“The key question isn’t “What fosters creativity?” But it is why in God’s name isn’t everyone creative? Where was the human potential lost? How was it crippled? I think therefore a good question might be not why do people create? But why do people not create or innovate? We have got to abandon that sense of amazement in the face of creativity, as if it were a miracle if anybody created anything.” — Abraham Maslow
Today, a group of young men walked past me, wearing t- shirts with politics related inscriptions, ‘R.S.V.P – Register Select Vote Protect’; ‘My Vote Is Not For Sale’, ‘Enough Is Enough’. The message was simply great, but the creative designs were even greater. At first glance, the interwoven images and colors immediately etched the message into my mind. In that moment, I was captivated by the clear imagery that could be likened to the very famous (emphasis on very) Patience Goodluck Jonathan moment, urging everyone to vote for the ‘Umblerra’. It was simple and straightforward.
In recent times, Nigerian youth have taken a stand against the political chains of slavery, forming coalitions, screaming at the top of their lungs, voicing every single frustration, while heralding the movement of change across the country. They have created various platforms to express their frustrations, ‘Enough Is Enough Nigeria’, ‘What About Us’, ‘Sleeves Up’, ‘Vote or Quench’, amongst others. Browsing through the websites of these different organizations, the mission statements are glaring. One states ‘we all share a common belief that the time for change in Nigeria is now, and young people have the power to make it happen.’ Another states, ‘We are dedicated to teaching youth sound leadership principles, values and skills with zeal in our hearts to secure the future of Nigeria.’ That which struck the highest chord with me was by Celebrating Progress Africa, which aptly described their mission as ‘Through partnerships with organizations online and on the ground, they hope to create a paradigm shift amongst Africans everywhere and offer a space for inspiration and creativity.’ This statement is a totality of what is needed to create a solid revolution that will help move Nigeria forward and protect our future as youth, and that of generations below us. Notice, I highlighted the following words and phrases: Partnerships, Online, On the ground, Paradigm Shift, Inspiration, Creativity.
Could it be that while advocating for political change in our country, we have also stumbled on a ‘Creative Revolution’ that is occurring simultaneously as we battle for control of power. Stumbled might be an inappropriate description, as one could argue that the creative revolution has been in the works far much longer than our political ambition. Perhaps we just didn’t pay much attention to our creativity in the past, and danced to the tune of our elders describing our ideas as ‘youthful exuberance’. We spent countless hours studying the science of logic, quantity and shape, Photosynthesis, Boyles Law, thinking that that our success at these subjects would determine our future success in life. We sneered at our classmates who were interested in material surrounding the production, distribution and consumption of goods, fine art, home economics, and music were for non academic achievers. And woe betide, you mentioned to your parents that your favorite class was ‘clothing & textile’. The bottom line is Academics was king, logic was the prince, and creativity was the pauper. We were cajoled into believing that becoming a doctor, lawyer, engineer, accountant, was practical and everything on the other side of the fence was an abstract theory. The word ‘create’ even in its glaring existence, almost had no substantial relevance at the time. Our teachers made it clear that they wanted their exact words replicated on our examination sheets, and we cringed every single time a seemingly brilliant idea seeped into the deep trenches of our mind. We were taught that Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, and that the name Nigeria, was suggested by Flora Shaw, a British journalist who later became the wife of Lord Frederick Lugard. Only few dared to ask why Humpty Dumpty was sitting on the wall in the first place, and if Flora Shaw has actually come up with the name Nigeria, or if she had overheard someone else mention it. We were thinking critically and forming conspiracy theories in our heads, at the expense of being served a high grade for conforming to the norm – The Sky is Blue and Grass is Green. If your thinking mind went any further, you stood the risk of being jettisoned from any existent leadership position, for trying to lead a ‘coup d’etat’ against popular authority. In other words, you could easily turn from incumbent to an exiled prisoner.
Today, there seems to be a paradigm shift in the global definition of creativity. In a speech delivered at a TED conference, British author Ken Robinson stated that “… creativity now is as important in education as literacy and we should treat it with the same status.” He further reiterated his point by explaining that “given the challenges we face, education doesn’t need to be reformed — it needs to be transformed. The key to this transformation is not to standardize education, but to personalize it, to build achievement on discovering the individual talents of each child, to put students in an environment where they want to learn and where they can naturally discover their true passions.”
