Dwarfed Sucess -Between Cooperation & Competition

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”  African Proverb

By Lateef Adewole

One of my readers once asked why I often made references to my interactions with friends in my writings. My answer was simple. That is one of the sources I learn a lot from and I am a “people’s’ person”. What does the last sentence mean? Most of the time, I love to deal with real people, real problems of human beings, and proffering solutions to them or outrightly solving them whenever I could or as soon as possible. That’s why I make my writings about what directly affect people, society and humanity at large.

In the businesses I am involved, our major focus is solving problems and serving the people. As I must have mentioned a few times, being in business of renewable energy and alternative power system, we are focused on being part of solving the perennial power problems that have plagued us in Nigeria and Africa as a whole. We have been doing our bits and hoped to continue to scale up to cover wider ground.

So, interactions with my friends are almost always about societal problems and possible solutions to them. This very article is another example. I was prompted to write this after a lengthy discussion I had with a friend within the week. Coincidentally, my team of Engineers actually went to solve his own solar and inverter systems problem. I followed them to have an opportunity to meet physically with him again after we parted about eight years ago in Kaduna where we lived together briefly in the same flat while we worked there.

After the usual catch-ups and going down memory lane, our interaction entered businesses and how people have been struggling to remain afloat. I gave myself as example of how I have struggled to get reliable financial partners for years. That was when he dived into his own bitter experience going into partnership with his long term friend who I happened to have met through him while we worked together in Abuja. I could not believe my ears.

To summarise it, the friend is an Engineer too, whose company is into construction. My friend and another of their friends decided to invest in the company with their money, time and their network of connections and contacts to get businesses and secure contracts for the company. Things began to turn around positively for the company and the owner. In no time, the owner started to get greedy. In just about one year of their collaboration, he cut my friend and others off and sat on the proceeds they made from their jointly executed contracts which ran into tens of millions.

My friend said he was devastated, because he already thought that could be one of his exit strategies in future since he is still an employee. I was shocked by his response when I asked what he did, being the brain behind the collaboration. He told me he simply let go and moved on, and did not even make any attempt to block him from all the contacts he introduced the company to. That was incredible. That was largeness of heart, a rare attribute in people today. More shocking was that, he was not deterred by that experience but only learned from it as he has started few others after. Surprisingly, that was not the first time such a thing would happen to him.

It is this kind of experience that have deterred many people from collaborating with others. They would rather “go solo”. Many such relationships have ended so badly or even fatal, where the cheated starts going after the life of the traitor or even vice-versal. This kind has affected some of us who genuinely need helps to expand our businesses through such collaboration. I am talking from personal experience. Many find it nearly impossible to trust others. It is a case of when the guilty are being punished, the innocent could share in the punishment.

But without such virile and viable collaboration, how far can individuals go in the journey of life in many aspects, and especially in business? I reckon that it’s not solely in business that collaboration exists or needed to go far, basically all aspects of our lives. Politics, sports, religion, and many aspects need it. That’s more of nature of human beings.

It’s only in academics that emphasis is laid more on individualism and independence, which in my opinion, also constitutes the failure of school system to solve many real societal problems. The rules applicable within the academic environment are opposite to the rules that guide the existence of human nature. This is an issue for another day. It is a concern about the educational system that I am passionate about. I will address this one of these days in future.

Like I earlier said, though, some people might have become outstanding going solo but the impact of such great achievement could be limited in nature. Many enduring legacies were often built with collaboration of people of like minds in history. The world history is replete with such successful and inspiring naratives but I will cite few instances at home.

The story of how Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) was birthed is one that often excites me. It was a conception of few young men in their thirties in the 1980’s. They were bankers and some of them are still bankers today. It was their collaboration that gave us a pride of bank we have today as GTB. Mr Fola Adeola and Tayo Aderinokun (late) conceived the idea and then actualised it in collaboration with some other young people like Femi Pedro, Femi Akingbe, Akin Opeodu, Gbolade Osibodu and others, who shared in their dream. The current GTB MD/CEO, Segun Agbaje joined the bank as far back as 1991.

Access Bank Plc is another intriguing story. Aigboje Aig-Imoukhuede, Herbert Wigwe, the current MD/CEO and some others were the brains behind a small bank that has swallowed many “bigger banks”. They were known and respected for their deft and dexterity in merger and acquisition. They have successfully done that in not less than eight African countries, acquiring more then fifteen banks. A recent prominent case in Nigeria was the Diamond bank plc.

In politics, this is very common. Although the greed that characterised politics in Nigeria do not create enabling environment for long lasting relationship. Many of them often eventually get on one another’s way, resulting in in-fighting and eventual competition among themselves for political largesse. Competition is good but must be positively driven for collective good, not the self-centered, “dog-eats-dog” type we often see.

I once saw a photograph that had three political titans of Ogun state politics in it. It depicted a collaboration effort to elect one of them. That must have been towards 2003 governorship election because, it was Otunba Gbenga Daniel (OGD) who was at the forefront. Senator Ibikunle Amosun held a megaphone in his hand for Gbenga Daniel while Mr. Dapo Abiodun stood beside them. OGD eventually won but we saw what happened when Amosun wanted to contest and take over from him in 2011. It was a tug of war but he eventually won with the support of Dapo Abiodun.

