I’ve been meaning to develop a personal development guide for some time now. (Personal development in this context means random and useful information). But, I’ve been busy and quite honestly lazy; which means I probably need my own advice.

While I’m no expert on the subject, I regularly meet hugely talented people who struggle with entrepreneurship, career or life projects unnecessarily. Many times, the only thing standing in the way of success is information, exposure, and the willingness to accept new knowledge while ditching existing paradigms. They need access to the right information, some support and the humility to change. What complicates matters is that having access to the right information at the right time is not guaranteed. Sometimes it’s simply an act of God’s kindness. (There is such a thing as ignorant bliss!)

First Thing’s First, Google it!

We live in the era of Social Enlightenment where access to knowledge is at unprecedented levels. Therefore, one of the most important tools in any personal development quest is Google. Many solutions can literally be found at the click of a mouse. But, if you hate to read or sift through data, there’s not much Google can do for you. The magnitude of information on the web and the limited nature of time are such that the ability to separate relevant information from worthless junk is a key requirement for the effective use of Google. The world is very unforgiving to those who need to be spoon-fed.

Study Popular Culture

You must be aware of and in tune with popular culture if you plan to sell anything to this (or the next generation). While time-held principles remain relevant; their application, presentation and communication change from generation to generation. It will be difficult to successfully sell a product to an audience you do not understand or you have a high level of disdain for. They will sense your patronizing attitude. And, they hate hypocrisy.

To bring yourself up to speed on popular culture, I recommend the following: Use “generational communication tools”. There are cultural mindsets that you’ll never understand if you don’t chat, have a data-enabled phone and Facebook & Twitter accounts. Access to instantaneous and multiple streams of information is very much a hallmark of this generation.

Subscribe to relevant RSS feeds from informational websites. That way, 10 minutes after you long on to the internet, you’ll have read bite-size highlights of what’s going on in the world and in the sectors you’re most interested in.

To ensure proper online representation (especially if you’re a public figure or plan to be one), develop a combination of the following: A structured Linked In Page, Wikipedia Page, Blog, Website, Facebook Page and Twitter Page. When people meet you, they’re more than likely to Google you immediately after. When they do, the first page that comes up should be your “official” web presence not random chatter on Twitter! You may consider professional portraits for your online pages or something creative. But, please do not use a grainy passport photo!

Try to log into Social Networks e.g. Twitter at least once a day (preferably in the morning) to “listen” to generational chatter and to feel the pulse of the middle class. It’ll give you insight into what topics are hot as well as popular lingo. Also pay attention to media, in general. The media is the voice of this generation.

For music, online sites like Billboard.com and the iTunes Charts tell you what’s happening on the global scene, while Notjustok.com (and any number of other entertainment aggregators) curate Nigerian music. Listening to local radio stations keeps you up-to-date, particularly drive-time shows. Buying music on a regular basis helps you to assess shifts in musical styles, as generational tastes morph very quickly. A hot single may not give you the full experience; you’ve got to listen to the entire album. Finally, at least 1 hour of music videos on a contemporary music station once or twice a week should give you a good feel of visual pop culture. Try Soundcity, MTV Base or Trace Urban.

For all things youth, subscribe to magazines like Ynaija. (You may also browse the online version). To gain a “feel” for popular fashion, spend some time observing people at the Mall. Just visit every now and then; sit and watch young people pass by. You’ll learn a lot about this generation from the way they walk, gesture, talk and dress.

For more refined fashion tastes, you may subscribe to British GQ (Not the American edition), Vogue and Vanity Fair. Read the articles; don’t just look at the pretty pictures. I especially like the way foreign magazines imprint certain standards of quality in your subconscious. After a while, you instinctively develop an aversion to things that are tacky or razz.

For the business minded, Fast Company is a must-read. Few other magazines write about the business world in popular language or emphasise business innovation. Reading the Economist and Fortune regularly for at least a year will teach you the fine art of business communication and writing. They will help you to develop structured and logical presentation which are invaluable for business correspondence. They are tedious to read, but subconsciously develop your vocabulary.

I encourage you to also watch movies, preferably at the cinema. It’s a lifestyle, not a waste of money.

