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Zim and the culture of mediocrity

There is not a single country in recorded history that ever became an economic giant when it chose the path of mediocrity. It’s a three-tier world: the rest, the best and those who better their best.

The Human Capital Telescope Brett Chulu

In fact, the highest form of patriotism is excellence. Mediocrity is the highest form of treason. It’s high treason not to reason.

Mediocrity is a national security issue. Our economic and social challenges are largely because we have come to accept mediocrity as a way of life. That’s why we can drive top-of-the-range vehicles on pot-holed roads without a hint of irony.

Mediocrity is defined as averageness, poorness or ordinariness. If mediocrity is averageness, then excellence is distinction. We need to have a candid conversation as a nation and admit that we have, for a long time, embraced mediocrity. It has become our culture. We seem to pride in second-hand ideas in almost every critical sector of our society. We may decry the fact that we are now importing almost everything, worse still second-hand imports.

This is not a new phenomenon at all. We have always largely been a nation that subsists on hand-me-out ideas. In fact, we laud those locals that are quick to embrace ideas newly-minted from the West and the East. The unpalatable truth is that whether we look East or West, we are still purveyors of other people’s ideas — we are importers through and through.

We need to understand that if we do not do some original thinking, we will always be net importers of goods and services. It is original thinking in the East and the West that produces the services and goods we import. We will be extinct if we do not think. To be ahead, you need to use your head. We stop at “according to so and so”. It’s a sign of mediocrity.

Think about it

The Japanese gave us the Toyota Corolla. In Africa, we take used Toyota Corollas from the scrap yard and convert them into “Toyota Cowrollas”. — Koranteng Pipim

The best way to bust economic sanctions is to embrace excellence as a strategy

Comparative advantage in platinum and diamonds will remain meaningless unless we first have a comparative advantage in thinking. We need to open new mines where we mine the platinum and diamonds of ideas. We need platinum and diamond thinking first.

What causes us to be net importers of goods and services is that we have always never had self-sufficiency in original ideas. If you are a wholesale importer of ideas, it makes logical sense to be a net importer of goods and services from those very nations you import ideas from.

Newest form of colonialism

There is a very subtle and deadly strain of neo-colonialism that we do not talk about. Enter best-practice also called world-class standards. Best–practice is a very subtle genre of neo-colonialism.

It comes from the realisation by the creators of the idea of best-practice that those who generate ideas quickly and scale them up before anyone will always be ahead. It is in fact a refined form of mental slavery. This is how you must think, is the subtext of the idea of best-practice.

Think tanks outside Africa do the thinking. The product of that thinking is codified as best-practice. If you do not embrace the so-called best-practice, you are considered mediocre and backward.

Here is the truth: if everyone embraces best-practice, the ideas become common-practice. Commonplace is another word for mediocrity.

Meanwhile, when the rest of the world is busy implementing best-practice, the foreign think tanks are busy working on the next-practices to sell to the world as best-practice. While the rest of the world is touting the virtues of cutting-edge knowledge (best-practice, if you care), the originators of best-practice are soon to tell you that your cutting-edge is blunt. This cycle of best-practice and next-practice ensures that the nations that do original thinking are always distinct.

Because excellence is bettering your best, next-practice turns best-practice into mediocrity. Thus if we do not do our own original thinking, we will always swallow what the world has chewed. We even laud early-adopters as being innovative. It is mediocrity when we can’t tell the difference between an innovator and an early-adopter.

The world belongs to those who create unique practices.

Radical excellence and distinction

As Zimbabweans we pride ourselves in our historical triumph over colonialism. The word Chimurenga symbolises that pride. We talk of the First, Second and Third Chimurenga. We need a fourth revolution, the Fourth Chimurenga.

We talk of the blood that watered the revolution. The colour red is almost always used as a symbol of a revolution or radical change. Let me suggest that we can use red as an abbreviation for radical excellence and distinction (Red).

The challenges we have as a nation that show up markedly in poor economic performance need us to embrace the Red mindset. We must declare a war against mediocrity in all its forms. Corruption is mediocrity.

It is mediocrity when someone earns in excess of US$200 000 per month while ordinary workers scrap at the bottom of the barrel. It’s not surprising that we have a liquidity crisis in this country.

Basic economics tell us that if this “iniquitous” salary was spread to the majority of workers at the bottom, there would be an improved circulation of cash.

It is Red when our chief executives make sure that they pay well their ordinary workers as a matter of priority. Mediocrity turns our chief executives into “thief sexecutives”. The Bible teaches that if we withhold more than is necessary, it tends to poverty. This is the exact explanation for what is causing our economic crisis. Powerful and selfish people are withholding more than is necessary, hence national poverty.

It is mediocrity to pride in PhDs and then fail to use those PhDs to apply original thinking to practical Zimbabwean problems. It is mediocrity when we teach our university students to be mere reflectors of other people’s thoughts instead of being original thinkers in their own right. It is mediocrity when we teach our students the “how” instead of the “why”. It is mediocrity to look to the West and East. We must first look ahead. The world is ruled by the Red brigade.

Brett is a Strategic HR consultant and business strategist pioneering innovative HR and business practices in both listed and unlisted firms in Zimbabwe. — brettchulu@consultant.com

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  1. This is an excellent piece, if only our leadership had the time of day to read some of this stuff and change, we will be a nation of riches

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