The Chinese Bamboo Tree and the Zimbabwean App Developer: the Difference Is in the Perspective
Excellence in business goes beyond just motivation, it requires adequate business education.
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Image Credit:
Obi Gospel
Founder of IABC Africa
1st October, 2019
5 mins read
Opinions expressed by IABC contributors are their own.

I am both – a motivational speaker and a business coach. I have learned the huge lesson of drawing the line between both. Motivation is good for take-off, continued growth, and sustenance of an enterprise but you need the right tools and a perfect blend of strategies to excel.

Every building has a base, every tree has at least one root and every structure has a foundation. While the foundation remains the paramount strength of any structure, it is hidden within. The glory of any structure is not in its foundation, it is in the magnitude of its elevation. There is no glory in being a local champion. There is no glory in being large without being productive either.

Where should a startup business channel its focus? Local Market or International Market! 

The answer is – It depends! Let's take two striking stories analogically here - The Chinese Bamboo tree and the App developer in the streets of Zimbabwe.

The story of the Chinese bamboo is a regular motivation for new startup founders. A Chinese bamboo tree, when planted stays under the soil without showing up on the surface of the earth for four years. On the fifth year, however, it springs forth for the first time. After six weeks of springing forth, it grows to about 80 to 90 feet tall. The story of the bamboo tree tells much about patience and persistence. The Chinese bamboo farmer must continue to water the bamboo for four years consecutively even without seeing the offshoot. He must believe in his seed and work persistently to see it come alive. He needs not to upturn the ground to check if something is actually happening with his bamboo seed – or, perhaps if it may have been eaten up by the ants or it’s badly damaged by other elements – he needs not to worry about that. He anchors his faith in the potency of his bamboo seed. It will spring forth in the fifth year and for that reason, he waits anxiously. In the first four years of the Chinese bamboo’s seedling, it will be busy taking roots - running its rooting system far into the ground and roundabout itself. The four years period grants it enough space of time to develop a sophisticated root network. In the fifth year, it springs forth for the first time above the earth's surface and in the next six weeks, it is about 80 to 90 feet high about the ground - a wonder to all that beholds it at the time. The six weeks feet growth came about by the developed strong root system/network. The Chinese Bamboo tree first tries to understand its underground network and how best to fit in and deepens its root system before it aspires to spring forth above the earth's surface and beyond bounds. This can be ascribed as an analogy for starting within reach (your local community and others), then going beyond bounds (say, international) later.

On the other hand, let's imagine a Zimbabwe App Developer who just finished acquiring skills on how to develop a financial app. Charged by his business coach ‘to capture them young’, he launched into his local market. After 2 years of trying to get a meaningful number of subscribers (apart from his sympathetic friends and relatives) without fruition, he discovered that the reason was that for one to effectively utilize his app, the person actually requires a given level of financial literacy which is deficient in his local community in Zimbabwe at the time. Two challenges emerged and began to seek for preeminence, that is, which should come first in dealing with – Solving the financial literacy deficiency in his Zimbabwean community or getting a larger international market for his product which is now market-ready. After considerable deliberations, he was led to partner that same year with a Southern African telecom giant who was wowed by the product and used its far-reaching and already developed network to get the app to where they were actually needed - South Africa. In the next quarter, he’s actually gotten millions of daily users and hundreds of thousands of paid subscribers. In his very words, “The firm’s growth came like in twilight”, he never anticipated it.

With this achieved, he went back to solve the problem of financial literacy in the local community as one of his firm’s corporate social responsibilities and thereafter got his product the largest share of the market from his Zimbabwean community. In his words, during an event to the five years anniversary of the firm and to celebrate his philanthropic gestures towards the community, he said, “I would have lost out in the game if I started fighting for financial literacy here in the community first, but now I have achieved both and in less time.” This is an analogy for going beyond your local market from the onset. This also entails a wider vision.

Summarily, stories can be used to buttress points, teach lessons, and inspire people but when it leaves the audience practically aroused and with no definite step(s) to take next in their business journey or vision pursuit, it can be likened to just a motivational talk (like what you have in this post) and not a practical business development expose. After this manner, ZigZiglar said, motivation is like bathing the more often the better.

Business development exposes are different, however, as they seek to provide the audience with practical 'next-step' and 'step-by-step' solutions to daily problems. In its delivery, various school of learning emerges; none supersede the other but complement to meet the entrepreneur’s ever-rising and evolving desire to provide solutions to societal problems.

As business coaches or mentors, we need not be just open-ended while rendering business lessons like most business coaches of these days in their so-called 'free live video business tips'. Their goal is to get as many followers as possible but not to replicate themselves. The ultimate aim of a teacher, however, is to replicate himself in his students, that is, to build men who see things the way he sees them, who react to things the way he will react to them, and who take steps in like manner.

Every Business leader has his tweaks and unique difference. Some can work comfortably with friends, while others may go for distant fellows. Some [like me] go for long hours with minimal leisure, some strike for equitable balance. Actually, that’s the flavor of leading – people with similar traits follow. As a business leader, your followers must be able to underpin your possible reaction(s) to each situation they face and try to replicate your supposed response in a bid to deal with their daily business hurdles even with you in absentia.

A business leader should be very practical, telling the audience why they should do what they do, the result to expect, reasons for digression and disparity in expected results, how to handle them with less ease, with practical ways to solve business daily hurdles. He is never apologetic in his approach nor is he ‘orthodoxly’ dogmatic.

While it is easy for us to say that foreign modules have not delivered on all of its a priori expectations, we need not strike out completely its preeminence and overall significance in our today’s economy.

In conclusion, there is nothing wrong with starting or being local, but being or going international is quite extraordinary and intriguing.

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