Design Thinking in the Nigerian Context

It’s 2 AM and the electricity goes out. Annoyed, you walk outside to turn the generator on. In the process of turning the generator on, you realize there’s no gas in the gen. In the pitch black of night, its not difficult to see the large red canister of gas a couple of steps away. You get the canister and start to attempt to fill the gen. You realize there’s too much gas in the canister and its difficult to control the amount that goes into the gen so you start to think… You go into the kitchen and get a used plastic bottle, cut it in half and now you’ve created a funnel and cup. You head back outside, put the makeshift funnel on the gen and begin to fill the cup with gas and pour it in the funnel. You fill the tank, turn the gen on, and go back to sleep.

That story is design thinking in action. I’d argue with anyone that design thinking is not a process that Nigerians are foreign to. In fact, it’s been at the ethos at most grassroots solutions. There are so many small inventions and quick fixes that I see everyday. Why don’t you see some of these solutions in the market? I believe the challenges are threefold:

  1. How do you get people to see their solution as valuable outside themselves?
  2. How do you provide the platform for people to producttize/ commercialize their already working prototypes?
  3. How do you protect ideas and create incentives for people to continue to create?

How do you get people to see their solution as valuable outside themselves? 

This is consequence of innovating to live vs innovating to thrive. People are brilliant problem solvers in developing markets because they have to in order to survive. Design thinking concepts tend to become a framework that most people operate in without knowing it.  The challenge is being able to think beyond the problem, which is challenging for the problem solvers. I would suggest getting up to the balcony like in this story below:

Let’s say you are dancing in a big ballroom. . . . Most of your attention focuses on your dance partner, and you reserve whatever is left to make sure you don’t collide with dancers close by. . . . When someone asks you later about the dance, you exclaim, “The band played great, and the place surged with dancers.”

But, if you had gone up to the balcony and looked down on the dance floor, you might have seen a very different picture. You would have noticed all sorts of patterns. . . you might have noticed that when slow music played, only some people danced; when the tempo increased, others stepped onto the floor; and some people never seemed to dance at all. . . . the dancers all clustered at one end of the floor, as far away from the band as possible. . . . You might have reported that participation was sporadic, the band played too loud, and you only danced to fast music.

. . .The only way you can gain both a clearer view of reality and some perspective on the bigger picture is by distancing yourself from the fray. . . .

If you want to affect what is happening, you must return to the dance floor.*-Ronald Heifetz

That often the most challenging place for problem solvers to get to but is central to seeing the value in an idea or a new process.

How do you provide the platform for people to producttize/ commercialize their already working prototypes?

This a more systemic and structural problem. With a lack of manufacturing and capital in developing markets, it’s often impossible to scale a new idea. I believe the improvement of technologies like 3D printing hold a tremendous opportunity to decrease the cost and increase the accessibility of manufacturing to the masses.

How do you protect ideas and create incentives for people to continue to create?  

This is an interesting challenge that all countries face now. How do you protect people who create, while encouraging the free exchange of ideas so people can build upon them? Legal spaces like IP and copyright may not be as developed in a place like Nigeria but it presents a great opportunity to re-imagine what IP/Copyright law can look like in the information sharing age.

Beware The Ides of March

Beware The Ides of March is the original “Winter is coming” of doom and gloom. I knew it was was from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, but I never really understood the Ides part until a quick Google search gave some clarity.

” Months of the Roman Calendar were arranged around three named days – the Kalends, the Nones and the Ides- and these were reference points form which the other unnamed days were calculated

Kalends (1st day of the month)

Nones(the 7th day in March, May, July, and October; the 5th in other months)

Ides (the 15th day in March, May, July, and October; the 13th in the other months)”

Ides =15th of March which makes it even more depressing. Someone tells you the exact time you’re going to be assassinated? That’s rough.

