China, a country once known for producing imitiations of popular brands at a cheaper and faster rate is now known as a country at the frontier of innovation and technology.
New products, platforms and services are being created, enabled and driven by innovation and technology with the help of opportunity mapping.
Mapping and capturing opportunity is very vital in creating innovation and this should be done with respect to the target market needs and the cultural context in which they live in.
Societies are different even with the speed and power concentration created by globalization. Have you ever wondered why hero larger beer is a popular brand in the south-east and south-south regions of Nigeria, well it is because it was culturally designed in its packaging and Communication?
Mapping this cultural opportunity is one of the means by which China is growing as an innovative hub.
As Nigerians we all know about the Alaba market dominated by Igbos of the south-east and the production of goods in which many see as counterfeit products, maybe some are but many are just imitiations that can be made better with adequate money being pumped into the production.
Many products are created as a cheaper alternative to the original versions and similar names or the exact names of popular brands are placed on it. When will we start taking pride in our locally made products and encourage better inputs in order to generate quality and innovative output?
This same dilemma of pure imitation is what is being seen in the startup space in Nigeria, everyone is just out to copy what has been made probably because of the comfort it offers but does it really offer comfort because of the government always changing regulation.
One necessary question to be asked is how can we rise above imitiations and produce a value that transcends any unnecessary government regulation and open doors to new market outside Nigeria.
China did not wake up one morning to change the perception of inferior products or imitiations product, in fact, they are still fighting it through actions, marketing and communications, nation branding and other activities work together to fight the narrative and change perception and that is something we can borrow to change the perception of Alaba Market and even startup competing in already saturated markets.
Nigeria can learn a lot from the Chinese in terms of changing the narrative and not subtly selling the country. There is a lot of learnings from them and one of them is what is killing startups and even the Alaba Market in Nigeria which is government policies and regulations.
Favourable government policies and regulations should be formulated towards aiding innovation. Private companies and individuals cannot develop innovation solutions without the environment for it to thrive.
The lack of a friendly and enabling environment kills ideas and innovation. The Government has to come up with innovation-driven programmes and policy to help change the narrative. This provision of an enabling environment would also attract more investors as doubts would be removed.
Another area where we can learn from China is utilizing our population size to our advantage. We all know that we have no accurate population size in Nigeria but the speculated numbers are enough to be utilized.
The market size provides the potential for growth whenever an innovative solution is created with Mass appeal even though it is marketed initially as the solution for a particular set of people.
However, more than half of Nigerians belong to the poverty line. The emergence of this current generation is trying to force the increase in wealth distribution and cause the increase in middle-class families but obstacles keep raising to kill that initiative. Finding a way to tap into this market size is very important for innovative solutions to thrive.
There is one other important area where we can learn from China in order to make innovation thrive which is the creation of a unique business model created with our market in mind.
Like earlier stated, our culture and way of living are quite different from the westerners who thrive on individualism. Collectivism is our manner of living. That thinking that no man or no woman is an island and needs support from family or associations and groups they belong to.
What this means is that for innovation to thrive we need to view it from a cultural lens and create solutions that would generate social proof. Solutions that would gain social validation from the society would thrive faster than any other solution.
Also, while considering business model suited to the Nigerian environment, one must consider the Igbo Apprentice system where someone is brought from the village to learn to trade and after some years is given money to start up his or her own business while these systems might not be the best, it works and also has its merits and demerits especially if you are working with a bad boss.
This is an example of an existing business model in Nigeria that is within a particular culture and can be studied in order to create better versions that work within a culture.
Applying all or some of this learnings can change the way business is being done and the manner in which innovation fails in Nigeria. It can bring about a positive change to innovative practice and solutions.