Maritza van den Heuvel | Innovation Lab Director at Pearson South Africa & Writer

Maritza van den Heuvel

Maritza spent six years doing research in computational linguistics after completing a postgraduate degree in Linguistics. She eventually left academia for the software industry where she cut her teeth on Agile and Scrum as a Scrum Master and Product Owner, helping teams to evolve from waterfall to Scrum. Along the way, her unquenchable thirst for knowledge led Maritza to Kanban and lean systems thinking. Since then, Maritza has become a passionate proponent of the power of constraints and visual controls to transform the world of education and work in the 21st century. Maritza is currently with Pearson Southern Africa, where she applying my background to leading innovation in technology-enabled education.
At heart, Maritza is a writer and the co-author of Beyond Agile – Tales of Continuous Improvement, a collection of real-world case studies of Lean/Agile teams engaged in continuous improvement. 

My Definition Of Success | Early in my career, my definition of success was tied to my own achievements. I have won numerous awards for my personal contributions wherever I have worked, each of them a welcome acknowledgement of my success. However, as I’ve moved into management, I’ve discovered that success as a leader is about building your team and focusing on their achievements. You are only successful as a leader, if you are helping your team to achieve success.



My Highlights | Career-wise, I’m particularly proud of the way I navigated the transition from an academic to a corporate career. It didn’t happen overnight, and I had a lot to learn about the world of commercial product development. I relied heavily on my ability to learn and adapt – without it, I wouldn’t have managed this change. Personally, I’m proud of the fact that, with my husband, I’ve built a solid and happy life for our family, and that we’re establishing a foundation for our boys that will, I hope, help them create their own futures with courage and decency. I’m also very proud to have completed and published a book! It’s easy to start something. It’s a lot harder to finish it.

A Key Talent | The single biggest factor in my success has been my thirst for learning, and applying that learning to tackle new challenges (including promotions and new jobs).  The foundation of this for me is reading – reading a lot, and reading widely, not just in my own industry, but purposefully investigating other industries, the problems in those industries and how they are being solved. I read (real!) books, a variety of blogs and specific business and technology sites like Forbes and TechCrunch regularly. Twitter has also unlocked a lot of learning for me, as it enables me to follow a variety of interesting people from across the world. Their retweets and favourites often lead me to discoveries I would never have made on my own.

How I Use My Mind | There are a few “Jedi mind tricks” I use to keep myself on track. The first, is a deep belief that there is no such thing as failure. Every time it doesn’t work, it’s just a lesson, more learning about how not to do something, so that the next time, you can do it better. Tied to this, is regular reflection – a purposeful examination of what’s working and not working. This requires you to be honest with yourself, and to be willing to acknowledge (and fix!) the things that you’re doing that are sabotaging your dreams. I also believe in breaking big goals and ambitions down into achievable chunks. If it’s too big, it’s too overwhelming, and you’ll never do it. One step at a time does it.

Lessons I Have Learnt | A recent significant lesson has come through a particular growth journey I’ve been on in the last couple of years. I’ve risen to management from a non-traditional management background. For a while, I thought I had to be just like every other MBA-qualified manager to be a good one. I’ve since learnt that to be untrue. You have to be true to yourself to achieve meaningful and lasting success. Don’t try to be somebody you’re not. Great things happen when you have different people with diverse thinking working together, not when we’re all copying the management self-help books and buying in to groupthink.

Dealing With Doubt | At times, self-doubt has been a major stumbling block for me, especially as I made my transition from academia to the corporate world. I didn’t think I was cut out to flourish in the commercial world, initially. I now confidently deal with any self-doubt by reflecting on my achievements to date, and asking myself “what is the worst thing that could happen and how would I deal with it?” By doing that, fear of the unknown loses its power over me, because I know already what the next step is.

Performing At My Peak | Almost ten years ago, I transformed my lifestyle. I went from being an over-weight couch potato, to somebody who enjoys eating healthily and exercising regularly. In a few months, I hope to get my brown belt in karate. Martial arts, specifically, give me a space where I can take mental break from all the knowledge work I do, and focus on the physical discipline that the sport requires. I don’t smoke, and I only drink socially from time to time. I’m not a saint, though! My bloodstream is one part blood, two parts coffee.;-)


My Future Dreams And Ambitions | Innovation is not just about having crazy ideas in the middle of the night, but about solving real problems in the world and in businesses. I’m fortunate to be working in a company where I’m learning exactly what I need to learn to get even better at driving meaningful innovation. I want to get my black belt. I want to finish my Master’s degree. I want to create a new kind of school experience for 21st century children. I want to continue nurturing my boys into good men who contribute to the world both intellectually and socially.

On Inspiring Others | People don’t work with you to achieve your goals. They work with you to achieve their goals. It’s therefore very important to find people who fit your team and want to do the kinds of things you do. Once you’ve found them, you need to get to know them, and understand what drives them. We’re all driven by different things. I don’t believe you can really motivate people in the self-help sense of it. You can present a goal and an ambition, and the benefits attached to pursuing that goal, and then inspire people to want to go there with you. If they believe in what you’re doing, and can see themselves contributing to that goal and advancing their own goals, they will motivate themselves.

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