Kobayashi and the Leader of the Free World

***Disclaimer…. I’m a huge Star Trek fan. I’ve tried to simplify a little bit so you don’t have to know as much about Star Trek to understand what I’m trying to say.***

Kobayashi Maru is a star fleet training exercise that is used to evaluate a commander’s character and fortitude. The simulation in the Star Trek universe allows the cadet to command a federation star ship, and sends them to aid another Federation vessel, the Kobayashi Maru. The disabled ship is adrift in the Klingon neutral zone, and the ship commanded by the cadet entering the zone will be in violation of a treaty and liable to attack.

The cadet has to decide whether to rescue the stranded ship, creating an opportunity for an all-out war with the Klingons and jeopardizing his or her own vessel and crew-mates’ lives in the process, or leave the Kobayashi Maru to eventual destruction. If the cadet attempts to save the vessel, the simulation is programmed to guarantee that his or her own ship will be destroyed. Not only will he be unsuccessful in saving the Kobayashi Maru, but everyone else will die as well.

The object is to test the cadet’s character and presence of mind in the face of large-scale disaster and certain death. The creation of the Kobayashi Maru isn’t discussed as much in Star Trek cannon, although in the most recent reboot, it’s shown that Spock was the preliminary designer of the test. His Vulcan sense of logic proved to be very helpful in constructing the no win scenario.

When deciding on leaders, humans traditionally follow our gut and how we feel about a person. The mental models an heuristics used to make snap decisions on who to follow are legacy from our early days when we had to be very cautious about who we were hunting and gathering with. We decide leaders based on what they say but even more on how we perceive them. Don’t believe me?  Take a read about JFK VS Nixon here.

While we can never get rid of the human perspective, shouldn’t we be responsible for aiding better decisions in who should be leaders? We should have our own Kobayashi Maru that we use to vet leaders where we can objectively see their character and fortitude. To be more specific, the president of the United States should be put through more than just public opinion to become president. We have the history of the world and technology to create all possible and future scenarios to test a candidate’s decision making skills. It’s not a heavy lift at all. Here are the steps:

  1. Recognize that we are currently incapable of making the best decisions without more information.
  2. Develop a Kobayashi Maru equivalent that runs through a week of various possible scenarios (domestic disasters, economic collapse, political brinkmanship,etc).
  3. Have the potential president pick their team.
  4. Run the simulations… Evaluate the results.

The hardest step is 1. Everything else is super doable. Our armed forces train just like this. I don’t think its too much to ask a potential Commander in Chief to go through similar training and evaluation.

There’s a lot of responsibility involved with picking the next leader of the free world . Citizens should look at a Kobayashi Maru like exam as an opportunity to improve our decision making by exposing the decision making process of our future leaders in life- like situations.

Or we can just watch them play The Sims.

 

 

 

Beta and Super Friends

I started investing in the US stock market my second year of business school. I thought it was just part what you do in business school; drink coffee, read Financial Times and invest in stocks. I thought I’d try to apply what I learned in class to pay back some of those student loans a little quicker. Bad idea but that isn’t the point.

In order to improve your chances of a decent return when you invest in securities like stocks, there are certain technical analysis ratios that you’re supposed to use evaluate and predict returns. Beta is one of those magical ratios.

Beta ratio gauges the volatility of a security by comparing it to the performance of a related benchmark over a period of time. To keep it simple, investors use beta to see how downside capture they can expect from an investment.

From Investopedia

The baseline number for alpha is zero (investment performed exactly to market expectations), but the baseline number for beta is one. A beta of one is an indication that the security’s price moves exactly as the market moves. If the beta is less than one, the security experiences less severe price swings than the market. Conversely, a beta above one means that the security’s price has been more volatile than the market as a whole.

While a positive alpha is always more desirable than a negative one, evaluating beta is not so black and white. Many investors – being risk-averse – prefer to have a lower beta; however, some investors are willing to target a higher beta, hoping to capture higher returns and cash in on the higher volatility.

Most of these ratios are historically leaning. They use information from past to predict future results. It’s difficult and next to impossible to find a magical ratio that can give you vision into future performance.

