Technology is for the brave and curious

Sunday December 17 2017

Joe Mucheru (left), the Cabinet Secretary for Information, Communications and Technology, at the Nairobi Innovation Week event at the University of Nairobi on March 8, 2017. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Joe Mucheru (left), the Cabinet Secretary for Information, Communications and Technology, at the Nairobi Innovation Week event at the University of Nairobi on March 8, 2017. PHOTO | SALATON NJAU | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

By SAM WAMBUGU
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Curiosity is a desire to know or learn things that do not concern you. To reap big from technology requires curious and creative minds. Thankfully, children are curious cute beings.

The question is, where does their inquisitiveness go as they grow older? How can we nurture it and support them to create more products like M-Pesa, Facebook, AirBnB or Uber right here?

Babies come pre-loaded with a passionate desire to learn. They have insatiable hunger for knowledge. Responses to their question are always followed by an emphatic “why?” They prod and probe. They hunger to know more.

The “why” approach is the tonic for building life-changing and technology-powered solutions to many of our problems.

As management guru Peter Drucker says, “My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask few questions.” People who have made it big with technology look at the same situations that others have looked at for years and see opportunities that technology can change for the better.

PUBLIC TRANSPORT

Here are a couple of examples. Before M-Pesa came into the scene, we used to send money through banks, public transport companies or Post Office.

Compared with M-Pesa, these methods were cumbersome. The sender had to go to a bank and queue for some time. Sending money though the public transport companies was prone to many risks. Besides, the money took time before it got to the recipient.

Curiously, the architects of M-Pesa figured out an efficient means of sending money through a mobile phone. In its first year, Safaricom was only aiming for 350,000 customers; 10 years later, the company has more than 30 million customers.

The story of AirBnB — an online hospitality service that rents out short-term lodging — follows the same pattern as other tech companies. An idea born of curiosity which explodes into a mega-business.

AirBnB founders — Brian Chesky and Joe Gebbia — had just moved to San Francisco, California from New York.

EMPLOYMENT

Without employment, they were having trouble paying their rent and were looking for a way to earn some extra cash. They noticed that all hotel rooms in the city were booked, because there was a large conference in town.

The youngsters bought a few air-mattresses and quickly put up a site called “Air Bed and Breakfast.” The idea was to offer visitors a place to sleep and breakfast in the morning.

They charged $80 a night. Other people started to use the site to rent out extra space in their homes. That was 10 years ago. Today, the company is a whopping $25 billion-strong and offering services in nearly all countries of the world.

Uber is no different. In 2008, two men — Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp — had trouble hailing a cab. They grew impatient of waiting for a cab on a freezing-cold street in Paris. They came up with an idea — to create an app where you can tap a button and get a ride. 

What started as an app to request cars in a few metropolitan areas in United States is now changing the transportation fabric of Nairobi and hundreds of other cities around the world.

EDUCATION

What is my point? We need to fine-tune our education system to grow more people like the creators of M-Pesa, AirBnB, Uber and others. Our education curriculum should nurture curiosity as opposed to rote learning.

Speaker and author Brian Tracy says, “A major stimulant to creative thinking is focused questions. There is something about a well-worded question that often penetrates the heart of the matter and triggers new ideas and insights.”

Focused questions begin with “why” and use the answers to build solutions that change our world. Rote learning will not fly in this century. Let’s learn from little babies to ask “why?” and use technology to build solutions.

 The writer is an informatics specialist. [email protected] @samwambugu2