Why It’s Great To Be an ‘Amateur’

amateur.jpgThere’s a guy called Andrew Keen who has been in the media a lot recently. He has been waxing lyrical about what he calls ‘the cult of the amateur’ (actually the title of his book).

According to him the blogger, the ‘citizen journalist’and those using the internet to make their voices heard are bad for society. He believes that web 2.0 is “undermining truth, souring civic discourse, and belittling expertise, experience and talent.”

An interesting opinion…and one I strongly disagree with. For a start, we – or at least I – live in a democracy and have as much right as anyone else to air my opinions. That’s precisely what they are – opinions. It’s up to other people in this supposedly fair and free society to decide what to make of them.

Facts are another thing – but it is simplistic to suggest that all ‘facts’ are objective. In any case I would argue that there is a lot of opinion, commentary, and as some recent libel cases have shown, outright lies in today’s traditional news that is presented as fact.

In societies where the media is heavily used as a vehicle for propoganda it’s the bloggers and those who are able to access and use the internet who are showing the world a more balanced and realistic picture of what’s going on.

Even in England – one of the supposed bastions of democracy – the media has been shown to be used as a tool for propaganda. Remember all the noise on the weapons of mass destruction that were going to blow up the earth in 6 seconds?? Hmmm…

Why should it be up to a handful of people – and those who choose them – to decide what the rest of us should hear, read or listen to? Surely that’s for us – the people – to decide? We all know there is more than one side to every story, and the traditional media sources often do not represent the whole picture.

Anyway, it really is not the case that there is an elite group of people up there in the news corporations who know so much more than the rest of us stupid normal folk. We are all part of society and have a right to comment upon it should we so choose.

As far as I’m concerned, every newspaper and media corporation has an agenda, which is reflected in a variety of ways including the stories it chooses to run. In an ideal world, they would be impartial and neutral bodies which report strictly on facts. But this is not an ideal world – and the question to be asked is can you separate news from the people who are reporting on it?

When I was studying Social & Political Science, we read ethnographic accounts written by Englishmen who visited Africa. At the time they were supposed to present un-biased, objective views on Africa and were taken as such. Those accounts are now highly controversial and are not taken as objective perspectives on Africa, because anyone who works in that field is acutely aware that it is virtually impossible to separate someone’s viewpoint of a situation from their internal beliefs about it. There is little objective reality beyond date, time and location. The same could be said for media – including bloggers – which is why it’s good to have access to multiple viewpoints.

I don’t know what Mr Keen is reading, but there are many bloggers out there who have valid, interesting, thoughtful and reflective contributions to make. People whose voices need and deserve to be heard, and otherwise wouldn’t be.

There is a lot of positive work going on in the Afrosphere, for example. In light of the state of some African nations, should we leave it to our leaders to dictate what the outside world hears? For example, maybe we should rely solely on Zimbabwean news coming out of Mugabe’s camp since according to Mr Keen, the traditional, controlled, handed-down-the-masses news is superior and most reliable?

Mr Keen is a dinosaur. Someone keen (no pun intended) to keep the status quo, and have life fossilized so that no changes ever take place, and big corporations are able to stay within their comfort zones while continuing to short-change their customers (like the music industry, which he cites as an example of having been damaged by democratization of the web).

Mr Keen’s comments encourage me to keep on blogging! All hail to the ‘cult of the amateur’!!

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Entrepreneurship in Africa

My last post was on the entrepreneurial mindset…The mindset is important, because everything begins first with a thought. So if your mind ain’t right, your life ain’t right.

Recently I’ve been reading various blogs about entrepreneurship in Africa. There is a lot going on business-wise and it’s great to see. Entrepreneurship is vital to continents or countries which have experienced, and are still experiencing, hardship – whether societal, culture, financial or other. Not just for economic reasons, but for the benefit of individual and collective pscyhology and consciousness.

As you can see from my previous post, I believe that the employee mindset (forgive me for being so hard on employees) is based on conformity, toeing the line, being led, following someone else’s rules, being other-directed, and ultimately allowing someone else to profit massively from your input.

In a way, this mindset is one that Africa has been stuck in for a long time. Africa was the employee of colonialism. It has been the employee of ineffective dictators and leaders. There are many who use, or have used, Africa to enrich themselves.

But now is the time for Africa to become its own boss. It’s not just physical businesses that Africa needs to build, but an entrepreneurial mindset of self-directness, leadership, creativity, opportunity and self-sufficiency.

