For The Millennial-Nigerians!
Transitions, history has often repeated to us, are usually chaotic and messy, most times peaceful and at times violent affairs; major transitions being more so. Nigeria today is undoubtedly gripped in the throes of a major transition; witness the relentless and ongoing social entropy that often mirrors the high energy affair that accompanies matter changing between states, say water changing from liquid to gaseous steam.
A deeper, more nuanced look into Nigeria’s societal dynamics however, indicates that a different kind of transition, one very different from the matter-changing-state model, is actually at play today. In fact there are two kinds of transition models at play simultaneously in an improbable dual-track paradigm shift, and they both should play out fully in the next twenty years.
The demographic best placed to reap the immense benefits of these twin playbooks are the Millennials, the presently very young Nigerians born in this twenty first century, who will be at their prime in twenty years’ time!
What are these twin transitions at play?
On the surface they look similar, but they couldn’t be more different structurally. The first, which is national or local and more traditional in nature, could be best described as the classic changing-of-the-guards type model, the traditionalists. The second can be descriptively termed the Globalisation – Long Tail – Large Population Tripod Model (tripodals for short). Transition is normally a single model affair, but the parallel model duality existing in Nigeria today has changed the game beyond all recognition. Meanwhile, many erstwhile traditionalist players have actually become the game, though you wouldn’t think it, given their continuing peacock struts across the playing fields. Such is the bliss of ignorance!
While the older generation traditionalists continue their perennial game of jostling and elbowing one another and clamouring for a “share of the national cake”, read oil and gas, the internet and globalisation have combined with our large population, especially at the younger end of the age spectrum, to spontaneously spawn a second, many times more powerful and even many more times economically larger, evolution. In fact this tripodal model readily qualifies for that over-used and readily prostituted word, revolution – if only on account of the size of the economics!
The most interesting and intriguing thing is that both models seemingly exist in parallel universes with players in the traditional model being intellectually and socially unaware and incapable of ‘seeing’ the spontaneous internet-globalisation-large young population tripod world. The early adopter-players in the tripod model on the other hand, exhibit a monumental disinterest in, and sometimes even contempt for, the traditional model and everything it represents, especially the players.
This may not be such a bad thing; it is critical that old and degrading wine be kept separate from the new vintage! More seriously, the winning traditionalists in this transition may find their victory pyrrhic, even radioactive; their spoils continue to dwindle exponentially as the world accelerates away from highly polluting fossil energy sources towards a digital universe of swipes and clicks, where even clean energy may ultimately be sold and distributed through cyberspace.
The internet and globalisation, when you think about it, are different sides of the same coin of connectivity. One is founded in computer sciences and the other in macro-economics, both clearly espousing the same fundamental principle. Humans have always wanted to connect. The challenge was distance and physicality. The revolution being wrought by the seamless connectivity provided by the internet is still very much at its infancy and there is nothing cliché about the phrase “we ain’t seen nothing yet” in this particular context. But the internet is simply a platform and the real value is in what uses it is put to in the coming years. If what we’ve seen so far is any kind of barometer, it is very difficult not perceive the blinding brightness of the near future.
What are the critical drivers of the new model?
Knowledge, creativity and innovation. And population. Because the more people you have, the more nodes of the network you ‘own or control’ – talk about a proportional share of the global cake. Let’s quickly add that the quality of the nodes is very critical here, since knowledge, creativity and innovation are not things you acquire by swagger, nepotism, loyalty or corruption!
The same internet has flattened access to knowledge, real knowledge and not the toothless paper badges (dubious online degrees or laughable honorary degrees bestowed on moneyed illiterates, young and old alike) so beloved by players in the expiring old model. In the coming new Nigeria, who your father or god-father is, who you are, what you are or what you do will not nearly be as important as what you get done, or help others get done!
In the new Nigeria, while formal education may make you a decent, even great, living, self-education will make you an unimaginable fortune! Indeed, the word ‘fortune’ may come to need redefinition or at the very least a substantial recalibration, if the stratospheric levels of valuations being enjoyed today by the pioneer global new world companies like Google and Facebook are any indication.
The biggest resource for self-education in the history of mankind is Google, the website. It is indisputable that Google knows a whole lot more than any teacher or professor on any subject matter. The only barrier to self-education will therefore be one’s self! High competence in manipulating Google and other knowledge platforms that must surely emerge in the future to do your bidding is therefore obligatory.
