Entrepreneurship; Thinking Different Begets Great Ideas.
Last week on Monday I opened my Facebook account to specifically take a look at Strive Masiyiwa’s periodical post for the week. I love reading his posts together with those from the likes of Fred Swaniker, Bill Gates and many other great entrepreneurs. It is a good way for me to start a week on a high note by getting some ‘personal’ inspiration from reading these great men’s posts. I have always learnt a thing from each post.
In his last week post, Strive was talking about thinking on solving Africa’s leading challenges which include sanitation (toilets), water, Food security, healthcare among others. When I took a second look at those challenges, I was indeed surprised that we are not innovating around them simply because they have become a part of us until they don’t seem a problem anymore. But they are a problem more than we think. So it is time to #RethinkRural.
A friend of mine was narrating to me of an ordeal he encountered in his Luo Nyanza home. He was surprised when his neighbor congratulated him for clearing his bushy shamba back in the village. My friend stays here in Nairobi and his shamba is often left uncultivated which he told me made the shamba a toilet for a lot of youngsters and the old in the village. No wonder the neighbor could not contain his happiness when he saw the bushes cleared because he was vulnerable to the intrusion of his neighbors extending to his farm for the conduct of their businesses too.
For those who read Strive’s post which I shared on my wall, you noticed that the Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi embarked on a nationwide campaign to build millions of toilets mostly in the villages. Mind you it is not pit latrines but rather modern innovative form of toilets. This idea is purely out of the box. Who could think that village toilets could result to such a great entrepreneurial ratiocination?
Another entrepreneur, Marco, from South Africa has embarked on an innovation that is very sustainable. He has innovated around those very toilets but ones that use minimum amounts of water in flushing. They further use natural and sustainable forms of energies hence purely fitting the rural context. I really fell in love with the rising innovations around this area.
I am reminded of an interaction I had with a group of innovators I wrote about on this blog some years back. I met them in 2016 at the Nairobi Innovation Week with an innovation around safe disposal of human waste in villages using toilets infused in pit latrines. They were being funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. So I was not surprised when Strive mentioned the interests Bill Gates has around sanitation which extends to encompass his interests in the healthcare sector.
If you can see something with some of the cases I have highlighted above you already realized most of those innovations are thought of differently. In fact it is not how the rest of us view them. Someone could be wondering like how can I be an innovator of toilets. Well, let us say it is innovation around sanitation and now that it is among the world leading challenges, it means that it has potential to make people millionaires and billionaires just like technology.
In their days, computers were as a result of a few individuals deciding to think differently. They even attracted scorn from other people and organizations on their sustainability. The world richest people today became rich from technology and computers. Unconventional thinking begets great ideas that changes the world. For us to change the world then, we have to change ourselves first especially at how we view the world. Change and adaptation describes a unique character mix for most successful entrepreneurs. It is this mix that makes people to be termed as innovative and risk takers. I love to call them sniffers myself.
Funny enough unconventional thinking does not need a lot of thinking to begin with. Below, I will give a small example I picked from thinking Outside the Box by Kenneth E. Robinson’s write up to help us see that simplistic thinking often becomes unconventional thinking.
A truck was driven into an opening under a viaduct. It was too high for the opening and became wedged so tight that the driver was not able to back the truck out. A small boy came along and asked, “When are you going to get the truck out?” The frustrated driver said, “As soon as I figure out how to do it.” The boy said he did not think it was a big problem, and the man replied, “If you are so smart, how would you do it?” The boy replied, “I would let the air out of the tires until it was low enough to drive out.”
Most of us have always imagined that thinking outside the box or unconventionally has to do with some talented individuals and big corporations. In fact the greatest ideas were as a result of young people and out of individuals. Think of the aeroplane, it was the wright brothers’ out of the box thinking. The motor car was innovatively redefined by Henry Ford at a time when people had become so complacent with the idea of bettering horse carriages.
A lot of potential today doesn’t lie in bettering the computer or bettering the e-commerce sector or even in bettering the aircraft. It is within reach in innovating around simple challenges affecting humanity. How can we make our villages safe for the health hazards resulting from people’s waste? At one time we were talking a lot about pit latrines which over time and with rising populations will be a problem to underground water. What does that mean? Three opportunities in one. One is in finding a solution to the pit latrine problem first, second is in the handling and disposal of the waste and finally it is in the treatment of the underground water to make it safe for human use. Cumulatively they possess a huge potential.
What of the water problem in the arid and semi-arid areas? I saw one lady innovating around water pans that are constructed in such a way that they act as reservoirs and minimize underground water seeping. These pans hold water for longer time. This is what we are looking forward to in solving the issue of water shortage affecting humanity. Innovations around health and food security pose a good opportunity too. For instance if only we could innovate around simple storage methods around cereals and vegetable then extend to their processing we could have made a big milestone as a country and continent. Food wastage and spoilage still ranks high in the continent.
So if you are out there and wondering where the opportunities are, rethink again. You just have to think a little different and begin. Assuredly, you will start seeing things turn around.
It is the unconventional thinking around conventional ways of life that possess the greatest potential for this century’s entrepreneurs. I am really strategizing on becoming one of them, what about you?
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