Moyo Olisa, Tony Elumelu Foundation
If you grew up in an African household, chances are you were told that if you didn’t aspire to be a doctor, lawyer, banker or engineer, you were going to end up a failure – this was often supplemented with a purported cautionary tale about a layabout who lived in the neighborhood, a distant cousin or a family friend’s son.
This type of conditioning often results in many young people specialising and working in industries that they are not passionate about. In some rare cases, they do come around to enjoying their work and go ahead to become somewhat successful CEOs or entrepreneurs but they remain stuck to a single ideology of how success is achieved.
This is where things fall apart.
You see, there are 3 types of people in this world: analytical thinkers, creative thinkers and people who are both.
Very often, analytical thinkers are those who fall victim to the narrowed mindset, as they are habitual creatures. This means that they prefer a predictable daily routine and are resistant to change. But because they are straight line thinkers with a voracious appetite for facts and figures, they always believe they have all the answers to every problem. Wrong! There is a certain arrogance that people who think they know it all possess. I believe this is the biblical pride that comes before a fall, and this is a condition that afflicts analytical thinkers.
Creative thinkers are more curious. They are fascinated with the world around them and are more willing to consider that there are different ways to solve a problem. This is good, but have you ever tried to tell a truly creative person what to do? Chaos usually ensues. People in this category usually prefer to work at their own pace and need a less conventional environment to stimulate their creative process: how to you explain missing deadlines for the gazillionth time to HR or a board of directors?
Now let’s talk about the people who think both creatively and analytically, I call them complex thinkers. These people are able to combine the best of both worlds, as they can focus on solving problems but are also able to drive every single project to completion.
Being able to think on a complex level is a key quality that can be found in all effective top management and successful business owners. They constantly challenge assumptions, remain openminded, are able to recognise patterns and welcome provocative ideas. Pivoting comes naturally to these people and the good news is that everyone can train their minds to become this way by being willing to unlearn and relearn at all times — this is the only way to remain relevant in an ever-changing world.
You can apply this analogy to real life scenarios. Before companies like Apple and Zoom, there were Research In Motion (RIM) aka Blackberry and Skype. The latter had a head start of almost a decade to dominate the digital working space! Blackberry was the first mobile company bringing email services to handheld mobiles with its trademark QWERTY keyboard and was indispensable to world leaders, corporate honchos, and the rich and famous alike. Owning one of these devices was a status symbol, and the BlackBerry addiction was a prevalent condition.
The Skype story was the same. Over a decade ago, you could not think of video calls without skype; being able to instantly reach a business partner or loved one from a different part of the world, while being able to see them and at no cost? We had reached a new era of mobile technology.
However, fast forward to 2020 and the emergence of a global pandemic that resulted in a huge demand for instant messaging and teleconferencing but it was Apple and Zoom rose to the occasion instead. This success was not instant. Over the years, their forward-thinking team had been constantly developing and releasing innovative upgrades with improved processes and products; all of which proved indispensable in a period of social distancing and a complete shutdown of non-essential facilities.
There is so much we can learn from this story, but the main thing is to always be focused on solving a problem, because the time to Pivot is always now and developing the following qualities make it easier:
- Being future thinking
- Being open – welcome all feedback whether negative or positive
- Having a positive outlook
- Being curious
- Being flexible
- Learning to identify connections and patterns.
- Not focusing on isolated issues – having a picture view of all situations.
Complex thinkers often find themselves working different roles within an organisation and may be confused about what their real purpose is because they often do not get to specialize in one particular area. That is why I often say a Jack of all trades isn’t a master of none, because Jack is the CEO.