Travel as Much as You Are Able to

Whenever you can afford it, travel. I heartily recommend a visit to all the geopolitical zones in Nigeria. It will greatly broaden your understanding of your fellow citizens. A trip to the hinterland will transform your thinking about what it means to be a Nigerian. Traveling to exotic international locales is all well and good, however, if you’ve never ventured beyond our shores before, I recommend Ghana as your first stop and then perhaps the UK and US! Travelling to Yankee or Jand will hopefully cure you of the fear of visa applications and the excitement of “travelling abroad”. There’s something in Nigerians that idolizes travelling abroad. You might as well do it and get it over with.

Learning the basic protocols of travelling will come in handy for years to come. For example, the seemingly little things like buying a sim card at the airport; changing only a small amount of Forex there because you get better rates in town, dealing with immigration and requisite travel documentation, understanding a city’s transportation system and route maps, learning which cities allow you to drive with a Nigerian license, knowing how to open a non-resident bank account so you have a backup debit card to your Nigerian one, using travel sites like Trip Advisor to check hotel reviews etc.

One thing about travelling though – the cultural exposure matters, not just shopping. Sometimes, it pays to pre-book tours BEFORE you leave for your trip or else the slots may be filled for days by the time you get there. Do not depend on your host to show you around. Many residents have never taken a tour of the cities they live in. Almost every country or city has an official tour company, e.g. Arabian Adventures for Dubai. Ideally, your first 2 days should be dedicated to tours. On the first day, try a city bus tour or a walking tour. It’s best to go in a group, especially if you’re travelling alone. It’s a wonderful way to meet new people while minimizing the risks of exploring alone. Nowadays, you can do almost anything you want to in a foreign country via a tour. There are even pre-packaged tours for a night out on the town.

When you return, you’ll find you’ve gained a better understanding of and tolerance for human differences. Your heart and mind will expand. Don’t ask me how; they just do.

The Language of International Business

If you’re thinking of expanding your business globally and do not wish to retain the services of an interpreter, you may need to brush up on our lingua franca, English or a foreign language. Your proposals shouldn’t be liberally sprinkled with dangerous artillery.

There are many organisations and tools that can help you with spoken and written business communication. Use them.

First Impressions

If you are hopeless with fashion and you’ll like someone to help you to design your own personal style and look, kindly contact a personal shopper or lifestyle consultant. There are many affordable ones. You don’t even need a professional. You may have a colleague or sibling who loves to shop and has a great sense of taste. Give them your shopping money and a little extra to cover their transportation costs and they’ll gladly shop for you. Trust me, they know where all the bargains are.

Sometimes it helps if you go online to identify the kind of things you like to make their shopping easier or to familiarize yourself with what’s available. Everybody looks good in Nigerian fabric and nowadays you can make contemporary stuff that’s suitable for both formal and informal occasions. Clothing made from understated high quality fabric is acceptable at almost any formal event in Nigeria. Simply add a dash of personal style.

Guys, please learn how to knot a tie and open a bottle of wine. And learn how to drive competently. For some reason, women associate competent driving with competence in “certain other areas that will go unmentioned”. Ladies, do learn how to cook the major food groups . Even if you hate cooking, there’s no point to prove. It’s just nice to not look lost in a kitchen.

If you need help determining what hair style or cut suits you, go to any highly recommended salon or barber and ASK them to advise on what looks good on you. Please do not go on a weekend if you require personalized attention. It’s usually a mad rush. Women can learn how to apply makeup or buy appropriate skin care products from any notable makeup artist. (Basic tip – Avoid lining eyebrows or applying layers of foundation. They make women look angry. Also replace soap with a cream cleanser for your face).

Choose perfume or cologne that’s attractive to the opposite sex and not just one you personally like. Whenever a woman hugs a guy and unconsciously snuggles or goes, “you smell nice”, that’s his perfect scent. He should stick with it.

A manicure and pedicure never hurt anyone. And the spa’s perfect for those who don’t know how to destress and need it beaten out of them (a.k.a Massage).