Well this is true most of the time. The best investors will tell you to take a long term approach in building value. However, The upside in the public market will never match the multiples on an investment when the company is private. It’s way more risky, but at the end of the day, you get in on the ground floor and are compensated come IPO. (most of the time)

I’ve found investing in relationships to be very similar to investing in companies. There’s a ton of information out on how to do them, products and services around improving both processes, and risk with both investments. And the secret to success in both is pretty similar as well.

Creating a group of friends, associates, or colleagues that are super successful doesn’t happen overnight. Actually, its pretty close to impossible to create this type of super network without putting in a lot of work early on. Yes, the secret to it all is meeting people before they are successful and supporting them on their pathway to success. It starts with some self reflection.What value to you bring to the table? What is your unique advantage?  Understanding your strengths will help evaluate what your value add is to other people’s quest to success.

Second, you’ll need a good understanding of what potential for success looks like early on in the journey. Have you met someone that has more hustle than anyone you’ve ever met? Do you know someone that seems to have the Midas touch? People give hints of greatness and are just waiting for people to believe and support them.

Lastly, give. Once you’ve identified who and how you can support, give. Think about how you can build them up through relationships and the opportunities you have access to.

To be concise; Get in early, build value, reap the rewards.

Sapiens and the Oscars

I have very few newsletters that I hold in such high esteem as Farnam Street. If you enjoy thinking about things in new ways and awesome book recommendations, I suggest you sign up here. It’s so good, I’m giving a free shout out. The newsletter will change your life, but I digress.

One of the most recent book recommendations from the Farnam Street is called Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.   I haven’t gotten a chance to read the book yet but I was totally enthralled with the descriptions in the newsletters. It’s definitely on my to read list.

One of the most important takeaways from the book is captured in this short quote below:

What was the Sapiens’ secret of success? How did we manage to settle so rapidly in so many distant and ecologically different habitats? How did we push all other human species into oblivion? Why couldn’t even the strong, brainy, cold-proof Neanderthals survive our onslaught? The debate continues to rage. The most likely answer is the very thing that makes the debate possible: Homo sapiens conquered the world thanks above all to its unique language.

Most people would agree that language was a huge game changer but not for the reason you’d think:

As far as we know, only Sapiens can talk about entire kinds of entities that they have never seen, touched, or smelled. Legends, myths, gods, and religions appeared for the first time with the Cognitive Revolution. Many animals and human species could previously say ‘Careful! A lion! Thanks to the Cognitive Revolution, Homo sapiens acquired the ability to say. ‘The lion is the guardian spirit of our tribe.’ This ability to speak about fictions is the most unique feature of Sapiens language…You could never convince a monkey to give you a banana by promising him limitless bananas after death in monkey heaven. 

To Harari, the most important function of language is we can describe things we cannot see or understand. “It is our collective fiction that defines us” By doing this, human beings are better suited to work in large groups effectively and flexibly than other animals. Real world applications of this is state, religious, fraternal, or basic assumptions we take as truth.

The collective myth and our ability to believe or not, is what differentiates us from other animals. To be clear, not all of these myths are lies but some of them are. We believe them because the opposite is too difficult to handle. For example, sapiens are horrible at evaluating talent or a subjective “best”. We’ve seen it in finance, education, entertainment, and other industries. We rely on human evaluations and get burnt. We consistently overvalue and undervalue, which leads to faulty and less than ideal outcomes. If we look at this from Harari’s perspective, we’ve bought into the myth that we can make objective evaluations.

Earlier last week, the Academy released their nominees for the Oscars. There were complaints about the lack of diversity in the nominees. I agree, there should be more representation, especially from a 2015 that saw quality movies from minority leads. However, its a symptom of a larger myth; A group of industry leaders can make an objective evaluation on what are some of the best performances the year prior. I say this as a huge Will Smith, Leonardo DiCaprio and Christopher Nolan fan. (None of them have won Oscars)

I’ve started to take human informed decisions with a grain of salt. I can’t afford to buy into the idea that a group of us can make the best decision. Now, believing that is difficult to handle because it has implications larger than the Academy Awards. I’ll just let your mind wander…

2016 New Years Revelations

A couple of things to note:

  1. These are very random
  2. They are a mix of inference, prophecy, facts, and hunches.
  3. We’re just trying to have fun out here. I welcome other less serious revelations.

