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Kazi Ya Mkono: The little celebrated secret to success


I was just about to leave the office when I decided to take a cursory final look at my social media – one for the road as they would have it. I came across this blogpost by a man I have great respect for, Erik Hersman.

As I read the post, I couldn’t help but nod emphatically and exclaim in the way of my Nigerian friends, “eheeee, now!”

Look, we need to get educated as a continent. 33 million kids who could be going to school in Africa, don’t. 37 million of those that do, come out at the end of 8 (or even 12 years) still functionally illiterate. Yes, there is a problem with our education system. Yes, governments across the world have continued to perform less than satisfactorily (even abysmally) in the education sector. The education sector is designed to create robots that regurgitate what they have memorised in school word-for-word without processing it. The sad fact of the matter is that a majority of graduates that walk around with masters degrees did not study for them.

I remember a story that Paul Kukubo told me about one of the days he was in class working on his masters degree and he happened to make reference to the Harvard Business Review. he was surprised to find that many of his classmates, who were all senior executives had not heard of the magazine. “Ha.. what?” they quizzed him as they tried to write it down. Many are the ones who don’t get their hands dirty and conduct their own research for their dissertations or projects – there are thriving underground businesses in places like Ongata Rongai and Juja where young smart people make money preparing these for “busy” managers.

And employers find themselves frustrated by having people who look great on paper, who speak really well at interviews and who it turns out have no problem solving skills, little creativity, overly political and whose best is usually a fraction of what they could really achieve. I often find it remarkable that senior executives come to work much earlier and leave much later than their staff. Is this an indication to something?

Last year as our business grew, we had to conduct interviews for new employees and almost every time, the well spoken, well-designed-paper-toting graduates with experience tended to be mediocre. On the other hand, more often than not, we have found that the self made “I-didn’t-go-to-uni-because-I-couldn’t-afford-it-but-i-taught-myself-and-I-want-to-learn-more” kind of guy or gal tends to be the highly effective hungry, learning experimenting type, who works hard.

We have since developed at policy at the Goode Group (and I have held it for many years longer) that we employ people not based on paper but based on knowledge, initiative and attitude. Every one starts out as an intern – even the executive. Everyone gets to be cameraman and gofer pulling wires and setting up screens at weddings and writing press releases from scratch. Everyone does photocopies and deliveries. Everyone cleans the office and makes lunch for everyone else. Everyone proves their worth.

As a result, we have some amazing young people working with us.



Take Catherine for example. I made the above meme making fun of her recently cooking for the office in which she works (there are more than 20 people who work at Thellesi Media). In all seriousness, she is one of the people I really admire. She started working for us when she was 21 – as intern. Interns get 3 months. After that she volunteered to stay on at almost no pay “to learn more” and she took on every challenge she was given. Within a year, she could not only do camera work (see below) but she had learned most of the administrative processes. She became operations manager before she was 23 and is now heading a subdivision of the company and I don’t think she is 25 yet. As a senior executive, she could easily have claimed to be too busy to cook for everyone  – and you can see in the meme that it is hard work and she is not very large bodied. She has had many instances where she could have excused herself from some hard menial work – because she is small bodied, because she is a girl or because she is an executive. Instead she is always at the front.

This is the sort of leadership and talent that we have as young people – if we would get over ourselves, get out from behind our papers and titles and strive to get work done. As Africans, we must re-establish our work ethic because our grandparents had it.

I tell people that there was a time when I worked four (even five jobs) – three of which tended to be menial. There was a time I walked everywhere in Nairobi because busfare could not be afforded and yet I had the vision of the impact I wanted – needed to have on the world.

10468071_792307714136595_7371935786103514041_nI know this now:

1. Smart people get smart because they do stuff physically
2. People who hold their papers to speak for them tend to be bad employees and bad workers. Good ones show results.
3. The ONLY way to succeed, is by doing menial KYM type jobs. Otherwise, we only seem to succeed.

Read Erik’s blog, its important. Also read about Kenya’s over-educated and unemployable youth and wherenver you are in Africa, examine yourself.

Share widely.

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