I have always caressed the subject of innovation and strategy. One thing that is obvious is that most times, some of the best ideas come from the unconnected. Over the last four years, I have seen myself brainstorm on and advice on several ideas – some are on areas I don’t have core expertise on but I had strong vibe to learn and grow. These areas are what Frans Johansson calls the intersection in his book ‘The Medici Effect’.
The Intersection is the unknown territory where we cannot easily apply past knowledge and experience. Some of the most successful innovations come from the place of interception.
For me, the intersection is uncomfortably soothing – and I love the challenge, knowledge and comfort it brings. I remember a discussion with my Dad earlier this year, where I confided in him that sometimes, deep down in my heart, I really don’t know how to recommend the paths I tread to others. Not because I don’t want others to learn, but because those paths don’t seem conventional and connected.
People stay in a field – even when they are convinced they shouldn’t – because of the time spent in the field. Lots of emerging professionals continue with what they do unhappily because they have spent years studying a thing, even when their hearts aren’t there. I have seen people whose ONLY reason for proceeding with further studies (Masters/PhD for instance) in a field is that they studied that subject in their first degree (even when they don’t like it). I have seen businesses stick to what they used to do that didn’t work because they thought that is their niche. The decision to invest more time (and resources) in anything should be based on what’s going to happen in future.
I agree that consistency is very important; it makes sense to be a expert in an area. What if we can throw that ‘long-standing caution’ in the wind, and embrace innovation and ideas outside of our current domain of expertise? We must never allow what we have done in the past become a criterion for what we can do in the future.
What drives me in most things I do is how I can understand how these unconnected sectors work and how we may influence the future of education and governance through technology and values-based leadership. This seems audacious and will require me to be comfortable staying at intersections – even if they don’t seem to pay off at the moment.
Embracing intersection requires that we acknowledge our fears and embrace risks – it is not as easy as writing this, but it is worth it. It means embracing the risk of forming new relationships in the new field, learning at an exponmential rate and I agree that the intersection unleashes great creative powers through the explosion of concept combinations; for those thinking about ground-breaking innovation, this can represent a gold mine of ideas.
Most times in the development space, we have to look beyond headlines and taglines and focus on lessons from pieces and lives. I read Prof. Pius Adesanmi’s keynote address titled “Iyalaya Anybody: Pencils, Nigerian Innovation, & Africa’s Path in the 21st Century” delivered last week in Lagos, Nigeria. Beyond the ostensibly ‘obscenity’ that may come with the title, he distinctively approached the theme of innovation and the development of the African continent with conscientious audacity, thought-provokingly.
The world is changing. Innovation, knowledge-based growth, vision and corresponding actions are important factors for national development – in this case, I prefer to say continental development. While I applaud futuristic initiatives as the United Nations Agenda 2030 and the Agenda 2063 of the African Union, we need to place all hands on deck to innovate, act, review our actions, evaluate progresses and further scale up development. Like I shared with a colleague some nights ago, these ‘Agendas’ are achievable, if like the United Arabs Emirate, we – among other things – build strong institutions, promote strong societal values embedded in a culture of excellence in leadership and responsibility, invest in education and human capital development. No nation ever moved up the development ladder by trivializing inclusive governance and human capital development.
We get to respect and appreciate the borderless possibilities that exist only when we try; when we try to live responsibly, knowing that the fate of the African continent depends largely – not only on the actions of her governments but also of her young people. For several days, I have been opportune to meet and interact with some of the brightest young minds in the continent. One thing they possess in common is an audacity to change the narrative. Whether through entrepreneurship, civil society leadership or public management, they can be dubbed as ‘innovators of the public’ – apologies to Ashoka, solving some of the various problems in their various spaces across the continent, with or without public institutional backing.
A visionary leadership in all countries in Africa positively encouraging youth innovation is unarguably an answer to the question of how we may live in the realities of the envisioned Africa come 2063. Some other questions are worth answering: do we have to wait till 2063? Can we get Agenda 2063 achieved years before the deadline? Can we learn from the successes and failures of the Millennium Development Goal/Agenda (MDG) and commit ourselves to the task at hand? Can we harness the innovative prowess of our young people, in an environment that promotes creativity, innovation, peace, mutual respect and dignity? Can we recheck the foundation laid in anticipation of development, and mend or re-lay weak ends for this and future generations? Can we be truthful to ourselves and review our preparedness for the journey? Can we consciously encourage home-grown youth-driven innovations?
The experiences of several other innovative young Africans sometimes make me imagine the level of progress we might have further made, if we had better climate that genuinely supports what we do. However, I resonate with Prof’s opinion that the absence of this climate can result in positive doggedness and a resilient positive attitude raised to a square of what is required in other societies.
