In this podcast episode, we’re joined by Ryno Zeelie, the Head of Learning and Development at Yellow Seed, a company specializing in the human resources components of businesses. Ryno’s journey into the world of learning and development is a fascinating one, stemming from his background in media production and music. This transition to online learning opened doors to solving business challenges, which became his passion.

With a family history in psychology and a penchant for deep philosophical and psychological conversations, Ryno discovered the power of online learning in addressing organizational challenges. At Yellow Seed, their focus is on psychometric assessments and holistic tools for optimizing team dynamics, talent management, and succession planning. They integrate design thinking principles into their approach, breaking down challenges to a user-centric level and utilizing agile processes to deliver impactful solutions. Join us as we explore Ryno’s journey and the application of design thinking in learning and development at Yellow Seed.

Welcome to Great Minds Design Think Alike. Where we investigate design thinking, the challenges, the successes and the problems it solves. If you are unfamiliar with the concept of design thinking, check out episode 1. Be sure to subscribe so you get the newest episode as it’s released. Great Minds Design Think Alike is hosted by Stuart McDougall, owner of Tenaka, a leading design thinking consultancy in Johannesburg, South Africa and is proudly brought to you by Mac Media.

I’m here with Ryno Zeelie. He is from a company called Yellow Seed. He will tell you a bit more about Yellow Seed. Essentially they are dealing with human resources components of businesses. And I’m interested to chat to Ryno today because he’s been on one of our design making courses and I know that he’s like really interested in design thinking and the application of design thinking and the methodologies. 

We are going to chat about some of the learning and development programs that yellow seed are working on and and and some of the clients in the projects that they have got where they integrate in the design of drinking methodologies and principles. So Ryno is the Head of Learning and Development at Yellow Seed. 

The conversation with Ryno: 

SM: Thanks Ryno for your time, I really appreciate it. And I think maybe just kick off a little bit first about how you got into the learning and development side of things. You know, just give us a breakdown of your little bit of a journey today and maybe some of the design thinking first so we can get to know you.

RZ: Great. I have a strong history in media production. It was my origins. You know, coming from the music world. Spent about 10 years building up a music production studio and voice-over facility and you know one of those places where general production happens. Which we converted into green screen facilities. You know it sort of just evolved. And I got asked to offer some online courses for some music universities. And that kind of got me kicked into the world of online learning. 

And from there I started seeing the application of it in business and solving business problems. You know with the voice overs and all of that kind of started migrating into more of the business world. And online learning really opened up a whole new avenue for me. Truly passionate about learning in general. 

You know me and my family have a history of psychology, industrial psychology. So the conversations that we unlocked at the dinner table in general are quite philosophical and psychological of nature. So we are all interested in that. 

So combining that side of how people learn and actually being able to execute that with tools kind of unlocked this real passion for me about online learning and solving organizational challenges with digital immedience right. 

So in Yellow Seed the origins of the company is very much based on psychometric assessments and finding complete and wholistic tools to really accurately identify team dynamics, and how to optimize your teams, and your talent management processes, your succession planning all of those elements of business which can get quite complex but we break it down to the individual. And bringing it into context. 

So combine that it can actually unlock a whole new avenue of learning and development about 5 years ago when I joined the organization. And since then you know, hand-in-hand with all of the psychometric projects that we run with. We also have our foundation in learning and development strategies. Really helping organizations integrate their learning into their talent management processes and human capital processes. 

And design thinking is really at the core of a lot of those principles. it’s breaking it down to the individual, understanding the challenges where they come from and the users using the systems and integrating it. 

Learning and development coordinators, administrators understanding the challenges helping them solve their technical problems in a scalability and you know we tackle as a whole bunch of things that gets unlocked with the starting point of agile and of design thinking principles. So we also have a team that run with agile processes, certified agile processes to really unlock those methodologies and make those principles really work for the organizations. 

I’m sure as we get into there’s a lot of power when you start using some of these frameworks and when you integrate it these days with virtual technology it seems to be the way the world is moving.

SM: I mean online learning now, I was reading a statistic the other day where it said that since I think it was since 2012, online learning or digital learning spaces have increased by over 900%.

RZ: We felt that drastically. We are under-manned for the storm that just hit us, you know. We’ve had to almost triple in staff size since Covid.

SM: Well this figure was actually pre Covid so I can’t even imagine what the growth is over the last couple of months.

RZ: When you look at Zoom’s share price I think that gives an indication. I think it’s because I don’t even know what it’s sitting on but that thing is climbing like a rocket. So it very much goes hand in hand. And I feel like in many ways has kept us open into an era which was already unraveling and unfolding and everyone was starting to adapt to it and now they have just forced us into that era of being comfortable with virtual, digital, new rules have been set in place and a lot of your old ways of doing work have completely been revolutionized. 

So there is new changed management processes, operations. Things are changing. So online learning is the only solution at this point for many of those challenges that organizations face. So it does really help to scale. There are many boxes that e-learning is currently ticking. 

