An Intellectual Challenge for Nigerians, The Solutionist Contest: Why is it so important? – by Shalom Dickson

Nigeria has a talent problem. This is a pretty uncontroversial fact, which has been repeatedly flogged in various formats, including the “brain drain”, unemployment crisis, and educational degradation. Here, I identify and explain Nigeria’s core human resource deficiencies in three aspects: talent understanding, productivity mechanism, and intellectual composition, and then I demonstrate how The Solutionist Contest, a rigorous intellectual competition for Nigeria, is a multi-effective agent in addressing these needs.

Nigeria’s talent landscape is under-understood

Nigeria has a vast space of talent. The general socioeconomic implications of its large and culturally diverse population are not unknown. However, the demands of 21st-century society require us to understand this landscape more intimately and at a greater level of detail. This is why I propose the initiative to “Map out Nigeria’s Brain”, a series of research projects to document Nigeria’s talent landscape. Our current scope of understanding is not much beyond that of a wealthy individual who has no personal knowledge of their assets. An enhanced resolution of understanding entails the following:

Individual and collective psychological understanding

Deep psychological understanding, broken down, features cognitive and personality profiles. The basic components of these include general intelligence and personality frameworks such as the Big Five (OCEAN). More advanced features may include specialized ability and extreme personality factors such as psychological peculiarities and pathologies. These ought to be understood on an individual and personal level and collectively within scientifically accurate models of culture. We should not rely on market lingo in our private and shared descriptions of how people behave and what they can do. These are often blind, mistaken, and incapable of producing predictable outcomes.

Talent distribution understanding

Having understood how people think and act, and what they can do, we need to know where they are and under what circumstances they are statistically found, including their personal properties such as physical health and biodata. A high-resolution understanding of talent distribution is like a live talent heat map, so to speak, with an accurate account of geographical and demographical factors. (Of course, this has to be implemented with sensitivity to privacy concerns.) Such a picture is a goldmine for policymakers, innovators, investors, and employers.

Our productivity mechanism is inefficient

By the productivity mechanism, I refer to the structures and processes by which we generate desired socioeconomic outputs. Related to the talent question, the productivity mechanism pertains to the “human factor” in this system. Humans are, as much, producers as they are products in the productivity system, quite like a vehicle being both a transporter and a load. Our existing mechanism is unmeritocratic, undynamic, and largely unintelligent. This fundamental flaw is reflected in the high unemployment rate and low export/import ratio. Thus, I emphasize the notion of optimizing “Talent Configuration”, which can be simply thought of as having rightly capable people in the right place at the right time. An efficient productivity mechanism meets the following requirements:

Efficient talent pipelines

With knowledge from our high-resolution talent heat map, we ought to develop well-documented processes for defining, identifying, and attracting top talent in various fields. A potent talent definition for a field allows it to identify extraordinary individuals long before they have built the experience to demonstrate this at the top level. We need to efficiently attract high-potential amateurs.

By extension, we must build efficient channels for transporting talent across, not only stages of experience but also domains and regions. A ‘transport channel’ for talent looks like this -> A ||====|| B. There are solid platforms at A and B, and a pathway between them. Such a channel has to be custom-built, in various forms and for various fields, for developing children, and across domestic and international locations. The platforms feature incubation facilities (a pun in the infant case), resources for productivity, participation rewards, and transitional incentives. In practice, there might be intermediate platforms along the channel pathway.

Concentrating the efforts of capable individuals

A well-understood talent landscape efficiently concentrates the efforts of capable individuals. This implies that they facilitate seamless cooperation and competition. Basically, people who should work together do not meet solely by accident. This applies to the amplification of individual efforts through collaboration on innovation, and the communal execution of grand projects. Nigeria needs to adopt big goals, as a society, and, with this high-resolution understanding, induct capable individuals to work on them.

Our intellectual composition is ineffective for the knowledge economy

The “knowledge economy” is the dominant framing of the rules that govern demand and supply in the 21st century. It references the prominence of elements of knowledge such as education, research activity, and data-driven innovation, in determining the flow of goods, services, and finance. I like to highlight that this does not mean “smartest is richest”, but that in the long run and at scale, the evolution of knowledge corresponds to solving socioeconomic problems and that determines economic outcomes. The simplistic rule is closer to “smartest determines richest”, where this determining has a self-centered tendency and exhibits a network effect. Thus, I champion the need to “incentivize intellectual curiosity”. An effective intellectual composition requires:

Enhancing the scope and outputs of intellectual institutions

We must improve the effectiveness of our research and establish new ones to meet the needs of scope and scale. We need to get more people excited about working in such institutions and improve their level of engagement with the public and their local community. Of course, this has a heavy demand for funding, but the crucial ingredients are commitment and creativity. We need to find ways to interlock these institutions with lucrative economic engines.