Another important factor, we must learn not only to change the narrative by doing, but also by telling. We need to tell our own stories. We need to encourage ingenuity. Recalling the story of Dziffa Akua Ametam, the 23 year old founder of the Ghana-based e-commerce platform, Dziffa.com, whom I met at a Breakfast meeting recently, and the stories of several others, we are reminder that while changing the development narrative, we need to be proactive in telling our story; what my friend, Adenike means when she advises on blowing your trumpets. While rankings, fellowships et al may be helpful, we need to go beyond that and have a strong record system. It is in this light that I feel the toils of Jidenma’s Celebrating Progress Africa, Innovation Prize for Africa, Africa Rizing’s Watch2016 Rizers listing, African Youth Awards, YouthHub Africa, The Future Project and others within the continent and in diaspora. We need to be, and do much more.
We have a good journey ahead. We can go farther when we hold hands and hearts. In work. In Values. In results. For Africa.
A few weeks ago, I was invited to speak at the seminar jointly organized by the Students Affairs Division and the Nigerian Universities Engineering Students’ Association at the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta. The association was led by Ifeanyi Okpala in whose company I am fascinated. I drafted this note – which is more of a manifesto to my colleagues – and sent it to him after the seminar.
Yesterday, March 25, 2015, I had the opportunity of a heart-to-heart conversation with some colleagues – all of whom are students from various colleges in the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta – gathered at the College of Engineering Auditorium, Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta. The occasion was a capacity-building seminar put together through the combined efforts of the Students Affairs division, FUNAAB, Office of the Dean, College of Engineering, and the Nigerian University Engineering Students Association in the university. I titled my presentation ‘The Blue Ocean Innovation’.
The conversation became inherent having realized that to have an education and a life that is, apologies to Jim Rohn, built to last, we must, as young people, take responsibility and go beyond conventional actions. We must go beyond the red oceans – boundaries defined and accepted, the general marketplace, the common approaches – and engage untapped innovation, unrealized spheres through value creation.
As I shared yesterday, I look forward to a FUNAAB community where students go beyond academic excellence and create value by putting solutions to social problems witnessed within the community. I look forward to students of the university birthing new ideas and following them through, engaging humans and technology, and giving courage to other young people across the world to do the same. As young people, we have the resources, but we must be resourceful.
There are resources we can always tap into – either within or outside the invisible walls of our university. There are innovation-focused programmes and open courses (MOOCs), information banks, toolkits, and other resources available for only those who seek them. I shared with some friends what I learned from a 4-week course on Adaptive Leadership – a practical leadership framework developed by Ron Heifetz and Marty Linsky at the Harvard Kennedy School, and offered to us by the Cambridge Leadership Associates (CLA) – which I recently concluded. Though I am studying Plant Physiology and Crop Production, it hasn’t debarred me from learning about the fundamentals involved in Human-Centered Design for Social Innovation; neither did it stop me from enrolling and learning about International Leadership and Organisational Behaviour in Bocconi University, Italy.
From what our team at AllforDevelopment discovered when planning to create our social innovation lab that can empower young people with skills to create solutions through social entrepreneurship, sometimes what holds us back from making great decisions is just one factor – us. Our major limitations are the ones we accept. We need to stop ourselves from entertaining fear and start taking action. Our time at the university should be invested into learning, flying the flag of excellence, and creating value per time.
It is high time we conscientiously consistently started creating value. Value is created when we concentrate not only on our personal growth but also on creating solutions to the problems faced by others. We embrace and make use of several innovations because they speak to our needs. The time is now to start thinking outside the box and generate simple but golden solutions. This is more than a call, it is a challenge. It is a challenge for us to be more than we currently are; a challenge for us not to allow what is in preventing what can be. I have over the years met several intelligent and smart FUNAABites, some have concluded a part of their studies, while others are still in school. Let us connect, engage one another, and make our ‘short’ stay within the University count positively.
There is a blue ocean out there – and in here. We need to acknowledge it, dream solutions, and engage resources to create positive value. I am interested in reading about your exploits; several lives are in earnest expectation of your action.
My phone rang. I had just received a call from the Vice Chancellor of the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta who also is the President, Association of African Universities. He sounded delighted to have spoken with me, and eager to see me. The phone welcomed several other calls, most from within the university intimating a pleasant urgency and some intuitive actions.
That morning, I was concluding plans to help facilitate a two-day training with some young professionals before returning to my ‘location’ for the community-based farming program. ‘Multitaskingly’, we were hosting an #OpenEd twitter discussion in commemoration of the 2014 Day of the African Child, with a focus on education of the African Child, the abduction of over 200 girls in Chibok, Borno state, demanding that strategies be renewed to #BringBackOurGirls and make schools, across Nigeria, safe for learning. Meeting the Vice Chancellor, he broke the news; I had been painstakingly selected for the Vice Chancellor’s Productivity Award by the World Bank Africa Centre of Excellence in Agriculture – the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, as part of activities for the 21st and 22nd Convocation ceremonies. Values and benchmarks for the nomination, recommendation and selection were service to the university, courage, excellence, dedication, truthfulness, new initiatives, innovation, punctuality, selfless services and academic contribution. It was indeed honour and grace!
