I stumbled on the story of a Nigerian doll-maker, Taofick Okoya, the CEO of Queens of Africa, a company that makes Barbie-like dolls that portray the African (specifically Nigerian) populace and culture. I truly marveled at his story, wondering why I hadn’t heard of it before.
Another thing that amazed me about Okoya was what pushed him into going for sometime extra-ordinary, and how he made the business successful. I couldn’t help wondering what he passed through while drafting up plans to start his company; and what people said to him when he brought the product to market. The more I read about him, the more I realised that Taofick Okoya is indeed very courageous to have opened a new goldmine that a lot of Nigerians, and other Africans, will explore.
Mulling over Taofick Okoya and his amazing company brought an important question to my mind. That question is: how many Nigerians today have extra-ordinary ideas like Okoya but are not courageous enough to invent them?
Day in day out we read and listen to articles and posts that advise and motivate people to be creative, innovative and different. But most times, those articles end up in trash cans because we read them and felt they weren’t for us. Yet, we celebrate those that found their niche, even though we are afraid, or unwilling, to search for ours. And we want to do something great but we don’t want to do things differently.
Anyway, there are specific reasons why people hold back from projecting their unique ideas. Beside inadequate education system that does not train Nigerians on how to go about developing their ideas, the following are some other reasons why people don’t try new grounds.
a. Unavailable Market.
A lot of people want ready-made markets. They find it hard clearing the paths for new ones. They know how hard it is to delve into new grounds and are therefore unwilling to face the hard work involved. Besides, they are not sure they will be successful if they try something new.
If you read Okoya’s success story, you will see the challenges he encountered as he started his company. According to him, he didn’t meet the type of market he wanted in Nigeria, so he tried elsewhere and that was how he hit it big. If Okoya had waited for a market to evolve first before going into his business, he wouldn’t have been where he is today.
b. Fear of Being Different
This is true, though it may sound outrageous to those that haven’t experienced it. A lot of people feel more comfortable hiding under the shadows of others and going with the flow. They don’t want to attract attentions to themselves by being different and they don’t want the friction that comes from doing things differently. They just want things to be smooth and “normal”.
A lot of people like this usually have exotic ideas but they’re uncomfortable bringing them out. The problem here is that they may end up selling those wonderful ideas at cheap rates to people that won’t give them credit in any way. They need avenues to bring out and develop these innovations.
c. Fear of Criticism
Nobody wants to be criticised. It takes a lot of maturity to overlook criticisms, especially when they turn insolent. Today’s business world knows the importance of learning from customers and that the best way to do that is through criticism. However, noticing the negative impression created by the term, another word that is less demeaning was coined. That is why the term, “criticism”, is baptised as “feedback” so as to give it a positive outlook.
If Nigerians can be taught of the good side of criticisms/feedbacks, they all will beg for it. But as it is, people and organisations (both in private and public sector) avoid it and do not provide platforms for it. Since Nigerians want to voice out their thoughts for and against individuals, organisations and businesses, they resort to the only open field available – the social media, which could be destructive at times. As such, those with extra-ordinary ideas stay back and try to make sure their innovations are perfect before trying them out.
d. Mockery and Negative Attitudes from People
Mockery isn’t criticism or feedback because it is not constructive at all and it has a different objective – to embarrass and discourage. And as we know, some people do not encourage inventors; rather they make mockery of them. This attitude has discouraged a lot of people from bringing forth something good they have to offer. For instance, when I showed someone the pictures of the dolls made and marketed by Queens of Africa, she laughed and, among other things, said, “What is this one? Who will buy this?” But her countenance changed immediately I told her the dolls’ company is worth billions of dollars.
I couldn’t help imagining the number of people that must have been discouraged as a result of negative reactions from others. It is quite disheartening. But it should be noted that those that mocked the genuine efforts of others are those that felt overwhelmed by what they witnessed but prefer to keep their positive judgements to themselves.
e. Lack of Sponsors
Nigerians have shortage of sponsors and mentors. And the outside world is sceptical of trusting Nigerians because of bad images created by a few. Most start-ups and potential start-ups become discouraged when no one comes forth and offers them seed capital. And some that managed to see those interested in their ideas may lose their prospects because their business proposals were poorly prepared.
This is one major reason trainings and seminars on proposal writing should be organised often.
f. Inferiority Complex
This is quite different from fear of being different, where the person concerned doesn’t want to be in the spotlight for several reasons, one of which is sticking to the social norm. But inferiority complex comes up when the person felt he can never have something worthwhile to offer. People like this continue seeking for reassurance from people around them until they either go ahead with their projects or they drop them.
There is need to create avenues for Nigerians to become inventive. This shouldn’t be left for the government alone, that is, if the government should be involved in the first place. NGOs, Foundations and private individuals can consider taking over this aspect of Nigerian development in order to help our youths.