Skill Versus Innovation

The Nigerian system requires that a person be ‘skillful’ in whatever field they choose so that they can excel in the job market. Everyone seems to be talking about garnering skills that will make the average Nigerian standout. Job seekers are told to write skills they have to give themselves an edge over thousands of competitors. Everywhere you go, someone seems to be pushing the ‘skill’ agenda into the mind of Nigerians.When young graduates report to the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) camp, one of the first things they are introduced to is skill acquisition. Lecture after lecture on skill acquisition is done. Skills like bead making, cake making, make-up artistry, and other things like these are taught to graduates, who in turn feel empowered to go into the world and conquer it. This skill acquisition is presented as a way to become young entrepreneurs.In most cases where these graduates are not interested in learning such skills, they are constantly reminded that there are no jobs available, implying that additional skills would help one fare better in an already trying economy. At this grim reminder, even doctors gradually get cajoled into learning a skill. It then becomes no surprise when doctors and lawyers are seen learning to make beads.Now, being skillful is not bad in itself. Every nation needs skillful individuals to improve it and Nigeria is not an exception. Also, learning new skills is good. Where there is a problem is when skills are the only things that Nigerians are urged to learn, especially as these ‘skills’ are as rudimentary as making a cake, giving someone a make over or making Ankara-based accessories and shoes. What then begs to be asked is, ‘What happened to innovation?’ While skill (chiefly) requires the use of hands, innovation requires the use of one’s brains. Innovation requires focusing on a problem and looking at how that problem can be solved. The word in context here is ‘how’. When an innovative person latches unto an idea, creating a solution is all he can think of. And in most cases, it is never about making money, but about solving a problem that plagues society. Does this mean that learning and applying skills doesn’t require brains? Of course not! Skills require brains, but not as much as the innovative process.Man is in existence to solve problems. Imagine the man who invented the modern-day oven, making baking easier than it must have been in the past. Imagine him watching the hairs of bakers getting singed while trying to get dough into a makeshift oven and bread out of it. With careful research, he was able to invent something that was easier to handle, with outputs which were much more efficient and effective. With aptly applied timers, baked goods could come out as close to perfect as possible.Someone saw that the one-horse carriages were too cumbersome and thought of how they could make traveling less stressful…on man and on his beast. Whether it was Pierre Lallement, Marius Olivier, Kirkpatrick Macmillan or Pierre Michaux, the main thing was that bicycles were created and they were far more effective than the horse-drawn carriages. Horses are definitely thankful that they do not have to pull man and his carriage across vast swathes of land.Even though the bicycles were widely accepted, yet another person wanted something better. From the bicycles, society moved to motor cycles, cars and finally, the big one! The Wright brothers broke all sort of rules by inventing the first plane and today, planes after planes are seen, and heard, flying overhead. Imagine the amount of thought that had to go into putting all the parts of the plan before they finally flew their plane. The plane the Wright brothers invented is not the plane flown today. Great improvements have been made on their invention and one can fly in the utmost comfort whilst traveling.This has not stopped more innovators from thinking of how to make the plane (or even the cars and bicycles) better and more efficient. Today, there are Boeing planes, super jets and even drones. Just when you think cars couldn’t get any flashier, something out of this world is designed by someone and you just wonder how they do it! From Ferraris to Bentleys, the design of cars tells us just how innovative people can be.Do you want to talk medicine? The leaps and bounds doctors were (and are continually) able to achieve in curbing diseases, vaccinating against illnesses and in some cases, totally eradicating them from the face of the earth, is due to the innovative ideas of people. Research in biotechnology, biology, microbiology, pathology and other related fields, have helped in creating drugs that can cure many diseases. Even when they cannot create drugs that can cure diseases, they try to create ones that can manage disease. One of the greatest achievements of research in medicine is the scientific leap called cloning. All of this is as a result of building on innovative ideas and not on building skills.Unlike most other people, Nigerians are urged to develop skills like cake making, make-up application, tailoring, shoe making and whatnot. They are urged to let their most important asset – their brains – go to waste. The skills they learn are never new. They never think up something fresh and unseen before. All they are taught is how to effectively replicate something that they have seen. Even the best of cake makers go online to see what someone else has done. What is the innovation in that? Another big question follows. Where did this problem start from?It couldn’t have been before the advent of colonialism, because our forefathers had beautifully designed clothes. So someone must have thought about covering people. The elaborate machines our forefathers used to even make these clothes, tell a lot about their wisdom and innovative skills.Their farming tools were rudimentary but showed that they even used their grey matter. What would you say about them making clay jars as a

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