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Words of encouragement for the next generation Words of encouragement for the next generation
by Joseph Gatt
2020-12-06 11:03:50
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There are uncertain times like these where the future is unclear. The truth is, from my perspective, the future is always unclear and uncertain. But many people around the world assume that the future will be as predictable as the past was.

There is a mistake that my generation, the one before mine, and the one before that did. And the mistake was that many people were supplying products and services that were not in demand.

That is for me life is about looking around me, trying to look at what was in demand, and trying to supply the service. But then all kinds of rules and regulations prevented me from supplying what I could supply to people who desperately demanded it.

people01_400So if I have any advice for the next generation that would be: wait until you very, very, very clearly see the demand before you supply anything.

Let me illustrate this in concrete terms. When you go around business schools or computer science schools or other schools, you will meet a lot of young, bright innovators.

But at those IT and business schools, when they are taught innovation, they are taught to conceptual side of it, the invention side of it, the engineering side of the machine or tool or product. But they are not taught to try to soak in the atmosphere and look around to see if there's any demand for the product.

Let me give a few examples of clear demand. Famous ones at that. Social media like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter were born out of the fact that a big percentage of Google searches were people searching the names of their long-lost friends. Facebook catered to that demand. Then there were people trying to communicate with large crowds on Facebook so Twitter catered to that demand. Then there were people using Facebook as a photo album more than anything else and Instagram catered to that demand.

Then you had people demanding Internet access at coffee shops and pubs and public libraries and the bus and the train and the iPhone catered to that demand. You had people tired of going from book store to book store looking for that particular book, or from hardware store to hardware store looking for that particular tool or brand of paint, and Amazon catered to that demand.

The problem with my generation, and the previous one, and the one before that, but more so with my generation, is that we have been trying to look at the supply side of things. The mistake this generation does is to view the Facebook or Amazon or Apple phenomenon as a “supply” phenomenon, that is Facebook supplied its service, and the demand poured in. No, no, there was a huge demand for Facebook, ask Google how many searches involved people searching for Middle school or High school or college friends.

So let's take another example. In the district I currently live in, I spend some time chatting with the district folks. If you look at what is in demand in the district in Algiers, I'll hear a lot of people demand housing. A lot of people ask me if they can rent a place here, if they can purchase an apartment there, and many of them want to stay in the district. So that's one thing I could invest in the district, and I would have to think of ways to build a nice building or two in a well-located area of the district. But then I'd have to be careful, I would limit myself to 12-15 apartments because I don't see so much more demand.

Something else in demand in the district? There's this service that does not exist anywhere in North Africa, but that is very much in demand: people often go to Internet cafés and ask for help filling out forms, writing or typing reports, filling out online forms, accessing complicated websites and the like.

So I'm pretty sure someone could take the risk. Rent a small office. Laptop or desktop. Internet connection. A good quality printer. Then you'll have people coming to you ask for help drafting their resumes, filling out their social housing applications, filling out their visa applications, handling immigration files, drafting letters to the judge, or filling out high school exam applications, college applications or accessing information online on the status of their identity card application. There's a demand for that. Doesn't mean it will automatically work, but there seems to be a demand.

What else is in demand in the district? Fitness centers and dance lesson centers, and perhaps music lesson centers. I'm pretty sure that if I gave piano lessons or guitar lessons or dance lessons or martial arts lessons, and that I was good at teaching that and bringing results without drama, there would be a demand for that.

Then of course bars and any place that sells alcohol is very highly in demand, but regulations go against that.

What do people supply in my district but that is not in demand? A bakery, another bakery, yet another bakery, a sandwich shop, and another, and yet another. A grocery store, another, and yet another. A pastry shop, and another, and another. A clothes shop, and another, and yet another. Not to mention that guy selling DVDs in 2020. And those many travel agencies.

Point I'm trying to make is: before you take any big decisions in life, soak up the atmosphere and try to figure out what's in demand. Talk to your neighborhood folks, hear them complain about life, hear their concerns. Ask them what they did yesterday, and the day before that. And the day before that.

Gradually, you'll figure out what it is that people need in your district, and that's when you'll get your calling.

What you should not do: hang out with the business school crowd, and daydream about supplying a product or tool that may be sophisticated, may be useful, but in truth, really isn't in demand.

So if you're at that stage where you have an “identity crisis” and wonder what you're going to do with your life. Go out in the district, talk to people, soon enough, perhaps after 3 months, perhaps after 6 months, perhaps after a year, you'll figure out what it is that they need.

Don't limit yourself to just one person. Talk to the different crowds, hang out with the different crowds. Set the ego quarrels aside. Ask them how life really is going. Soon enough the crowds will start discussing what makes their life tough, and you'll provide something for them to make life easier.

Good luck!

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