All the initiatives, structures and other paraphernalia being put in place or supported by the traditionalists to propagate their system and to perpetuate currently enjoyed due and undue advantages will surely crumble like the sand castles they truly are, because the new leveller is knowledge. Technical know-how is already beginning to make a comeback amongst the pioneer players in the tripod model – meritocracy when competing against the world is not just a nice-to-have but a truly formidable and unavoidable show-stopper! The inefficiencies of the traditional model may continue for a while and the power of technical know-who may still hold sway for some time, but for how long? A system that continually places loyalty over objectivity is one marinating in mediocrity and will implode sooner or later; it’s just a matter of time.
What will the new landscape of opportunity look like?
The young Nigerian scouring the new world opportunity landscape is best advised to keep it simple and firstly go for the low-hanging fruits – those products or services that are obviously boosted by the new internet platform. Think journalism, think even Nigerian fashion and quickly downshift to services that are materially centred on textual or visual information – reports! A fashion catalogue is nothing but a pictorially intense report! And the medical x-ray output is no different from any other image file on your computer after all.
What’s stopping an accountant or lawyer, a photographer, an architect or even a general practice medical doctor offering his/her service remotely on a high volume-low pricing model? Nothing, but convention – the “it’s not how it’s done” braying is already audible in the background! That is, until they appreciate that the word volume on the internet is incomparable to the brick-and-mortar equivalent, which is at best a microcosm of the other.
Venturing further afield in the new world requires originality, in thinking. The new opportunity seeker quickly needs to unlearn the economics of scarcity and embrace the new concept of infinite niching. If you need to sell 100 valuable widgets in a truly frictionless anytime-anywhere space, the limitation might actually be your production speed rather than the demand rate. It’s not that difficult to get 100 matches in a pool of 1 billion prospects! The key is utility. If what you are offering provides real value, then there will always be more people ready and willing to take you up on it than you are ever able to service on your own.
It’s a huge world, and the internet has made it local to everyone.
Avoidable Pitfalls for the New Order
Any aspiring tripodal must understand that neither value nor knowledge can be scammed or ‘swagged’! Real knowledge creates real value which leads to real customers who stomp up real revenues, period! It is true that the ubiquity of the internet creates a limitless customer space, but that ubiquity also creates a limitless supplier competition space. It’s a meritocratic world out there, and competing successfully and winning requires you to be the best, not just your best!
Shortcuts must be avoided at all costs; remember what you do or help others do is the critical thing, not what paper certificates you have. The only way to gain knowledge is to truly open your mind to whatever it is you want to know about and to have an insatiable curiosity to explore the depths of that knowledge space. Anything short of this will nut cut the muster, at least not on a significant scale!
Collaboration is inevitable; it is an integral part of any dynamic and intelligent network that the nodes interact with each other into clusters. Clusters, comprising multiple nodes will always be more powerful than individual, standalone nodes in both depth and reach!
Doing good is good business! Being good, doing good and being good at doing good are great for new world business! Ask Google – the company this time, not the website. The new world is self-adapting and continually re-equilibrating technologically, socially and economically and fraud-inspired models will be neither productive nor sustainable for any reasonable period of time. Technology and the social media phenomenon will make the barrier to successful and sustained fraudulent play so high that it will probably be more gainful for the players to apply their energies and skills to straighter endeavours.
Differentiation is obligatory; it also becomes more difficult as the competition space expands. Remember that if you can see a bandwagon, it is already too late to join it! The power of uniqueness and first-mover advantage in the tripodal world can simply not be overstated! On the brighter side, it is an infinite niche space, so there’s room for any valuable product or service – the operative word being valuable.
The tripodal world is already upon us. A retailing platform set up a few years ago sold a minor portion of itself to foreign investors for $60 million! The numbers coming out of the new world business, outside of Nigeria, gives us a peep into the new normal in global economics. First mover new world companies like Google, FaceBook, Amazon and eBay are already controlling stratospheric market valuations and the trend is not only upwards but accelerating at great pace. Second round movers like Uber (the taxi service) and LinkedIn (the business social network) are not far behind. Locally, a look at sites like Konga, Jumia and DealDey shows they are already transforming the domestic economic space quietly.
The implication here is that we should be expecting the new Dangotes; there will a lot more of them and their wealth levels will be even higher. It took the world more than fifty years of structured economic activity to produce the first round of dollar billionaires. The next target is centi-billionaires (net worth of over $100 billion). Our large population, especially of younger people, should produce about 10-15% of the next generation of centi-billionaires – by extrapolation! Admittedly these are mind bogging numbers, but it’s a new world. To be young and Nigerian in the twenty first century, your imagination and the energy and passion to actualise it will be your only limitation!