Wozniak Headlines MTN's Event on Inspiring Creativity

19 Feb 2014

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MTN has over the years sponsored leading global management consultants and scholars to share their experiences and insights with Nigeria’s business and government leaders. Raheem Akingbolu writes that the company seems to have moved it up a notch by inviting an innovator and co-founder of Apple, Steve Wozniak, this year

The discipline of management has grown in scope and importance since the days of the legendary Peter Drucker, the man credited with being the father of modern management. Indeed, so important is the discipline today that the world’s most successful organisations rely considerably on the counsel of management consultants. NGOs, religious organisations and even nation-states are not to be left out. They have come to realise that there is considerable value in the counsel of the management consultant.

Management consultants tend to possess an uncommon ability to polish the environment and get insights into strategy. But they enjoy another advantage. In the course of their consulting work, they become privy to a multiplicity of issues across several organizations, industries and even geographies. Insight garnered from all of these sundry circumstances, accumulate to form one massive knowledge and experience bank from which the consultant dispenses counsel to audiences, now and again.

Business people and management scholars who have read the books or listened to presentations of such much sought-after consultants as Michael Porter, Tom Peters, Ram Charan and Pat Utomi, would agree that a great deal of their management counsel is laced with first-hand experience garnered from their consulting careers.

This is a huge plus and is perhaps the reason why MTN has over the years chosen to invite such world-leading consultants to come share their knowledge and insights with local business and public sector leaders in what it calls the “leadership series”.

This year, however, the company appears to have deviated from this long-standing practice. This year, the company is inviting Steve “Woz” Wozniak to deliver its annual lecture in Nigeria. Wozniak is an electrical/electronics engineer, not a university professor or a management consultant. Instructively, though, Wozniak is no ordinary engineer. He is indeed, one of the world’s pre-eminent innovators.

Wozniak it was, who with Steve Jobs co-founded Apple.

Said Steve Jobs, on first meeting Steve Wozniak: “Woz was the first person I’d met who knew more electronics than I did.” The two Steves would go on to create formidable synergies with their partnership. Wozniak was the electronics inventor and genius and Jobs, the business and design impresario.

Wozniak was the main designer of Apple I and its sequel, Apple II. The Apple organisation which the two Steves founded is credited with revolutionizing the personal computer industry. In a remarkable shift from the status quo, Apple II was designed to be usable by just about anybody. It incorporated a central processing unit, a keyboard, a floppy disc drive and very importantly, colour graphics. No longer did you need to have knowledge of programming language to use a computer. The combination of the colour graphics and the user-friendliness actually made the act of using a computer, “cool”. Little wonder, therefore, that Apple II quickly became the first commercially successful line of personal computers.

Wozniak’s profile as an inventor has been long recognized by his peers and the technology industry. In 1985 he was awarded the National Medal of Technology by the US President. This is the highest honour that the US bestows on the country’s leading innovators. And in 2000, he was inducted into the Inventors Hall of Fame and awarded the Heinz Award for Technology, The Economy and Employment for “single handedly designing the first personal computer and directing his lifelong passion for mathematics and electronics toward lighting the fires of excitement for education in students and their teachers.” (sic)

Wozniak’s physical presence in Nigeria is sure to inspire millions of technology-inclined Nigerians. His testimony of singular dedication to technology and the result of that commitment, tell a story that is too powerful to ignore.

But Wozniak will also be signposting a phenomenon which previous global management icons have expressed over the years: The critical essence of education. How pivotal a role an educated citizenry plays towards the social and economic emancipation of every society.

Ram Charan, the highly influential management consultant who was MTN’s guest at last year’s lecture, made such a case for Nigeria’s human capital. According to Charan, countries with high GDP all tend to have a number of similar characteristics: One they are perpetually upgrading the skills of their people, especially the critical people because it is not nations that innovate, but individuals. Two, such countries adopt a philosophy of continuous innovation. In today’s world, said Charan, it has never been easier to innovate as “you can buy, copy or license innovation.” Thirdly, such nations have adopted the philosophy of continuous productivity.

Michael Porter before Charan, who is best known for his work in the area of competitive strategy was also unequivocal in his admonition to Nigeria to develop and harness its human resources if the country is to overcome its current circumstances and takes a pride of place amongst its peers in the world. Porter spoke about the five forces that shape industry competition, namely: rivalry among existing competitors, bargaining power of buyers, bargaining power of suppliers, threat of new entrants as well as threat of substitute products or services.

Porter would add that the basis of national competitiveness had shifted from a country’s natural resources to the creation and assimilation of knowledge. Corporations within countries can help to stimulate national competitiveness said Porter, and such corporations would in turn benefit from having strong local rivals, aggressive home-based suppliers as well as difficult-to-please customers. Nations, counseled Porter, need to hone their local advantages, if they are to become globally competitive.

But to be accurate, Wozniak will not be the first innovator to grace MTN’s leadership podium, even though it is unarguable that he is the first technology innovator to do so. Before him was David Plouffe, the man credited with the innovative wizardry behind the Barrack Obama 2008 historic campaign for the presidency of the US. Plouffe combined traditional campaign approaches with the novel and unconventional, deploying the then still nascent social media to devastatingly impactful effect. The innovativeness of the campaign helped to turn Obama’s catchphrases such as “Yes, we can” into memorable and lovable messages that the whole world trusted and believed in.

The Woz will be the first ever technology inventor and innovator all in one to take a place on the leadership podium and avail us of his global insights and counsel. At a time when it is generally acknowledged that Nigeria is a country bustling with raw talent, talent which needs to be systematically nurtured in order to unleash true economic value, the visit could not have been well timed.

His invitation would appear to be underscored by the need to marry the theories of the management consultants with the practice of the technological inventor and innovator.

Such has been the nature of the leadership lecture series over the years that today, analysts and management enthusiasts alike must be looking forward to how uniquely Wozniak will strive to bring empiricism into the lecture series.

How, for instance, will he demonstrate the essence of innovation as a driver of economic growth and development? Will he use the example of himself and his famed partnership with “the other Steve”, namely Steve Jobs, the man with whom he jointly founded the Apple Corporation?

Very likely, yes. In so doing he will likely share the need for synergy in partnerships as his partnership with Jobs so clearly demonstrated. He played the role of the technical powerhouse in this partnership in which Jobs was the business and creative arrowhead.

It will be interesting to hear out Wozniak’s analysis of Nigeria’s prospects of innovation especially in the technology space. It would be interesting to hear his views on the prospects of Nigeria’s massive army of young people and how best we can set the latent potential of this formidable group on fire.

Tags: Featuered, Nigeria, Business, MTN

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