We are told that successful people and successful nations play to their strengths.
They analyse what they are good at, what resources they have, where they can add value and direct their efforts and energy in that direction.
When they make careers out of what they are good at and what they enjoy, they are likely to be successful and happy doing that. They are likely to relocate to the most suitable place to run that business or offer that service; and by their cumulative or combined efforts, the industry thrives.
I was conversing with an architect friend just last week, enquiring about how profitable it is to make a living from architecture; and remarking on how fortunate I believe architects are to make a living from their passion, very much like artists, musicians and so on. The conversation turned to ways of starting a second or parallel career to supplement one's income. I suggested playing to one's strengths and building an income stream around it. I asked him what his strengths were and how they had already assisted him in making a success of his occupation. To my surprise, even though he was passionate about design and architecture, he said he did not really know what his strengths are.
He said that most of his peers don't know what they are good at, or what their strengths are. They just find work to earn money and put food on the table and that is why there is so much job frustration and, basically, no job satisfaction at all. What a revelation! How many of us know what our strengths are, as they relate to our work and our occupation? For those of us who do, how did we discover what our strengths are? Let's take this to the national level. I am quite sure that eight out of any 10 people I ask will know what Indians are good at, or what the strengths of the Chinese are.
Ask what Nigerians are good at; what our strengths are; and what we are known for. Other than the immediate negative responses such as 419 scams and corruption, people would have to take a moment to think about it. On reflection, they would say that Nigerians are enterprising, but how has that translated into a national strength?
Our traders and markets are largely in the informal economy; and Dangote alone cannot represent the spirit of enterprise in the nation. They would say that we are excellent at problem-solving and coping, but has this talent been directed by our policy makers to solving our national challenges? They would say that we are known for our creativity. Yes, through individual effort, writers such as Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka, musicians like Fela, Asa, TuFace and so on have become internationally acclaimed. How are other creative spirits nurtured and encouraged, other than through private avenues such Terra Kulture and Nike's Gallery. Our unappreciated museums full of valuable artefacts have been left to deteriorate.
Diversity as strength
A wonderful trend is that you can study almost any subject you can imagine.
Throughout your education, starting in primary school, the teaching staff are talent-spotting, busy identifying latent or developing skills, talents, passions, or potential. It is rare for a child to reach age 16 and not know what they are good at, both academically and vocationally and what kinds of careers they can pursue.
Here, the majority graduate from school having passed their exams, and that is all. The fortunate minority would have engaged in formal music, arts, or sports programmes in private schools. Even those who were award-winners in extra-curricular activities never imagined making a career out of them and are actively discouraged from playing to their strengths by their advisers.
We are known for being very intelligent and good at cramming facts to pass exams. So, for many children, the subjects they get good grades in are not subjects they have any interest in. What kind of career guidance do school children get about how the subjects they take for SSCE will affect their A'levels/JAMB and how their choice will affect their careers?
How can we know what our real strengths are? Without identifying them, how can we, as a nation, harness our strengths? Natural resources are just that, resources. Without people and functional systems to exploit and benefit from them, they will not do us any good. To the contrary, we will be left to live with all the disadvantages of extractive industries without enjoying the beneficial effect they can have on a people, as we have seen in the Middle East.
Let's start at the beginning, with education and with the children.
Help those around you in the workplace, who are square pegs in round holes, to find square holes to thrive in. Employers should use personality profiling to allocate their human capital where they can perform the best on their own and as part of teams.
Oh yes, one of our strengths is our diversity. We haven't yet figured out how to play to it yet. All I have seen is pandering to different groups instead of pulling the strengths of our diverse ethnicities to propel us into G20 status and achieve our Millenium Development Goals.