What happened in 2019 is still very fresh in our memories about how the same Amosun viciously worked against Dapo Abiodun from becoming the governor of Ogun state despite that they were in the same party. The Gbenga Daniel then supported Dapo Abiodun against Amosun, despite being in different party. This is classic example of collaboration vs competition. Their collaborations one way or the other have made each of them the governor of Ogun state.

The case of Rivers State is also relatable to that of Ogun state. Rt. Hon. Chibuike Amaechi, Governor Nyesom Wike, Sen. Magnus Abe, and Hon. Dakuku Peterside are quartet who cannot be pushed aside in Rivers politics in the past twenty years. Irrespective of the seeming political enmity among them now, these four worked together for many years, “running things” in Rivers state. Two have become two-term governors. One, a ranking Senator and the other was in the lower chamber of the national assembly for some years. They collaborated to attain all these heights, which individually, they might not have.

The duo of Peter and Paul Okoye of PSquare Group, was the best in Africa and one of the best in the world while the going was good. Where are they as individuals now? Struggling. Only Innocent 2Face Idibia survived and rose from the ashes of “The Plantashun Boiz”. Others only struggled endlessly after. Likewise many others in the entertainment industry globally.

In essence, what I am saying is that, the common trend among the younger ones of today, I could say from my generation, not to want you collaborate among themselves. They would rather compete for same thing which could have gone round had they collaborate for greater good. That was what happened to my friend who was betrayed by his partner. It has happened to me many times.

The consequences of such action is a dwarfed growth on development or success attained. At initial stage, such solo effort may seem to be carrying the individuals so far but in time, such efforts will begin to wane due to fatigue. It is at such points that other people’s efforts would have breathed life into such venture. Otherwise, the individual will begin to struggle to grow. If they are lucky, they might get marginal growth. They may remain stagnant or even start to decline in what the economists referred to as diminishing returns. Unhalted degrowth may lead to total death of such venture or career.

This could be seen in the desperate and ferocious political competitions that evolved in the examples I gave earlier. Had those people remained united, no force in the current dispensation will be able to uproot them, all other things being equal. Imagine the “combo” of Daniel, Amosun and Abiodun in Ogun state or Amaechi, Wike, Abe and Dakuku in Rivers State. “Dem no born anybody well!” (lol).

United we stand, divided we fall. The broom (I don’t mean that of APC o), is an example of what unity could do. We can see how companies struggle to survive because the owners tried to do all alone.

Why I believe that in spite of the risks that is inherent, collaboration, rather than bitter competition is better for all of us. By that, we can all go far and grow together in greatness. Of what use is wanting to outshine your contemporaries driven by selfish interests? The beauty of life is not how much you could accumulate in wealth or how successful you think you are but how many people you impact on their lives. What would each person wants others to remember them for after their passing? These are what life’s purposes should be. That’s what we should all strive to live for. That should be the essence of life and living!

However, when we go into collaboration or partnerships, we should do so with our eyes wide open. As they say in local parlance; “shine ya eyes”. In all our relationships and dealings, documentation is key. All agreements, roles and responsibilities, shared valued and interests, anything and everything that conjoined us together should be in black and white, once orally agreed upon. They must be legally documented.

We should do few things when going into such relationships. The agenda or focus or purpose must be clear. No ambiguity should be allowed. Different team members should have different set of skills that are complimentary. Or, of what use is everyone only knowing how to do the same thing? So, chose your team wisely. Also the relationship should be voluntary. No one should be coerced or manipulated in joining, no matter how lofty the objective is. There must be rules and regulations on do’s and don’t’s, rewards and punishments, to which all partners must agree and sign up to. Where there is no law, there is no sin.

Partners must be confortable with one another. Trust must be built over time and continuous growth in group confidence must be ensured. That’s where leaders come in to lead and guide in the journey.

There must be a leader, who is not necessarily the initiator of such collaboration but based on merit. Such a leader should also not be autocratic in his actions. When issues arise or decisions are to be made, it should be more democratic. All partners must be involved so as to prevent any feeling of marginalisation (a booze word in Nigeria’s political terrain).

There must be effective communication among team members. Information is key. All members or as many as necessary, should be carried along at any point in time. How the benefits or otherwise that may accrue in the process of the joint venture must be explicitly defined how they will be shared. Who gets what, when and how, should be agreed upon from the beginning before anything at all. “Owo lo n boju ore je” (money can cause rancour among hitherto bossom friends).

When partnership does not work, it is not sacrosanct to remain in it, to avoid further deterioration in your relationship with the rest. That is why exit clause must exist in the agreement from start. Everyone should know and understand when to say enough is enough, rather than resulting to threats to one another’s lives. Not all relationships are destined to work. Some people are destined to reach the pinacle of their success as individual, not in partnership.

These and many other considerations must be foundation upon which expectedly enduring collaboration needs to be built. The list is inexhaustible.

In all, we will always be better together than individuals. Together, we can move mountains.

May God continue to guide us aright.

God Bless Nigeria.

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