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Image credit: Twim Academy

Olumide Adeleye: Failing forward

Olumide Adeleye: Failing forward

How to learn from things going wrong

Image above: An ongoing photography class at Twim Academy

#LCJB16 winner, Olumide Adeleye found setting up Twim Studios ­– a photography and video services company in Nigeria – difficult and frustrating. But he loved what he was doing, worked hard and had faith in his business. Then disaster struck.

Olumide picks up the story...

I woke up to discover that my house had been burgled overnight and my life was ruined, or so I thought.

The new camera, along with my microphones, laptop and backup hard drives – virtually all the production equipment my outfit had at this point – all was lost.

The police was mostly unhelpful. It was soon apparent that these items would never be recovered. I had no insurance – in my country, insurance is a luxury – and no cloud-storage backups.

Worse, all the projects we were working on, my company's data and my personal information, were either on my laptop or on the backup hard drives. I could not deliver to clients. Over the next few months, sales stopped almost completely.

When I could no longer pay salaries, I felt like I had failed my four members of staff. When I could no longer fuel the generators and the business came to a standstill, I felt like I had failed my clients. At the same time, I was terribly disappointed in my government, the police, the country as a whole and – most importantly – myself.

A life-changing discovery

As a way of generating additional income for the office, I had been teaching photography, video production and website design. I remember going to the office the morning after the burglary to teach my class with nothing! Yet, as I began to teach, I observed that the students listened with rapt attention eventhough there was no equipment to teach them with.

It was at that moment that it hit me that my competitive advantage was not the media services I could offer, but that I knew how to teach. I had always known that I was a good communicator but looking back, I realise, I needed to lose all the distractions to discover what I had always known.

Thereafter, I saw that I could build a business around teaching and also tackle the problem of unemployment, which accounts for most of the burglaries and robberies in Nigeria. I redesigned my organisation's model and turned it into a social venture.

Since then the Twim Academy has been recognised by Ashoka and the Ford Foundation Prize for Youth Employment. It has trained hundreds of young people, some for free – thanks to Twim Academy scholarships and sponsorships from non-profit organisations and churches. And it has launched Awarewa.tv, which tells positive stories of Africa.

Scholars at Twim Academy observing a film camera in a studio

Students at Twim Academy study a camera in a studio setting. In 2015, 25 girls trained for free at the Twim Academy. Photo credit: Twim Academy

1. What were the mistakes?

After failing, give yourself an honest assessment of what happened and move on. My most critical mistake was that I had no off-location backups and no insurance. These mistakes led to bigger problems.

2. Who caused it?

Many people refuse to accept responsibility for their actions. I could have concluded the mess I was in was in no way my fault since I did not rob myself. Then I would have kept operating with the psyche of a victim. However, that would not have been completely honest since I did not take pre-emptive measures to guard against such events.

It would also have been unfair to keep blaming myself under the circumstances since other people played negative roles that far outweighed whatever mistakes I made.

Find the balance between accepting responsibility and being realistic.

3. What is left?

There is a tendency to exaggerate the problem while you are facing it. Guess what? You are never left with nothing! I discovered that the most important asset I had was not my equipment, but me!

4. What is the message in the mess?

No matter how bad things look, there is always something to learn. In my case, the mess was what freed me from distractions and allowed me to see my strength.

A fine way to discover the message is to admit to yourself that life happens! Stop lamenting or wallowing in self-pity. Spend that energy figuring out how to get out of the mess!

5. What do you need to change?

Sometimes, failing is a sign that you need to change your approach, methodology or even your solution.

In my organisation, training was just an extra source of income. The experience of being robbed made me put training at the centre and created a genuine desire to fight unemployment.

6. What is your prize?

Have a well visualised picture of where you are going and the rewards you will have when you get there. These may be physical rewards or intangible things like the smiles on the faces of the people your initiative helps. Keeping this picture helps when times are hard.

Conclusion

Failing does not make you a failure. It is part of the learning process. If you handle failure well, it can be the launch pad for your next big thing!

Seven people standing in the blue sea on a beach in Ghana

Twim Academy's Mediacamp 2016 in Ghana. Image credit: Mayowa Olajide

When I could no longer pay salaries, I felt like I had failed my four members of staff. When I could no longer fuel the generators and the business came to a standstill, I felt like I had failed my clients.

Olumide Adeleye

Twim Academy's Mediacamp 2016 in Ghana. Image credit: Kunle Akanle

Have a well visualised picture of where you are going and the rewards you will have when you get there.

Olumide Adeleye

Five years ago, Morakinyo Goodness founded a school. He built a structure for hundreds of students, invested heavily in equipment and hired teachers. But a year later, he only had about 40 students. In this video by #LCJB16 winner, Olumide Adeleye, Morakinyo talks about coming up with strategy for growth when founding a social enterprise.