humane Capital Summit on 23 February 2023 in Johannesburg.

“Look at who you are and what you bring to the future of work,” he said.

Graeme then used three stories to explain to HR leaders in attendance why they need to “rethink and relearn”.

You should change
The first story looked at two investors, John Maynard Keynes and Erwing Fisher, who were both born in the 1800s and became famous in the year leading up to the first world war.

Fisher wrote a book called How to Live, which sold over two million copies in 1910. He is also credited with the patent design for Rolodex, which he sold for $62 million. But his real claim to fame was his syndicated weekly column, where he would give investment advice.

At the age of 27, Keynes became one of the youngest ever fellows at King’s College Cambridge. And, while he came from a rich family, his fortune came when the Germans approached Paris in 1940.

“The art museum said they didn’t want to leave all the paintings for the Germans to steal and burn, so they sold the paintings. John convinced his family and the British government to give him money, and went to Paris to buy the paintings and take them back to England,” Graeme explained.

Both men died within nine months of each other in the late 1940s. Fisher died broke, having lost most of his money during the Great Depression. He spent the last 10 years of his life chasing get-rich-quick schemes.

After the stock market crash, Keynes changed his mind about good investment strategies. “His new strategy included looking at big companies and investigating their management first. If you trust their management, look at their strategy. If you trust their strategy, invest for the next 20 years,” Graeme said.

His famous quote, “When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir?” made it onto the cover of Time magazine many years later.

Keynes died a very wealthy man, and spent the last years of his life as an advisor to governments.

Graeme explained that the difference between these two men, and the reason why everyone knows Keynes but has forgotten Fisher, was because when the time called for change, one did and the other didn’t. “What you did before might not work, but you can change – and in fact, you should change.”

He provided a current example of how 600 companies, across 27 countries, are trying out the four-day working week. “The four-day working week improves every metric you measure, except presenteeism. Within a few weeks, and by the end of the year, every HR leader will have proof that you should be moving to a four-day working week.”

The world is changing
The second story was a demonstration of how ChatGPT works. “It searches the entire internet, not just to give you results like Google search, and you have to do the research yourself. It’s literally doing the research work for you, using data that it collects from millions of websites,” Graeme explained.

He typed “Write a summary of the most significant disrupting forces in your industry… in 2023” into the app. It answered:

  • Remote work
  • Technology
  • Innovation
  • Changing customer expectations
  • Diversity, equity and inclusion
  • Employee wellbeing

He then took it one step further and asked the app to take the list and create a table that includes a column for risk factors if we don’t do this, and guests were blown away by the quick results. “It’s done what a good intern would have done in three hours.”

“ChatGPT reached one billion users by 21 January,” Graeme said. “It is the fastest growing app of all time.”

He concluded the story by asking ChatGPT to write a poem in the voice of Maya Angelou using “employee wellbeing”. Again, guests were astounded by its capabilities.

Touch it
Graeme’s final story was about a Chinese artist, who bought an ancient pot from the Han Dynasty. He invited people to see the clay pot, and during his demonstration, dropped the pot to the floor where it shattered into pieces.

“Everyone asked how he could destroy something so precious,” Graeme said. “In response, the artist asked them what made it so precious?”

He explained that archeologists had dug the pot out of what had been a rubbish heap for that era. “You can go to the store and buy a pot that looks exactly like that, does exactly what that pot does, and it would only cost you R100.”

The only reason why it was so valuable was because it was old.

“What is sitting in your business that’s just been there since before you got there and is so precious that you’re not allowed to touch it?” Graeme asked the attendees. “Make sure this is the year that you say I’m going to touch it.”

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