Try having drinks in a hotel bar or if you can afford it, do dinner. It helps you “escape” Nigeria for a while. You’ll observe people from different countries and absorb interesting habits. Importantly, you’ll become familiar with formal place setting (the correct positioning of cutlery). Like we all learnt from the movie, Pretty Woman, when dining formally, you use your cutlery from the outside-in; beginning with those furthest away from your plate and working your way in from course to course (Appetizer to Dessert). Sometimes, the dessert spoon may be placed above the plate and your wine/juice glass is different from your water glass.

Eating Right and Exercising

If you can’t go to the gym religiously, check out online sites for simple exercise plans you can do at home and tips on what not to eat. The basic rules are drink at least a litre of water a day, eat fruits everyday, cut out starches and increase your lean protein intake. Stop skipping breakfast but keep it light (e.g. Cereal and fruit), exercise at least 30 minutes 3 times a week and oh…one more thing…everything that tastes good is bad for you.

Buying Gifts

If you’re terrible at picking gifts, let others do it for you. Or if you have a creative gift concept you’d like to bring to life, let others execute it for you. Try Konnektors as a starting point. Also, if you’re not sure about what to buy for someone, try talking to their sibling or someone who’s close to them to get the inside scoop on what they truly desire right now.

And of Course Sex Matters

If you missed your integrated science class in Form 1, you really need to begin with the book, Every Woman, just to know where all the equipment is and their functions. (I personally find it amusing when guys mix up ovulation and menstruation). There are many professionally written books about sex like The Magic of Sex by Mariam Stoppard. Popular fiction (novels) will provide an overview of popular sexual terminology – It helps to know what the popular names for fellatio or cunninlingus are.

Birth control or family planning options abound and speaking to a professional is advised. I suggest you personally Google and research everything you’re told by your Doctor, as many myths abound. Personally, birth control options that don’t mess with a woman’s hormones or those 5 glorious days of ovulation are preferred.

Coming Home

Home should be a haven and sanctuary. Simply put, you are affected by what you consistently surround yourself with and it’s hard to truly relax when you live in the midst of chaos. It’s better to leave a room bare than to stock it with junk. Serenity and comfort are hallmarks of a great home. Even if you live with others, your room or personal space should reflect the quality of your mind and soul. Your living space and the inside of your car send a strong signal about the level of disorder you’re willing to tolerate. Also, stop wearing rags at home. A mentor once told me to dress in such a way that when a visitor comes, you don’t have to change first before opening the door.

There are companies who’ll do affordable interior decorating consultations. Speak to one if you need to.

Catching up on all You’ve Missed

If you’d like to catch up on popular culture, try Time Magazine’s The All Time Best 100 (http://www.time.com/time/specials/2007/0,28757,1662224,00.html). There are many other online resources:

For movies: http://www.slashfilm.com/yahoos-100-movies-to-see-before-you-die/

For music: http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/datablog/2009/mar/20/1 (Click on the full list to view).

You can buy in stores or download at “you-know-where”.

For books: http://tinyurl.com/myreadinglist

If you read a new book every month or two, you’ll gradually become more knowledgeable and your worldview will expand.

For travel: http://www.tripadvisor.com/GoListDetail-i17106-100_places_to_see_before_I_die.html

Finally, who you know still matters

In business, who you know doesn’t necessarily determine your trajectory but it helps. People are comfortable doing business with people they know or have a trusted reference for. It impacts access, clout and influence. This is even more important in a business climate like Nigeria’s, where a lot of business is done informally.

You really don’t need to join a club to “belong”. There are several social, professional and business networks that will suffice. Try volunteering on the event organizing committee of a network like Wimbiz for example, or your school’s Old Boy’s/Girl’s Association. You’ll be amazed how many people will feel predisposed to listening to your business idea, when they’ve witnessed first-hand how committed and dedicated you are to a ca
use. And if you can’t serve on the committee, give something.

There are several entrepreneurial networks who meet regularly and have become a family of sorts.

If you’re an up and coming business person and you’re on the outside looking in, join a network fast and stop relying solely on “mentors” to help you.


It will be nice if people can share links and resources that may prove helpful to others. Feel free to post those links under comments.

Thank you for reading.