‘If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.’ — Isaac Newton (1642 – 1747).
The above quote came to my mind while pondering on how best to start this piece. Isaac Newton was one of the greatest scientists and inventors that ever lived. While he’s best known for his work on gravity, Newton had an array of inventions to his name including reflecting lenses for telescope.
The above quote suggested that he benefitted greatly from the scientific researches of earlier philosophers and scientists like Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo and Descartes. In some cases, his theories were improvements on works of these great minds; he merely built on the solid foundation he met. In a way, he had access to ‘case studies’ of earlier scientists.
G. Thomas (2011) defines case study as ‘analysis of persons, events, decisions, periods, projects, policies, institutions, or other systems that are studied holistically by one or more methods. The case that is the subject of the inquiry will be an instance of a class of phenomena that provides an analytical frame — an object — within which the study is conducted and which the case illuminates and explicates.”
A case study provides critical, practical and objective insights into the object of study for the purpose of revealing the underlying principles, philosophies and undercurrents behind the success or failure recorded. In advanced economies, business case studies are taken seriously with universities, research institutes and philanthropic foundations committing substantial funding to produce and document.
Due to their importance, business case studies also form a key component of business school curriculum abroad and they are readily available on the cyberspace.
The Nigerian Story
Ironically in Nigeria, most budding entrepreneurs and business managers don’t enjoy this privilege that Newton had. There is a dearth of business case studies in the country. Despite the fact that the country is replete with successful and failed brands, enterprises and entrepreneurs, getting case studies done on them is akin to the biblical analogy of a camel passing through the eye of a needle.
NN24, HITV, Ovaltine, 234Next, Glo, King Sunny Ade, Nollywood, MTN, Star, The Guardian, First Bank, among others, are some of the brands which reasons behind their success and failure would interest not a few entrepreneurs, business and marketing students and the general public. Beyond occasional press interviews, biographies, autobiographies and essays that hardly give anything away, no serious efforts have been made to intellectually interrogate the stories behind the success and failure of most brands and businesses in Nigeria.
• Lack of Accurate Data
Lack of accurate data still remains a great challenge both in the private and public sectors. Proper documentation of vital statistics, processes and procedures that could be helpful to researchers and budding entrepreneurs, are either not available or inaccurate.
• Funding Challenge
Undertaking a comprehensive research that produces useful and valuable business case studies is capital intensive. With the country’s educational system reeling under the burden of inadequate funding, research has been relegated to the background. With research centres not faring better and the absence of spirited individuals to take up the challenge, funding remains a formidable hindrance.
• Culture of Secrecy
The greatest obstacle I see here is that of cultural barrier. The culture of secrecy has gained ascendancy in the country, so much so that getting vital information, even for mere academic exercise, is a difficult task. At the root of this, however, is the suspicion that such information, when released, might get into wrong hands, particularly, competition. Therefore, information that are supposed to be of public good and advance the cause of businesses are classified ‘trade secret’.
I believe the private sector, particularly the multinational corporations operating in the country, has a critical role to play in tackling this problem. Being conversant with global business practises, procedures and standards, I am of the opinion that they are well positioned to lead the charge.
While solutions to the problems of lack of data and culture of secrecy might be medium to long-term ones and rest largely with the government, the private sector can, at least, solve that of funding. Using their platforms of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), the private sector can fund researches through partnership with universities, research centres and premier business schools.
The government, on its own part, needs to initiate a cultural re-orientation campaign that strategically targets businesses and brands with the ultimate objective of communicating the big picture benefits that the economy and businesses stand to gain when their ‘books are opened’.
As a matter of priority, the government also needs to develop a national data roadmap with medium and long-term deliverables. Under the roadmap, relevant government agencies would be empowered and mandated to generate reliable and accurate data that would aid research and planning in every sector of the economy.
The time to do the needful is now — that the country is bulging with a lot of start-ups, who could do with insights that would help them in their businesses.