Your Neighbours Matter
At certain times, entry-level graduates ask me for advice on career paths. Some desire to choose between job offers and request to know which one has the best prospects. All things being equal, I ask them to choose the company with the best brand. Sometimes these companies pay slightly less, but I tell them not to be deterred because it would not matter in the long run.
I advise this because nothing beats being surrounded by the best talents. Big brands have the best talents jostling to get a piece of what the company offers. And having to hold your own against these people is not just good for your personal development, but also for your career future. You do not only have established and experienced hands you can look up to, but also peers to challenge you. These would prove useful as you go along in life. As I pointed out in my last book review, one of the biggest myths in entrepreneurship is that young people are building lasting companies at a rate more than other age brackets. Data disprove that; the most successful age bracket in entrepreneurship is 40–45. In fact, data shows that a 60-year-old start-up founder has roughly three times higher chance of creating a valuable business than a 30-year-old start-up founder.
For instance, I manage projects for a company where 2021 external audit carried out by an auditor appointed by a US government agency reads in part,
“…their understanding of best practice, strong institutional capacity, the ability of their staff to support projects efficiently and cost-effectively and their knowledge and experience…are a cutting edge that can hardly be found anywhere else in Nigeria.”
There is a lot to be gained in working in such an organization.
Here is my point: It is crucial to move to a place where you have the best chance of improving yourself. Big, established brands have the best chance at giving you that. At this stage in your life, you are a blank slate — school taught you nothing about how the world works — so the earlier you start understanding how the office, business, and life work, the better. You get a huge advantage.
There is a reason the biggest brands produce the most number of employees who go on to establish other successful companies. Just google the number of successful businesses started by ex-Fortune500 companies. I have heard some business owners say they wish they started their businesses earlier. Well, that’s not what data say. Data say they vastly underestimate the knowledge they have gained while working. Data say it is difficult to put a monetary value on it.
Being involved in a community where your mind is expanded is without question the best thing anyone can do. I had been in Lagos when I was a kid, mostly to places like Agege, Idimu and Egbeda. Of course I noticed the hustle-and-bustle and how chaotic it was compared to the calm life of Ilorin. But in terms of making me dream, Iyana Ipaja wasn’t much to inspire anyone. However, when I walked the streets of Marina and Victoria Island after graduation, I realized there was much I had not witnessed in life. My mind expanded throughout the time I took the lifts of the 10-floor building of St. Peter’s House.
Have you wondered about child-raising? Recent research shows that parents worry too much about their kids and that most of what they worry about makes little difference in how their children turn out. Breastfeeding matters, but not as much as we think. Musical instruments matter, but not as much as we think. Exposure to TV and books matters, but not as much as we think. Playing cognitively demanding games such as chess matters, but not as much as we think. Bilingual education matters, but not as much as we think. The overall effects of everything a parent does are smaller than most expect, and most of the decisions parents worry about don’t have a measurable impact on how a kid turns out. By far the most important factor in the determination of how a child turns out is the neighbourhood where that child is raised. Children are learning machines. Where you choose to raise a child will have at least a 25% effect — by far the largest factor observed — on how a child turns out. By choosing that neighbourhood, you have chosen those who would teach your child how life should be lived. It takes a village to raise a child. You do not need to sit down and teach for a child to learn from you. By seeing you come and go, a child is learning your perspective of what life was, what life is, and what life in the future would be.
It is the same with countries. One of the reasons I am pessimistic about the greatness of Africa is because of geography. Your neighbours matter. Look at the region of East Asia (not Eastern Asia). Despite decades of setbacks and turmoil, it is now one of the world’s most economically prosperous and technologically advanced regions in the world. Made up of just 6 territories — Japan, South Korea, Mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau — it is the site of some of the world’s most extended modern economic booms, including the Japanese economic miracle (1950–1990), Miracle on the Han River (1961–1996) in South Korea, the Taiwan miracle in Taiwan (1960–1996) and the current economic boom (1978–2015) in Mainland China. The average GDP per capita between them is above $30,000. The prosperity of Japan propelled the others. I once told a friend that if North Korea ditches its folly and embraces the market, from a GDP per capita of $618 — much lower than Nigeria’s at $2100 — on its vicennial anniversary (20 years), it would have a GDP per capita of at least $5000 and be on its way to $25,000 in another 20 years. The effect of a great neighbourhood.
Great neighbours raise the standard of everyone around. Bad neighbourhoods do the opposite. Look at Africa. Look at Nigeria. The self-described Giant of Africa is surrounded by Niger (GDP per capita of $2000), Chad ($615), Cameroon ($1500), and Benin ($1300). These are a set of uninspiring countries. Nigeria, with its dwindling economic standards, can still look at itself and say it is not doing so badly. Which solidly middle-income country can Nigeria aspire to within its region? Accept it or not, the alignment of countries in North Africa with the Middle East has improved their economic fortunes. There is Saudi Arabia ($20,500) to aspire to. There is Qatar ($59,500). There is the United Arab Emirates ($35,000). There is Kuwait ($26,000). There is the lesser-known but solid Oman ($16,500). No wonder, North Africa has the highest standard of living in Africa. It’s not a coincidence.
But Nigeria — with Africa’s largest population by far — which should lead the way has its most prominent minister — arguably the most well-read intellectual in the present government — come on air to say even though the country’s GDP has shrunk by 20% within the last 7 years it is not doing badly compared to other countries around. The world has come to embrace the soft bigotry of low expectations on our behalf: expect less from Nigeria because they are disadvantaged due to *insert whatever excuse*.
Conquest helped Europe and the Americas. At the height of its powers, Great Britain, propelled by the industrial revolution, lifted the whole of Europe and created great neighbours. It went to the Americas and established territories that may match its development — hence the United States and Canada. Such conquests have been outlawed in our world today. All that remains is for countries and peoples to take their destinies into their hands.
But be never mistaken that who and what you surround yourself with matters — whether in economic development, parenting, career, or personal development.