On the D-day, I joined other eminently distinguished personalities at the University’s Heroes Day of Recognition and Excellence. I was elated as some academics and prodigies were called to step forward for honour as their citations gave convincing glimpses of their outstandingly remarkable contributions to humanity. I was fortunate to be one. That evening, I returned home more humbled with honour and thanksgiving – as the youngest awardee and only undergraduate among the honoured prodigies –, with a plaque which I must admit sparkles amidst other plaques on my shelve and an adjoining cash of a tenth of a million naira which was duly invested into getting more resources that will aid the growth of other young people and mine – especially as the non-profit organization I founded, All for Development Foundation hosted the Youth Roundtable on Education and Democratic Governance seven days after the Heroes day. The day and activities surrounding it taught and reminded of some lessons. In it, I learnt, unlearnt and re-learnt. Some of the lessons include:
Among several other lessons, the award attested and still attests to a long term belief that consistency pays. It reminds that even when what you do is seemingly invincible to everyone, keep doing it. Keep keeping on. When faced with challenges and you don’t know what to do, just keep breathing, keep believing, don’t let go, don’t give in. The towel is always there, we may decide to throw it in or use it to clean our sweats and proceed more intelligently and passionately, after deep reflective thoughts. It may be surprising to note that most of the projects I and our organization have embarked on for the last five years (since year 2009) are self-financed. However, two major things that kept us going were the strong conviction that what we did/do made/makes a difference and the people we are focused on are capable of making positive differences. The same principle may apply to whatever you are into, either as an academic or social entrepreneur, a musician or comedian, an artist or skills professional. Be consistent in what you do. You may learn from another long-term mission of mine, which is the conscious commitment to the consistent creation of value. Wherever you are, be there indeed!
Integrity is more than just an attribute we mention when describing the type of leaders we want – within the students’ union, university senate, local, state and federal government and the entire society – Integrity is a key value which other values of accountability, empathy inter alia is dependent. Integrity is the reflection of morality of character in any and every situation. I once learnt from a wise man that integrity commits itself to character over personal gains, to people over things, to principles over conscience and to long-term view over immediate gratification.
Give recognition and show appreciation
Appreciation and genuine recognition matters. That, as I heard and later read is one of the reasons for the rebirth of the award; ‘the University believes that there is always a reward for outstanding performance and such reward will serve to encourage others to emulate those who have previously been recognized’. Taking it beyond official recognition, we can admit, after a deep reflective thought that others have contributed to our current success. The time to show appreciation is ripe. Appreciation begets more. As you walk through the crowd, walk slowly,recognize people’s efforts. Smile, shake hands, listen and truly appreciate the contributions of others on your growth. No man is self made. Everyone is a product of interactions with divinity and others. Robert McNamara, a former President of the World Bank, once said ‘Brains are like hearts – they go where they are appreciated’. Imagine a community where everyone is appreciated, celebrated – not just tolerated – for who they really are. The existence of this community – even within our immediate environment – is achievable.
Build quality networks and bridges
The Heroes day provided another platform to meet, interact and build bridges with others. Have you ever heard that our network is a determinant of our net worth? If we are assessed in terms of social capital – and not financial riches – how wealthy will you be? Everyday presents opportunities to build quality networks with people. Build an effective relationship with God, yourself and others. Don’t call God your father and live like an orphan. Though we may not be influential enough to choose our family – parents and siblings – however, we have the ability to choose our friends. Another wise man once challenged people to evaluate those they spend/invest their time with and decipher those that add more value to them and those that diminish their self esteem. This is not only applicable in business relationships, but also in platonic and other relationships. Decide who your friends are. Don’t be parasitic; invest positively in them too.
Discern the call and step up to the challenge
I would have made a very big mistake if I had taken the recognition and award as an unending call for celebration. Of course, it was, but also more than just a cherished recognition, it is also a call. It is a call to service; a call to stand tall in the face of adversity. For all young people reading this,
it is a call to dream more, think more, grow more and do much more. Don’t emulate the past, be the future. It is a call to build more capacity and positively influence the world within and around us. It is a call to pursue excellence through diligence; to work towards greatness, not just success. It is a call to ask ourselves pertinent questions and give honest answers. The choice is ours to heed this call.
Regardless of anything, be thankful for everything.
This is self explanatory; worry about nothing, be thankful for everything. I have never – and with grace, will never – fall prey of believing that a certain thing is not enough to be thankful for. As I mentioned earlier, appreciation is key. Permit me to set this balls rolling; I appreciate everyone that have been instrumental to my growth, everyone that I have been a blessing to, everyone that heeded to an advise I gave and got positive results. I am also appreciative of you for reading this thus far! Do the same. Love indeed!
Conclusively, productivity may not be a function of acceptance. Continue doing what is right. As young people, we have several responsibilities and rights, the future of our nation – soon – lies on our shoulders. We have to be committed to act as if our every of our action becomes a universal principle, living in respect to our values. The productivity award is a reminder to all young people that we can achieve what has been set out to achieve. Work in accordance to God’s plans for you, act diligently, seek knowledge of who you are and who you can become. In addendum to all we had discussed earlier, I urge you to treat each day with utmost commitment and sincerity. Commit yourself to honesty, reliability, and always remember this: for excellence and growth, do what you have to do, in order to do what you want to do.