 

Kanye West will own 2016

After the birth of his second child, Kanye is grounded and ready to give the world some fire. He was supposed to have a CD in 2015 but that didn’t work out…. Too busy making clothes I guess. He’s going to get back to the music with a vengeance in 2016 and I’m here for it.  I see a game changing album along with great features from Kanye in 2016. He will also establish the ground game for his 2020 presidential campaign.

The Irrational shall inherit the Earth (Just the US)

I watch politics like my brother watches NBA Basketball. I’m not watching to see who wins but the process by which they beat their opponent. The Presidential elections have been more entertaining than season 3 of The Real Housewives of Atlanta. (I personally think that was the best season but I digress) I thought I had a handle on this election but current events created a new set of variables that have the potential to change the outcome of the primary and general election. The electorate have a dangerous level of fear that I haven’t seen since the early cold war. As a result, you can count on citizens to make irrational decisions on who would be best to deal with their fears. Pre San Bernadino, I thought this would be an easy Democratic victory, but now, Republicans are in their element and I see a Republican pathway to the white house.

3D printing will go Mainstream

Based on Product lifecycle (if you believe in that stuff) 3D printing will move from Early Adopters to the early majority. I see a lot of potential especially as the technology goes down in cost.

If you’re African and interested in Business, learn Mandarin next year

On a serious note…. Zimbabwe adopts the Yuan as legal tender and China commits 600 billion to development around Africa? No matter what the west says, China is in Africa to stay. I got to the Enugu Airport in Nigeria, only to see a new terminal being built by Chinese contractors. China may have been around but next year will be something to watch with so much capital, people and other recourses flowing into Africa.

Reemergence of Boy Bands

I just have a gut feeling on this one, Boy Bands are coming back.

I’ll be adding more as I think of them but that’s all for now…. What are some of your new years revelations/ prophecies?

On Decision Making

Life is full of important decisions. We often have the luxury to think through our decisions ahead of time but that doesn’t equate to making the right or best decisions. After speaking with friends and mentors, one of the best ways to make sound decisions is to use a decision making model. I’ve studied these models before but I figured I’d run through a couple to refresh and provide you with some of the best models for decision making.

Pros Vs. Cons aka Rational Decision Making

Probably made famous by Plato or someone along that line, pros vs cons is as simple as a decision model can be. Nothing really to explain here… What are the pros and the cons of each potential outcome of your decision?

In this decision making process, its easy to assume that pros and cons hold equal weight which is not always true.

Satisficing

“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Sometimes we don’t have access to all the information necessary to make the optimal decision and/or the “okay” decision will do. I find most people never want to “satisfice” when it comes to big decisions but in the long term, sometimes its the best strategy.

Opportunity Cost

In microeconomic theory, the opportunity cost of a choice is the value of the best alternative forgone, in a situation in which a choice needs to be made between several mutually exclusive alternatives given limited resources.

So, what is the cost of missing out on other outcomes? Can you live with the cost of missing out on that opportunity?

Garbage Can Theory

In the garbage-can theory (Cohen, March, and Olsen 1972) an organization “is a collection of choices looking for problems, issues and feelings looking for decision situations in which they might be aired, solutions looking for issues to which they might be the answer, and decision makers looking for work”. Problems, solutions, participants, and choice opportunities flow in and out of a garbage can, and which problems get attached to solutions is largely due to chance.

This doesn’t make much sense to me but I guess the garbage can theory is more of a meta critique on how organizations make decisions.

Sources:

Opportunity Cost

Garbage can Theory