Iyinoluwa Aboyeji: Learning the long-term game in a short-term Nigeria (YNaija FrontPage)

Having a long term view to things requires a sophisticated understanding of how the world has and continues to evolve. I belong firmly in the school of thought that believes history repeats itself.


A ‘G’? I ride with you for free

I want the long-term riches and b***es

–          Jay Z ft Memphis Bleek “Coming of Age”



For a country with a long history of awkwardly named five-year development plans, we Nigerians tend to have a penchant for annoyingly short-term thinking – and I have a feeling that might have a lot to do with where we are today.

One would think given our country is so steeped in perpetual suffering we would have the patience to stick through the temporary sacrifice that is needed to make something out of this country. Instead we stumble from bad decision to bad decision inspired by short-term thinking. I don’t think it is necessary or useful for me to re-enumerate the many ways we tend to do this or the ways this tends to bite us in the ass. However, I will share a few methods that have worked very well for helping me think long-term.

I believe the first step to getting your thinking geared towards long-term is to actively study and understand the past. Having a long-term view to things requires a sophisticated understanding of how the world has and continues to evolve. I belong firmly in the school of thought that believes history repeats itself. More so, our people say, it is difficult to know where you are going, if you have no idea where you are coming from. Since I graduated last month, I have invested a fair bit of my free time reading non-fiction books that give a good overview of what happened in the world over the last millennia. Two of those books I highly recommend are the Empire of Civilization: The Evolution of an Imperial Idea by Brett Bowden and The Ascent of Money: A financial history of the world. In the specific context of Nigerian, I don’t have many good suggestions but I have heard that Oil, Politics and Violence by Max Siollun is a good read. (I’ll be happy to hear about more in the comments).You cannot have a grasp on the future without a good understanding of the past.

Something else that has worked very well for me in developing a view of the long term is working with young people in intergenerational solidarity. I realize this advice might seem ironic on some level because young people, mostly driven by the YOLO (you only live once) mantra, aren’t particularly role models for long-term thinking but I find that in general interacting with younger people gives me a clearer and more realistic view of the future. Unfortunately, most Nigerian parents think very little about the strongly held opinions of their children and very few bother to talk to their children when there are no errands to bark out at them. Few Nigerian business men take time to mentor young people just starting out in their industries. As a result instead of the intergenerational solidarity that makes for long-term thinking, we have a quickly worsening generational divide. Mentoring young people will help to constantly remind you of the future.

Another tip for thinking long-term is to build a set of internally consistent heuristics that focus you on the long-term. For example, whenever I am forced to make a business assumption (which as an entrepreneur, you tend to do often), I always ask myself, how can I make this true for a 100 years? Another question I evaluate my efforts by is “what could this be in 100 years”. I won’t live to be a 100, but assessing the things I do according on a long-term scale certainly helps me become more aware of the need for long-term decision-making.

My final note of advice for thinking long term is to imbibe a culture of delayed gratification. In Nigeria, our consumer culture has really dealt us a heavy hand and it can all be traced to our lack of long term thinking. For example, in Nigeria, when we think of saving, we think about it in context of saving for “the rainy day”. We need to think about our investments of time and money in the same way we think of the seed sowing made popular by the churches. Our sacrifices of time and money today will make sure we lead tomorrow, today.


Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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  1. In the specific context of Nigeria, I'll also recommend Untapped: The Scramble for Africa's Oil by John Ghazvinian.

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