The aid-for-Africa model creates a continent which is a lowly, dependent employee, unable to act without instruction from the boss (the World Bank, G8).

Africa as an entrepreneur is a continent which uses its own resources creatively for freedom – and eschews the so-called ‘security’ of binding loans and regular handouts. It is a different way of thinking, a different way of acting. The entrepreneur mindset is an empowered, and empowering, one.

We need African leaders to embrace the entrepreneur mentality. By embracing it, they would stop seeing themselves both as the top dog who can exploit his workers (the people of his country), and also as the over-worked, under-paid employees of certain (usually Western) organizations and bodies.

I believe African people have always had an entrepreneurial spirit. It is what led great people like Nelson Mandela and Kwame Nkrumah to fight for their countries and make such vital changes. It is what leads men and women to stand on African streets in scorching hot sun and sell shoes, sunglasses, or whatever they can get their hands on to provide for themselves and their families.

When we think of entrepreneurship we usually think of big business. It’s not just that. All Africans – leaders and citizens – need to embrace it as a way of life, an attitude.

Africa will realize its potential when it becomes an entrepreneur, setting its own terms and conditions, its own agenda, and works for itself.

The Mind of an Entrepreneur

As someone with a very strong entrepreneurial spirit, I’ve been reflecting on what distinguishes an entrepreneur from an employee.

The answer is simple: mindset. Entrepreneurs think differently from employees. You only need to sit down and talk about your own business, or being self-employed with most (employed) people to realize this.

Those who are in the strongholds of employment will mention words such as ‘security’ and ‘regular income’ a lot, while entrepreneurs have a different focus – looking at the benefits to be gained and opportunities. Most entrepreneurs also understand that the notion of ‘security’ in today’s workplace is a bit of a myth.

I have composed my own list of the differences between an employee and an entrepreneur. See if you agree – or feel free to add your own.

1. An entrepreneur focusses on opportunities (e.g. “I will find a way to make this happen because there is a lot to be gained”).

An employee focusses on limitations (e.g. “I couldn’t do that because I don’t have enough money”).

2. An entrepreneur will ‘feel the fear and do it [start a business] anyway’, knowing that there are no guarantees in life and you only fail if you don’t try.

An employee will let fear (“what if I don’t succeed?”) stop them from pursuing their dreams.

3. An entrepreneur is self-directed, and likes to set the rules.

An employee prefers beings told what to do by others.

4. An entrepreneur is an individual and somewhat of a rebel by nature.

An employee is a conformist, prefering to follow the status-quo.

5. An entrepreneur is interested in freedom.

An employee is interested in ‘security’.

6. An entrepreneur understands that risk is a necessary part of business and life.

An employee takes very few, if any, risks.

7. An entrepreneur can cope with uncertainty.

An employee is uncomfortable with uncertainty, and looks instead for guarantees.

8. An entrepreneur sees things that others don’t see.

An employee sees only what is infront of him.

9. An entrepreneur prefers to lead.

An employee prefers being led.

10. An entrepreneur focuses on being productive.

An employee focuses on being busy.

Enterprise and Social Networking

facebook.gifMy name is Lola, and I’m addicted to Facebook. There, I’ve said it! I’ve managed to wean myself off it a bit, but every time I go back and look at the mini-feed, I’m hooked again!

I was browing the various Facebook groups the other day, as you do, and it was great to see that there are many enterprising young people who are using it as a vehicle for promotion of their ventures. Far from just using social networking to chat to their friends, entrepreneurial twenty- and thirty- somethings (ok, there are some older ones too) are going further and actively pushing their business causes, concerns and ventures to their peer groups.

I know there are various companies, and probably even PhD students, doing research into the effects of such social networking sites on today’s society and it will be very interesting to see in 5 or 10 years what the impact of such sites has been. I think we’ll find that they have had quite a major impact on how people talk to each other and keep in touch. I wonder what their effect will be, if any, upon how people conduct, or even develop, business?

One great thing about social networking sites, in my view, is that they have given enterprising people yet another marketing channel and an easier way to interact with potential consumers, or colleagues. With Facebook for example, all you need to do is post or make a group and then keep adding content – Facebook will inform your friends or associates of your actions. That feed creates a stickiness which is one of the key aspects of Facebook that, in my opinion, makes it superior to MySpace. As we all know, with a website it’s up to you to keep people coming back.

But is it enough to market just to your peer group? From a business point of view can your online peer group (usually made up of people that you know in Facebook’s case) be turned into consumers – and ones that keep coming back for more?