Secondarily, we must optimize all human-centered institutions for research activity. Wherever there are people, there exist problems that must be solved with a scientific level of accuracy. Finally, our academic institutions and communities, in general, must be fortified for intellectual rigor. They ought to operate at the cutting edge of knowledge exploration. The problem of research productivity is neither a peculiar professional predicament nor a puzzle particular to professors. The data on this is clear: research output amounts to economic progress.

Enhancing Nigeria’s individual and collective intellectual culture

There’s an immense need for communal intellectual activities. We need to drive more and more programs that encourage the spread of important ideas in the public discourse. It is not unimaginably difficult to introduce new intellectual activities to society. The general rule is that public attention will shift to activities to which social and economic value have been attached. We must deliberately invest in such efforts for intellectual and scholarly endeavors.

Similarly, and this happens as a consequence of the above in many cases, there must be an improvement in the occurrence and enormity of individual intellectual ambitions. We need more people adopting audacious intellectual goals as their life’s work. This will complement the efforts of research institutions.

How The Solutionist Contest addresses Nigeria’s critical talent problems

With The Solutionist Contest, I am–once again–putting my money where my mouth is (No, I am not eating banknotes). My three recommendations (to Map out Nigeria’s Brain, optimize Talent Configuration, and incentivize intellectual curiosity), which correspond to the corrections of the three core deficiencies, are all engaged via the Contest, as detailed below:

Mapping out Nigeria’s Brain

We are conducting research and gathering data that improves our understanding of the talent landscape.

So far, there have been over 1,000 attempts on our custom-designed exercises by individuals across multiple age brackets from various states in the country. Our notion of solutionist profiles explores an individual’s personal intellectual makeup in the form of logical ability, original thinking, and innovation. Exercises in our general assessment and application challenge series feature extreme problems involving logical, verbal, symbolic, creative, innovative, and entrepreneurial thinking. They also contain components on creative experience and evaluation of ability profiles.

Optimizing Talent Configuration

We are supercharging our productivity mechanism by identifying, networking, training, and tracking highly capable individuals.

We have grown a network of over 300 enthusiasts with various sub-categories of highly capable individuals who can cooperate productively to solve problems. We will continue to expand our community and introduce more avenues to engage them and leverage their individual and collective capabilities. Exceptional candidates are highlighted and announced at various stages of the competition, and finalists will be interned at innovative organizations to solve real-world problems.

Incentivizing intellectual curiosity

We are enhancing scholarly engagement by facilitating communal and personal intellectually stimulating activities.

We have reached tens of thousands of Nigerians with information about The Solutionist Contest, our rigorous intellectual competition for logicians, thinkers, and innovators in Nigeria. The ₦1,000,000 reward, a significant sum, directly allocates economic value to the activities. In addition to the application exercises, more rigorous challenges are introduced during the 4-week virtual workshop. These include research assignments, for groups and individuals. Designed for undergraduates and autodidacts under 30 while open to all residents of Nigeria, a significant proportion of participants are affiliated with various academic institutions from all 6 geopolitical zones of the country.

What are you going to do about it?

I have shown you through my eyes a clear picture of Nigeria’s talent problem and shared with you, tales of this exciting adventure to improve Nigeria’s talent landscape. I have also shown that this is not just a hobby, but a key component of a proven strategy for unlocking Nigeria’s prosperous destiny. We are doing the work already, and it is no one-person’s challenge. Multiple people have been inspired by our work and committed their support in various ways. What are you going to do about it? If it’s something you want to do directly with us, then you can reach out to me via [email protected]. Maybe it’s one to pursue on your own front, that contributes to the overall goal of solving Nigeria’s talent problem. Whatever it is, do something.

About The Solutionist Contest

The Solutionist Contest is Nigeria’s most rigorous intellectual competition, based on logical problem-solving, research-driven innovation, and original thought. Through a series of challenging tests, we are selecting up to 100 candidates to participate in the 4-week virtual workshop featuring training and exercises on problem-solving, originality, and research. The top 3 contestants will be rewarded with a shared prize of 1 million Naira, and 3-month internship opportunities will be provided for up to 12 finalists in organizations that solve real-world problems.
Applications are set to close on the 15th of January, 2023. Apply via: