It is often said that not all that glitters is gold, but truly not all gold glitters. The real genius of a parent is not the one who spots success in an obedient child, but the one who finds something redemptive in the seeming stubborn child and nurtures him or her to a place of success. Likewise, a thriving society is not about spotting leadership in already successful people, but finding and nurturing the hidden and redeemable qualities in its renegades – that gold that may not be glittering.

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It is human nature to see greatness in the school prefect, and not in the rebel who is always breaking the rules. We see leadership in the boardroom; we appreciate same in politics and in military establishments, but we often fail to see leadership in the inmates behind the prison walls of Maximum Kirikiri, in the thugs under Obalende Bridge, in the underworld of gunmen and ‘yahoo’ boys, and in the militants in the creeks and the desert sands of the Sahara who may all be gifted leaders but never became ostensible ones. Society loses leaders among its ‘renegade’ who have become trapped in societal imbalances and adopted a lifestyle devoid of character, compassion and the moral courage to be bigger than who and what they have, unfortunately, become. There is no doubt that some misfits belong behind bars, but quite frankly, there are also some ‘potential leaders’ currently behind bars or ostracised who are victims of either a warped system of values or of cultural discriminations. They are not criminals, but just ’different’ and in need of embracement and integration at the communal and higher social levels. Without the needed social intervention, whatever leadership qualities they may possess remain latent, undiscovered, and undeveloped for their own benefit and that of their communities. Then, there is yet a different group which sometimes suffers exclusivity for its misunderstood ways – radical thinkers. They tend to think and act weird; see things ‘abnormally’ and, therefore, can’t fit into ‘the norm’. Suffused in this group is often a wealth of creativity and innovative-thinking crying for the opportunity to be discovered or heard. But, the so called ‘weird’ in many parts of Africa today have no place in the society.

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Africa is persistently a backward continent because we preserve a culture that suppresses creativity; we embrace a tradition that tags radicals ‘rebels’ and give them no room for expression. Before long, the ‘weird’ or ‘radical’ is either compelled to shape into the norm or become socially ostracized for good. We generally shun diversity and expect conformity even to that which has become obsolete. We are quick to blind-copy and duplicate and extremely lazy to innovate the duplicate and make it outstanding. We tag kids who are not afraid to be wrong as stubborn, but often forget that stubborn streak is the stuff many geniuses are made of.

Undoubtedly, some societal norms, particularly those that tend to regulate thoughts and values are needed for the good of humankind, but innovative-thinking must be encouraged in this part of the world as most revolutionary products or status quo have emerged outside the norm.

Much of the world’s defining moments have been driven by people who are ‘different’ or ‘unique’. Radicals can be a gift to mankind, they see the world differently, they are not always right, but they keep people on their toes. Their different views often improve the quality of an idea. Behind every movement that ushered in a revolution was a radical who was never afraid to upset the status quo. Likewise, creativity is about daring to be different; to step out of the ‘usual’ or to bring a completely new and fresh perspective to a situation.

Malcolm Gladwell’s Outlier, describes the enormous success creative thinkers have achieved globally. Bill Gates, one of the most successful entrepreneur of our times and The Beatles, one of the most successful musical groups in human history tapped into the opportunities offered by creativity for their renowned successes. Malcolm’s catalogue of the many innovative products in the markets today, particularly technology and kitchen wares stems from dogged ‘out-of-the-box’ thinking. When ‘creativity’ meets ‘opportunity’, he emphasizes in Outlier, the result can indeed be phenomenal.

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In Nigeria as in many other African countries, our problem is not one of lack of talent, intelligence or ideas, but the absence of an enabling environment to nurture creative instincts and innovative quests, as well as the reverence for quick gains. We’re impatient about staying with innovative ideas and activities whose fruits do tend to take time to mature. Our society needs to become enabling and celebratory of creativity; of leadership in the big and small. Children and youths on our streets who are not in education or employment for one reason or another, need access and the opportunities to explore their creative potentials for their self-development and that of the larger community. We must avoid muzzling radical thinkers and genuinely embrace the freedom to be and explore that which is different. Our future depends on those who think differently. After all, the gold that may thrust us into that new world of greatness just may be the one that doesn’t glitter.