Without a doubt creativity has been in existence just as long as life has existed, however, it is only in recent times that we have drifted from the proverbial tree falling in the woods mentality and moved into blowing our horns as loud as possible, and have started to innovate, acting on our creativity. People are comfortable being writers, videographers, fashion stylists, editors, web designers, animators. We are now cognizant of the power of ideas especially in tandem with action. “As competition intensifies, the need for creative thinking increases. It is no longer enough to do the same thing better . . . no longer enough to be efficient and solve problems”. Creative is the new Cool.
Entrepreneurship is blooming in Nigeria, and people are no longer afraid to express themselves creatively. However, let us not be so quick to assume that because we are expressive, the generation after us will enjoy the same, as this is far from the truth.
The optimist will argue that by venturing into entrepreneurship, we are building platforms for the next generation. Permit me to cynically burst your bubble with reality. We are making the same mistakes that the entrepreneurs before us made –businesses based on sentiments rather than passion, and passion without structure.
There seems to be a non-mystical allure that is attracting our generation to entrepreneurship. We are angry that we are contributing our skills and ‘paying dues’ to a society where we are constantly exploited. The idea of stooping to conquer seems quite silly. We are spending countless hours working for companies where our talent is unappreciated and our creativity ridiculed. We read books and listen to speeches from successful entrepreneurs urging us to take risks, yet are afraid to dive. We spend more time focusing on what we cannot do, rather than the amazing things we are capable of doing. We are limiting ourselves by the thoughts that the big boys have the money and hence have monopolized the creative industry, and that our time will come, forgetting that we play a very crucial role to the success of these big dispassionate boys. In a reflexive effort to emancipate ourselves from what we refer to as the 9-5 hustle, we are starting businesses that have shaky foundations and in some cases, NO foundation at all. We are launching businesses with insufficient planning and zero growth strategy, with the mentality that we will cross that bridge when we get there. We are building one-man businesses, where the same person designs, cuts, sews, and sells. A lot of the ideas we are implementing are addressing artificial needs and superficial change, we are focusing on status perceptions rather than real innovation.
We are too busy trying to become “THE KEY PLAYER”, and we fail to realize that we need to spark the minds of people who are passionate, who share our vision, and who will eventually effect the change we seek. We need to let loose of the ‘it’s my thing and I’m going to do it alone’ mentality. The difference between being a doctor and being in a creative career is that a doctor can treat a patient without stepping out of the room, a creative person many times needs other creative people to translate ideas to reality. In simple terms, we need to be radical champions of collaboration and create a conveyor belt system where the one person designs, another cuts, another sews and another sells.
In the words of the Nigerian rapper Naeto C, ‘things are not the same. Levels don change now. ‘ Things are definitely not the same. Young creative folk are tired of waiting for power to change hands, they are building alternative ways to reach out to their audience. Unable to source funding to afford the outrageous costs of airing a show on television, production folk are launching web episodes of their shows, in hopes that the content game will change and they will be in a strategic position to make use of the opportunity when presented. Web and Social Media experts are launching web portals, applications, blogs, everyday, in anticipation of an increase in internet speed in Nigeria. There’s a lot of change going on behind the scenes. A friend of mine said ‘Ah! I need to cash out quickly before things start getting structured and difficult.’ So, as we take to the streets to fight for change in various aspects of the society, The real question is, ‘When the change happens, will you be ready?’
I believe that in this generation, the few people that have mastered the art of investing in the right people, who have tremendous ambition and passion, and who are willing to take on the challenges of being young and staying relevant in this new age industry, will lead this creative revolution. A large number of these people who are not necessarily behind desks at the office, but are walking the fields of the world realize that the new Nigeria will not belong to those who choose one way of thinking over the other but to those who with equanimity will create a world where context and content seamlessly merge to create meaningful innovations that people will desire to consume. Kaboom! There will be no stopping them.
“An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come.” — Victor Hugo