By Sikiru Salami
There are endless opportunities around us but not many of us see them, because oftentimes we’re overwhelmed by vagaries of our troubles, comforts and circumstances. So, we practically remain the same, hinged on the glory of the past (if there ever was any) but faintly hopeful about an uncertain future. In this piece, I shall share few tips on how to create your own blue ocean as an individual in the midst of troubles and limitations.
To provide a good context for discourse, let me cite few cases, depending on what scenario applies to you.
You had hoped to be a University graduate, but ended up with an HND. Your hope was to graduate with a First-class or distinction, but for circumstances within or beyond your control, it just never happened. Your wish upon graduation was to secure a cool job with one of the best companies or firms around, but years later here you are still hopping from one “Manage-it-like-that” Limited to another. You’ve spent donkey years with an employer with almost nothing to show for it, and yet you were wondering, “what if I had spent half of these years running a personal business?”. You wished you had schooled at Harvard, John Hopkins, MIT, Oxford, Stanford, Yale, LSE, or at a minimum LBS, but you were financially and intellectually excluded.
There are tons of other instances of lost or denied opportunities. But the kernel of my today’s discourse is how you can create your own opportunities, in spite of all your past limitations and current troubles. Let’s briefly talk about this idea of Blue Ocean Strategy. In lay man terms, it means entering into an uncharted territory; creating a product for which there’s almost no competitor; creating an unusually new market for a product; creating opportunities out of trouble waters etc. Certain real life examples will help throw more light on this.
As of 2007 and earlier years, there were smartphones, IPods, Workman brands of hand radios, cameras etc. But Apple’s co-founder, Steve Jobs felt that what if he had all these items in a single gadget? Then, there came an iPhone brand. And it changed the smartphone market forever. Let’s talk about Huawei. Huawei is a Chinese global telecom infrastructure firm, also a smartphone maker. Now No. 2 smartphone market leader in the world after Samsung, Huawei has one major headache – Making inroad to the US market and attaining global recognition as does Apple and Samsung. You sure don’t want to know about the troubles the company currently faces with the US government. But to change that, the firm created 5G telecom infrastructure well ahead of the market, and what that does is, render all our phones (largely built for 3-4G capacity) almost archaic. Phone makers are now struggling to catch up, now introducing 5G-enabled phones.
Now let’s talk about how the concept of Blue Ocean applies to our personal realities. Being Oxford or Harvard trained has always been your dream, but you’re systemically and financially denied of such opportunity. Do you know that you can be as much competitive as any Harvard-trained fellow in the marketplace if you choose to do so, even at a lower cost? Here is another instance. You’re running a failing business, or out of job and everything seems hopeless and on a standstill. There are two experiences I will share in this respect – one personal, and another a third party story. Let’s go…
Make the Best of Anything and Everything
Personal confessions. Graduating with a First Class was one goal I had that never materialized. Getting a Harvard or Stanford or LSE MBA remains critical on my dashboard, but there are many impediments on my path. Like most young men, my dream was to intern or build career with one of these great corporations or multinationals after graduation. It didn’t happen. Growing up was awfully tough, and there were many things my peers could do that I was too disadvantaged to do. Limited access. Almost zero funding. Zero mentoring guide. Limited learning and growth opportunities. These experiences perhaps shaped my worldview — for good. I learnt to make the best of anything and everything.
Early enough, one should be very clear about who s/he becomes and not that utopia self one had hoped to become but that never happened. Till date, some people are still stuck to the past. Take the case of a fellow whose dream was to become a Medical Doctor, but as JAMB and Nigerian factor would have it, he became a Lab Scientist. Instead of making the best of what he had become; he’s stuck to his missed chance to become a Doctor. Lamentation over the past. If he strives to be one of the best Lab Scientists around, you know that could potentially compensate for his lost dream. Life happens.
I have learnt to focus more on learning outcomes, and not on optics and certifications. And that perhaps explains why the differential skills that make me competitive today were mostly not backed by any certifications, and were largely learnt for free. Like many other critical skills, I learnt financial modeling and business data analytics entirely online — for free. I’m currently learning Mandarin, and coding entirely online –for free.
Here’s the tip. Having a clear mindset is key — a mindset that practice knowledge is more important than unproven certificated knowledge. At the beginning of every year, I always have a line-up of skills I want to work on. I usually identify these skills by going through course brochure of great business schools and training institutes. Then, I go on Google to look for training contents and outlines for each skill area. Then after, I go on YouTube, Coursera and few other free education platforms to learn every single bit of the course contents. I really don’t know what most people spend time on YouTube doing, but for me, it’s more of a learning platform than anything else.
Key point here is, continuous learning positions you for great opportunities. And learning the right skills sometimes doesn’t take anything other than internet data, clarity of purpose and personal sacrifice. At the end of the day, it’s a matter of what you can do with your skills and not where you learnt the skills from. One in every seven PhD holders in Nigeria is jobless. Let that sink.