Postmortem Culture Healthy for Africa

Published on 6th July 2010

Uruguay defender’s mistake during the ongoing 2010 FIFA World Cup presented Ghana with a golden last minute opportunity to score and move on to the semi finals; it never happened. During the 8th SIFE business competition that was held a day after Ghana’s defeat, Moi, Kabarak and Africa Nazarene university students battled it out for national championship and alas, only one won. The nature of competitions (in business, politics or personal life) is such that victory must go to at least one. Since time immemorial, coaches, strategists, educators, military generals and analysts have preoccupied themselves in studying forces that can enhance their competitive edge.

I have for the last 8 years presided over Students In Free Enterprise national business competitions here in Kenya and 7 countries globally. The greatest lesson I have learnt from these competitions has come from the loosing teams. Each university undertakes community outreach projects for one year; they are mentored by a faculty advisor and their department of business. The students are keen to win and compete internationally. By the time they come for the national competitions, they are sharp and have great reports to present to the judges. The judges are drawn from the corporate sector – people whose lives are ever on the edge to offer quality and address the bottom line. 

Each year, the SIFE coaches (faculty advisors) of the loosing teams are confronted with the most difficult task compared to the one of the victorious teams. Students want answers: “Why did we loose?”  The faculty advisor is besieged. In football, coaches simply resign. I have heard these words from faculty advisors: “We will beat them next time!” Such sentiments are not welcome in time of great disappointment – such as the one I witnessed when Ghana’s ball hit the bar at the most crucial moment. The same applies to what students from Africa Nazarene and Kabarak Universities felt when they lost to Moi University for the third time in 8 years.

The greatest lesson comes from the loosing team. A team that looses and has the courage to engage in improving the quality of its projects in order to beat its opponents “next time” exhibits a sports and business spirit. Such teams embark on a postmortem to check the areas that they may have ignored or messed up. Self evaluation, readiness to be criticized and not taking it too personal eventually produces a winning team. The winning team, if not well mentored, is likely to loose track of what made it victorious and show up “next time” with shabby projects. Most winning teams get knocked out in successive competitions courtesy of abandoning the “postmortem culture.”

Most motivational business books focus on “winning teams” and their strategies. Everyone then buys and tries out such strategies and produces a “loosing team” precisely because competitors are reading from the same script.

We need to nurture a postmortem culture in Africa that can help us identify why we have not excelled in business globally despite being home to tones of precious minerals. Investing in studying the formulae of successful countries if not well managed simply produces copy and paste strategies that kill ability to be competitive. Africans should not fear criticism or unfavorable outcomes in this competitive world.

I applaud Moi University champions as they prepare to compete in Los Angeles U.S.A. I also thank African Nazarene and Kabarak Universities and all finalists’ universities for the last 8 years who have taught me the need to promote a postmortem culture if Africa is to develop. 

By James Shikwati

Mr Shikwati is Director, Inter Region Economic Network.

This article has been read 2,098 times