(A few) More things they don’t teach you at Lagos Business School

by Tolu Ogunlesi

This is the second and final installment of a series that started in the preceding edition of this column. Read it HERE

THE LAW OF WISDOM-SHOPPING

You’ve heard of window-shopping. This is ‘wisdom-shopping’ – on the streets of the City. If you’re a Lagosian the lists below will probably look familiar:

Automobiles:

NO PEACE FOR THE WICKED | NO CONDITION IS PERMANENT | NO FOOD FOR LAZYMAN | THE LORD IS MY SHEPHERD | MA TOYOTA EST FANTASTIQUE | HONESTY IS THE BEST POLICY | ALLAHU AKBAR | SEXY MAMA | BLACK IS BEAUTY | MORE BLESSING | NO SHAKING | CARRY GO | OVER TO GOD | THE PROMISE OF GOD

Street Art:

This Propaty is not 4 Sale | Post No Bill | Do Not Urinate here | Military Zone. Keep Off | Beware of Dogs | Caveat Emptor | Cars park at owners’ risk | Need a borehole? Call 08014005000 | June 12 is non-negotiable | Soldier come Soldier go | One good term deserves another. | M.K.O is our man | Food is Ready! | This land is not for sale. Beware of 419.

These inscriptions – presented in a random, infinite slideshow – come together to represent the city’s Operating Manual; laden with ideas, guidance, warning, humor, street-wisdom, and an ever-evolving ‘biography’ of the City. This Manual is the city’s Sacred Book, the one it understands and responds to most readily.

Look to those walls and vehicles and billboards for wisdom, humour, guidance in a land full of confusion. But this wisdom is available only to those who care to pause to absorb them. So how does one apply this in business?

In all of the haste and hustle, amidst all the bustling and brainstorming, the scheming and the strategy sessions, learn to pause. Learn to listen, to the voice of the street, the insights that the city auto-generates and releases in silent, lightless bursts.

The answer you need is most likely not very far away. Learn to look in the most unlikely places. Glean original inventory management strategies from closely watching the sachet-water seller; pricing techniques from the suya-man; risk management from the lunatic who looks left, right, left and right again before crossing the road. Learn that you can write the biography of the typical Lagos Street from studying the several generations of posters (overlaid carefully to create a compelling hierarchy) adorning its walls.

From the dirty water stubbornly pushing its way through a blocked drain, glimpse a solution to that nagging cash-flow problem; and from the coarse ‘poetry’ of the bus conductor, learn something about effective business ‘communi-action’…

THE LAW(LESSNESS) OF LANES

Business = 99% perspiration + 99% perception

Lagos is full of confusion. Lanes vanish and reappear in traffic in a way that makes you think cosmic powers are busy playing mischief-ridden chess with the cars. Suddenly two lanes become one – or three – so that cars that once thought themselves comfortably ahead can only watch ruefully as they slip to the end of a line that, moments ago, didn’t exist.

How much more confusing can it get in a system in which you’re only a moment away from being in the wrong lane? Isn’t it frustrating to see the dormant lane you’ve just abandoned suddenly come alive, while the one you’re poised to enter becomes, equally suddenly, a ‘red lights’ district?

Behind the actions that determine the level of chaos in a system (apart from the kind of chaos outside the powers of the system, e.g. natural disaster) are the ‘perceptive’ abilities (levels of observation, judgment, insight) of the people that make up the system.

You will tend to mis-behave (and even influence others to misbehave) to the degree that you misjudge a situation or scenario. It is therefore important to seek to develop your power of perception to a level where it will not be easily led astray by illusions.

No one is able to deploy perfect perceptiveness all of the time. It is not humanly possible. But you can learn to hone your powers of observation; you can improve your chances of efficient ‘Instinctive Thinking’ (IT).

There comes a point when, after driving on a particular road long enough, you gain an experience and confidence that allows your instincts to guide you in choice of lane. You know when to be patient, and when jettisoning patience is the wise thing to do. It is not something explicable, or analyzable, but it is possible. And it takes lots of practice, lots of errors, and lots of hanging in there even when the temptation is to throw in the towel.

Perception, like Perspiration, is Everything – in Lagos, and in Business.

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