Reblog: Innovation and creativity are suffering in middle income economies, and not for its scantiness…~from GIS DIGEST

This is a reblog of a post from GIS DIGEST after  sparking a wide interest from readers.

Over the period I have interacted with members of the IT industry and from my own self, not even for a second have I ever doubted the plethora of creativity inhabited in them. Mind blowing product ideas, great business models, all this time the only doubt that I have had is on conversion rate. Whether these ideas and business model shall be productized. Just take a look around at the rise of vast number of innovation hubs around the cities of Africa.

Creativity and innovation are not scant in Kenya, for instance, we have witnessed very successful products from the same region make a leap and create Multi billion shillings industry. All from the simple artful ideation processes. Examples of which are the venerable Mobile money platform MPESA and it’s elaborate business model of course. The simplicity and what we can call innovation at its best has shaken the banking industry forcing them to redefine their business model resulting in even a more efficient industry. In March, the Treasury launched M-Akiba, a mobile gateway to trading government bonds.

These implementations only reaffirm one thing, the abundance of innovative minds along the software to business modelling. There are other software products in form of SAAS, apps and toolkits that have also made a mark in the market that are testimony to our ability to invent (to solve problems).

But why do most ideas fail to launch…

This is the biggest question I have asked myself and my friends over time. We’ve had very productive sessions writing down ideas, sketches and business models for each. Some have been developed into tangible products other haven’t gone past the notes. So I asked myself, what have we not been doing right.

Then on this one day I found an article by John of Simple Programmer “The 4 Levels of Freedom For Software Developers” which inspired me to the answers that I’m sharing with you. These levels are Full-time employment, Freelancing, Productizing your Ideas, and Working on What you Love. Full-time employment – you work for someone, on their ideas (brilliant or not, love the ideas or not), freelancing – work for someone on their projects/ideas (if you like them or if you want to make money) in your own time on your own plan, when creating products for long term revenue streams –  you work for yourself on your own ideas in your own time on your plan and  finally working on what you love – you are working perhaps for excitement and for the love of the effort, principally not driven by desire to raise cash. This is the dream BTW.

RELATED:  Kenya's Big Five Map Story

The freedom for innovation and creativity is profoundly hampered by  the continuous need to realize profitability, in other words, the need to raise an income from every effort invested in any nature of work. In middle income economies this freedom is greatly elusive. Evidently most developers prefer to take a full time employment to even come close to matching the financial numbers. I these countries, majority of developers live in the major cities where the per capita income barely sustains the standard of living for many.

Now what does this mean, as John mentions, the financial independence which allows software developer to spend their productive hours working on products that they love does not exist here. Majority of the software  developers are in level one, full-time employment, this is a moderately safe level where they are able to raise income but spending their productive hours working for someone else. This is regardless of whether the projects they are working on are interesting to them or not.

There are also quite a number of developers in the second level, freelancing, however still, it lucks the freedom desired to achieve your best. In this economy, freelancing is not all roses, in fact it’s more thorny that level one. Having had first hand experience. The limited financial freedom is true for potential clients as well, this is portrayed by the low packages that they are ready to pay for their projects and sometimes crooked ones fail to pay at all. Choosing to abandon the project completely or craftily  dodging the payment. If you add the fact that some client are not in a position to define their needs clearly which leads the developer to a wild goose chase while creating the solution for them, the freelance industry is unattainable.

Steve Ochieng
About Steve Ochieng 15 Articles
Geospatial Specialist | Avid Reader and Vivid Writer here | Geospatial Tech Advocacy and Evangelism | GeoProgrammer and Follower of @geohipster

2 Comments

  1. I think it’s the other way round; Kenya is a middle income country, because it doesn’t foster innovation. This serves the elite who make a kill from importing maize, locomotives, and software of course.

    • We have created an environment with low motivation to innovate in business or even exploit opportunities and high reward for acquiring finished expensive products regardless of the value. A Gov Agency would rather acquire a software they’ll use 20% of the features 80% of the time rather than pay a local developer to deliver 20% features they’ll use 80% of the time. Absurd in deed!

Leave a reply on this post