Ideas, Talk, Talent

Ideas ruled the world. I thought so, I believed it, and delighted in unveiling and polishing mine where I had them filed. There were many secrets to making money, I was privy to quite a number. If ideas were cash, I was a billionaire at 19. I felt rich even if reality offered no remorse. One day, somehow, even without any pointed effort from me, I would be really rich, own businesses, live the good life because I had those fabulous ideas. I know better now. And I protected my darlings. I was aggrieved if someone came up with anything close — my attention turned to seek the latest newness. Surely, when the time came, just that one distinctly rare (and therefore, precious) idea would fetch money off the market just by my revealing it. Example: I generated 21 ways a campus restaurant could improve its sales, met with the manager, and sprinted through my list (he must have tired at idea #6/7 but endured it all). At the end, he offered his sincere compliments and a plate of their fried rice. Nah, my goodies were more than food. I refused it.

Talk is cheap. I talked when I felt I knew better than my audience, that was in the days before I found myself with more questions than answers. I envied the ones who could talk. I aspired to talk. If I said anything about my ideas or the faintest of it to anyone, it was done. It died. It was to my mind as if I had executed my plans and it got ticked off my to-do. I get people like me gain our most energy from solitude, from reflecting, not from grandstanding. Talk is cheap except you get paid for it. Obviously.

But talent is cheaper than table salt (it’s Mr. Stephen King, again). Ah, that. I sang, acted, danced, rapped, wrote R&B, rap, rock, gospel, even Yoruba. I debated philosophies, designed new businesses, invented skits, discovered new foods (egg fried with honey), made photo-greeting cards off my landscape photography hobby, designed clothes and tried to sew them, wrote poetry, edited magazines and books. Surely, the world would pay handsomely for these goodies. I was over-loaded, it seemed, and there was no way under the sun I wouldn’t do well in life just for my talent. I realized many things in the sun while hawking powdered milk in the open market, dressed adamantly with shirt tucked in.

My conclusion? Ideas, talk, and talent are all cheap. They are nothing without the spirit to execute them. Courage, gumption, humility, daring, faith, discipline are more important than all or any of those. It is why those stuck on and puffed up with those three work for simple folks whose. The ideas still emerge from time to time, but my trust isn’t in them. Anyone near or far could and would have the same or far better ones. Talk is draining most of the time. I now know better to do the work, and only open my mouth only when necessary — not for fear of ‘dream-stealers’, but for the prudence of conserving my resources. And then, I may be able do many things but that is no guarantee for significance. Skill, not talent, is my goal. Mastery is what attracts and produces value, while talent gets its deserved applause.

Ideas, talk, talent. Faith, gumption, humility, daring, discipline, execution.

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Betting the future

Banners announcing new betting shops or franchises are the fastest appearing in Lagos, second only to those of new churches and the latest church programmes. Young men (and maybe women) everywhere hold on to their printed bet receipts awaiting a turn of fortune. I have tried to understand this revived, reinvented phenomenon and here articulate my first thoughts on how it affects us.

How does betting work? Boiled down to the basics, the betting operator

  • aggregates funds from masses of people
  • pays out a part of it to a lucky few
  • goes away with his (or her) margin

The whole arrangement is rigged in favour of the operator. Sure, erstwhile deprived folks stumble on big breaks, some may even be made once and for all. Or at the minimum, win packets of cash on a regular basis to take care of the running cost of living in Lagos or present day Nigeria. But let me attempt to lay out some potential positives.

Thumbs up

  • Money to feed
  • Money to create capital for other investment or business (potentially)
  • Increases commerce in creating more betting businesses
  • More jobs, more employment opportunities for attendants
  • Increased sale and consumption of internet bandwidth
  • More tax, internally generated revenue for government in VAT, income tax, and business tax

Thumbs down

Yes, obviously the few get rich at the expense of the many (isn’t that like all of capitalism?). But there is a more serious problem with the arrangement.

Sports betting is an easy way to make money without creating or transmitting value, without going through the processes of creating and delivering value, from demand to supply; from transforming resources — physical, intellectual, creative, cultural — from one form to another appreciated by a certain market. Cash obtained by betting replaces that essential equation. Payouts are teasing baits that keep the punter (the one who bets) hooked to the programme while promising even better days ahead.

Bet winners lose touch with those skills to create, deliver, multiply, and manage wealth. The time and energies (physical but more importantly emotional, intellectual, creative energies) are expended on betting cycles: find available bets > place bet > monitor bet > if win, rejoice, do more betting; if lose, depressed, do more betting! These same resources required for productive, value creating work by promising minds are expended by our hope for a better Naija occupied all day or the most of it concentrating on the winning horse or dog at the Meriana race or the scores of the upcoming soccer fixtures that night or weekend.

You need enormous amounts of intellectual, creative and physical efforts sustained over time to gain mastery in any field — whether white collar, blue collar, everything in between. Concentration must be sustained for hours per time over a period before you change from a rookie presented with just facts or tools to a master who begins to deal with insight, continually finding hidden connections between things, gaining efficiencies, discovering the ‘tricks’ of the trade. In short, what experts call ‘gaining mastery’. No young man (or woman!) can gain mastery while distracted all day calculating, anticipating, agitating over the millions he could make from the bets he placed or worse reeling from a near-miss from winning a hundred-million naira. Would he be so inspired to work hard the next day or the next ones at his office or workshop?

You may win more money than you ever put in but that’s the game: you lose whether you win or do not win — and what you lose isn’t money. It is time, and the miraculous resources of emotional and creative energy you would have expended to do more, to create real wealth. And on a collective scale, we all lose. I lose what I would have gained if my brother deployed all his resources to create a better product or service for us.

I say sports betting, though it appears to solve our immediate economic needs, robs us of our future and should be ignored. Unfortunately, the current economic situation aids this practice, and only a few will stop and think. Many will laugh. I should face reality. I do, and that is why I choose to ignore sports betting and rest my hopes of a better life by focusing my energies on my work. We should bet only by steadfast work, believing in Providence to reward us.