SM: We are actually busy with a project at the moment and it’s with one of the big companies here in South Africa and the research that we did, the empathize stage of design thinking that we did with some of the respondents, well in fact all of the respondents to the question of what do you look for in an employer – Every single one of them without fail 100% said I look for growth. I wanna grow with an employer. It’s interesting, hey.

RZ: Yeah. And I think that’s the new reality. I think people are especially now that you’re working from home. I also have been reading some stats. 80% of the employees are saying they are enjoying more working from home. So the climate is really moving towards that tapping into the individual. 

You know, now you see people in their own places it’s no longer an organization. The individual has become more and more at the heart of organizational challenges.

SM: Talking about that then, in terms of the digital learning platforms that you are working on, developing and creating yourself. Have you seen any sort of fundamental changes just in how that’s delivered in the last sort of year, 2 years, even now during this expedited stage of technology. 

Or have things kind of stayed the same and the delivery mechanisms you know the tried-and-trusted sort of methods are the ones that are working. I mean is there any sort of movement and that area at this stage?

RZ: I would say definitely say yes. I think in my world there are two distinctions between your offering tools and your hosting tools. Your offering tools is where you design your content and there in that sense has been quite an evolution in terms of making things more easy in not needing to be able to understand programming or any fancy you know like if you think of the world of Wix website builders. 

I think technology is very much moving towards that drag and drop type of mentality which makes things a bit quicker, faster, cheaper you know so we’re able to actually offer our clients really great looking quality content but its a rapid builder offering tool that what we have taken us 5 years ago, before the invention of all of these platforms, would have taken us three months to four months to finish. 

Now we can do it in 3 to 4 weeks. At a fraction of the cost. So in that space, a lot of evolution and innovation, but there is also that component of you know, whatever your imagination is you can make that technology adapt for you. 

So it’s not necessarily always the tools that have evolved more than like if we take it back to how people are accessing content. What mobile devices are they using? What are the conditions that content is consumed? Always evolves. And how do you design your content to make that rich experience for the end user? There is always room for improvement and you have to stay up to date with the real fixed way of doing things.

And then obviously on the other side the hosting technology learn and management systems that’s a big part of what we do in organizations. Make their technology work for them. So with third party tools you know, there is many ways to enhance the user experience. You know with a basic LMS things plugged into it. 

Widgets, whatever to remind people, to keep people refreshed. All those little tools that you kind of become accustomed to with the LinkedIn learning and the Udemys of the world. The world has become very accustomed to online learning as a delivery method more and more so. 

This Covid period rocketed us into the online learning era. But so there is kind of a bit of expectation for many people and we always try and make the tools be consistent with the best practice in the market. And that requires some innovation with third party tools.

SM: You guys have like worked with some really big organizations and they are multi-tiered in terms of the kind of people that are working there. so you’ve got you know some really low income earners way up to some executives. Are you finding that some of the tools that you need to build it together and you know, are they catering to that diverse and broad spectrum of hierarchy within the organization and executives to blue collar workers?

RZ: Yeah. That’s always a challenge. Each organization as you know we work with some of the banking organizations which are higher knowledge workers. Much more access to technology and internet infrastructure and that in some senses. And then we work with mining organizations to have people work underground and you know and living in more rural areas where connectivity is a real challenge. So there’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all. 

You know with technology we often tend to be quite agnostic. We have some tools that we resell. You know we’ve investigated the market, we’ve seen what tools work for what applications. And we will know what works in that sense. 

But then we also don’t limit ourselves to any tool because if you go and search for some of the tools we use for management systems or offering tools, the list of management tools on a monthly basis you know. So there are always leeways and better ways of doing things. I think that’s the heart of what we do, a lot of the content we also build up a library of courses and online learning modules and a design thinking. 

We have got our own design thinking programs, agile, learn for life mindset, having difficult conversations. All of these things and all of this is based on the growth mindset you know, the choices that the individuals make, the culture of the organization, that’s really where the most fundamental changes happen. How people view their own capabilities and how they see their value in a team context and what general mindset the organization is. Do you punish failures or do you see failure as hey crack, are we failing forward? We are just a mere obstacle in the step forward to improving and becoming even better. 

So that mindset work is really at the core of a lot of what we do. Especially when we work with our multi-tiered organizations. We always try and get everyone on the same tier at least in terms of how they view themselves. Technology and stuff you know you have to be flexible but the human element stays quite consistent. I kind of drifted off your question a bit.

SM: No no. That was interesting. I mean at the end of the day everybody is different and that technology does need to cater to those differences. I mean at the same time the content that you’re gonna be delivering of course to someone who is underground is very different to somebody who is leading the strategy of an organization. That content is completely different.

RZ: And those will also be authored and designed for the end user in mind you know. So that’s why design thinking and that approach naturally integrate into learning. Knowing or not I think we find that we are having to educate a lot of our clients. But design thinking and understanding who is gonna be consuming this content, you know? If you can’t answer and put a face to that person, you might be missing the mark. And the learning won’t happen. So then it’s a waste of money. 

So rather start with that design thinking process a lot of what we do when we work with our large organizations or all organizations is a dipstick of the culture. Understand doing focus interviews with levels of the team at all functional departments and at hierarchical levels to ensure that we really understand what is it that people are battling with. What are the challenges? What should we be focusing our attention on? 