What might be an interesting venture (if it doesn’t already exist and I’m sure it does in some form) is a business networking site which matches people or recommends friends/associates to you based upon your interests, preferences, and/or your particular business type. Say you were a business angel, looking for businesses to invest in, the site could provide you with a feed every day of which companies are looking for investment and encourage you to add them as a ‘friend’ and get in contact with them. Just an idea.

Who else out there is using social networking for business? What have your experiences been? Do let me know!!

Education, Education, Education!!

education1.jpgThis week I have rather occupied by the topic of education, as you may have noticed!

I’ve just seen an article on the BBC website which says that the National Curriculum is to be made more flexible “so that teachers can focus more on individual students’ needs”.

This is along the lines of what I’ve been talking about, and debating, this week: more emphasis on individual student needs, more holistic and rounded education, focussing on ‘softer’ skills. Interesting…

Go Venus!!

venus.jpgCongrats to Venus on winning Wimbledon – again! 

I love Venus and Serena Williams. They are a real inspiration to me. I was also very pleased to see that Serena writes out affirmations – just like I do! (See – I knew it had a purpose! lol)

These girls get a lot of criticism. Goodness knows why – and frankly who cares?! Personally I’m proud to see two sisters of colour come in and dominate tennis – a traditionally white, upper-middle class game – in the way they have. Glad to see them smashing their way through stereotypes and shaking things up!

Their father is a true visionary. He clearly saw way beyond the ‘limitations’ of being black and coming from Compton, from a very deprived area. Without even being a professional tennis player he took it upon himself to coach his girls to the top of their game. He believed he could do it, and he believed they could do it. He allowed nothing to stop him or his children in their quest for greatness.

If they can do it, none of us have an excuse for not reaching our potential!

I can’t wait to see them triumph even more!! Go Venus and Serena!!

Education…do we really need it?

school.jpgComing from a Nigerian family, it has been well pressed on me that an education is your passport to life. If any of you know any Nigerians, you’ll know that Nigerians LOVE to collect qualifications. The more the better!

My parents drummed it into my ears that I had to do well at school. And do well I did…I am very lucky to have benefitted from a fantastic education.

When I left university and stepped into the real world however, I was surprised to notice that it wasn’t always the most educated people who were the most well off. Being highly educated also didn’t mean that you’d be the most ‘intelligent’ or socially adept.

There are many different forms of intelligence, and in the big bad world, some of these – emotional intelligence for example – are actually more important and can get you further than just which university you went to. The formal education system, however, tends to focus on one type of intelligence, which is that of being able to successfully complete tests and exams. This can be very limiting for someone who has deeper skills in other areas.

I have met people who have just come out of prison who are highly intelligent and those with little formal education who are very good business people and make lots of money using their wits. Is a formal education overrated?

Admittedly I speak from the priviledged position of someone who has been well educated, and I’m not saying that people shouldn’t know how to read, write and have basic skills. However, above and beyond the necessary literacy skills is a formal education really that important? Is it the best way for people to learn and grow? Maybe young people could gain the necessary skills they need for real life in another way, or through a different type of ‘system’?

I ask these questions also because I have become increasingly sceptical about what the education system in its current form is designed to do. In many ways I feel that rather than encouraging people to be open minded, to be creative and to step into their greatness, many schools in fact do the total opposite.

They encourage conformity, adopting a one-size-fits-all approach that does not allow space for individual talents. Differences and uniqueness are suppressed whilst ticking boxes and fitting into a mould are welcomed. I feel that this is the reason why many talented young people, young Black men in particular, are falling by the wayside when it comes to schooling.

I sometimes wonder if the education system is designed to breed robots who will fill the society’s status quo and become part of the ‘rat race’, rather than becoming great leaders, visionaries and achievers – or just becoming more of who they are.

It is no surprise to me to hear that many very successful businessmen and entrepreneurs were not the top of their class, or did not finish school. Possibly finishing school may have suppressed those entrepreneurial urges, and they would have ended up working in an office…

I’m not saying that an education isn’t important. What I’m asking is what type of education is important, and what the real point of an education is beyond just passing tests. I’m also considering if there are alternatives to the current formal state education system that could generate better results…

I really love the Montessori school model and would be really interested in seeing how it might work in a secondary school setting. The Montessori method is one that promotes the individual child’s learning over and above that of the class as whole, so as to respect the individual’s own talents and needs. I love that as I believe that is what education should be about: learning rather than just teaching.

I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts on this too…. so please feel free to comment!