Instead of trying to do it all let’s start doing some of the key things really well and gather feedback. Feedback mechanism is so under utilized in many, especially learning instances. 

So implementing those things bring great data to actually pinpoint on what you should be focusing on. So the content with that point of view is always filtered through that we always say what behavior do you wanna change with this learning? Let’s not throw a Powerpoint at someone. What behavior is at the foundation of what you are trying to address? If you look at how you change behavior there are four kinds of things that we usually tend to focus on, you know. There needs to be a desire for an individual to actually change that behavior. It’s not that first component, you have to think like digital marketing in that sense where it sells the solution of the problem to the individual before the learning even starts. 

Communicate what this program is gonna help them do, how this is gonna make their life easier, how this will optimize this specific problem that they might be facing. And then for that you need to put yourself in their shoes. You need to understand and empathize with them as an individual. From that point of view they need to have to know what is it specifically that you are attempting to change and how they are gonna do it right. Without that piece they are foggy about how the behavior should look. So articulating that clearly. 

Then there is also the focus of the climate that the learning gets brought back into the organization. So there is also communication around all of our programs we always run with line managers involved in signing contracts so that the learning actually transfers back into the organization. And that behavior change is supported by the line managers and the peers. Without that sort of support structure the learning gets lost. 

And then also we talk about how we reward where is intrinsic or extrinsic for completing the program. So making sure that the cycle to complete that behavior change is closed. That they have that desire. You are selling to them. I really wanna complete this learning. And you setting up that how and what specific ways that they are gonna be solving that problem. Then you set up the climate to transfer it back to the business and you reward that. And that becomes the loop that continues to flow.

SM: I mean it sounds like a recipe for success. You know if implemented correctly and you’ve got that buy in as you saying and that behavior change. It sounds like a real success.

RZ: There are many ways to approach it. Each organization has a unique set of challenges. But at the rate that is really you know understanding the individual, spending time with what the challenges are and designing content accordingly.

SM: I don’t know, you mentioned to me previously, a couple of the projects that you are working on at the moment. Give us something that you see as quite a big challenge at the moment and like what you see as overcoming that, maybe dovetailing into what you think the future looks like in terms of online learning and the possibilities that exist there as well.

RZ: I think the big challenge for us is kind of alluding to what you were talking about earlier, the different levels, the different tiers. You know South Africa is very reversed, so access to data, access to technology, those things are real barriers especially in South Africa we are caught a bit with our pants down with the whole Covid thing. 

And many sections of the country are fine but i think the majority of the country they are really feeling the hurt of learning tools. So there are ways to convert back, you know we have been some of the bigger projects we have been playing around with reverse your L-billing actually the billing going, the data cost for certain pages on the learning management system go to the employer and therefore we can really at no cost of end user continue their learning. 

And that really does open up a whole bunch of exciting opportunities where you know, for us at the heart of an organization as well is really empowering people and unleashing human potential at every level, not discriminating at any level. And our solutions always try to mirror that as well. And there are ways to be creative with technology. 

I think that’s what excites me about the future of e-learning it does scale and give access to knowledge and education in ways that are unimaginable. I think it’s like a snowball that if you start planting seeds in education you know what that does for a country compounded over time, that’s where the power lies. I think e-learning, I’m glad that it’s becoming the new norm because it opens us a lot of opportunities.

SM: And it’s growing. It’s just growing constantly, I mean like in all ways across all sectors.

RZ: Yeah absolutely.

SM: So if anybody wants to get hold of you like what would be the best channels for them to chat to you or go about connecting?

RZ: You can check out our website at You can leave us a message there. Or we are very active on social media, on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram. Slide into our DMs as the youngsters would say these days!

SM: You guys share a lot of value on your Facebook and LinkedIn. Those infographics and those that the content that you guys are sharing is informative. It adds a lot of value.

RZ: Awesome thanks. We have put a lot of heart and soul into those and we just have that philosophy of just you know, if everyone is giving then we all winning so yeah we don’t try and spend.

SM: I would recommend people to follow you because there is always an interesting fact or something new that you guys are pushing out that like is mind blowing and makes you think.

RZ: Yeah we work a lot in the innovation space you know so innovation mindsets help organizations unleash that so you have to practice what you preach. 

Even in our own team we are constantly pushing the guys and ourselves with open ways to just improve our processes once again design thinking and all of those things at the heart of all that. One of the challenges that our team is battling with, lets’ try and address those on social media. Let’s not push stuff that’s irrelevant on anyone’s throat. Let’s talk about our own challenges and how the mindsets that play there, what we see with our clients and we find that’s more valuable than useless information..

SM: Awesome man, Thanks for your time Ryno, appreciate it.

RZ: Thank you so much. Appreciate it. All the best.

SM: Will keep in touch. Chat soon.

Thank you for listening to great minds design think alike. Give us a call to discuss how you can take design thinking into your organization to make life better for your customers or employees. Visit our website at Look out for our next episode where we will uncover more or simply subscribe. If you enjoyed this episode, please share it.