Friday night. I was in a dingy fast food joint near my flat, waiting for my dose of bad cholesterol together with my housemates. It was a small place, and the proprietor was a big man from the western region, with big,hard muscles bulging underneath his clothes. He has always been friendly to us, and why shouldn’t he be? After all, we sink our money into his business every weekend. It is hard to describe the thoughts and feelings that were coursing through my body, shuttling at what I think was a frightening speed, even as smoke from the heavily built man’s cooking efforts filled the atmosphere, making me cringe inside.
I was neither sad nor happy. I was simply balanced, and a cold aloofness had infiltrated my mind and made me strangely oblivious to my surroundings. I felt ashamed when a woman with child stepped into the joint and I didn’t notice it till one of my friends stood up and gave her his stool. The fact that I was the one closest to her and hadn’t gladly offered her my stool made me burn with guilt and humiliation inside, though I never showed it on my face.
As we continued to wait for our orders to be completed, my mind, as it’s often prone to, wandered, taking me far away from a crowded room full of smells and sounds that only made me feel that I was cutting valuable days from my life. I thought about the challenges and the pressures that I had been grappling with for months. I thought about my feelings and the connections that I had been developing with certain people. As I explored my inner being while seated on a slightly uncomfortable stool, two words popped up in my mind: Pain points. Like a drowning man desperately attempting to clutch at anything to survive, I hungrily latched on to those words. Anything to get rid of the negativity and the hopelessness that keeps stalking me, watching and waiting in the darkness, looking for an opportunity to engulf me and destroy me completely.
I wish someone in my earlier years of schooling had explained to us that the purpose of our education, the whole point of having to wake up in the middle of the night to read and prepare for tests is to turn us into human beings who can solve pain points in the society. It is not to get the best grades in class, or to get the badge for best in memorizing and regurgitating content taught by an equally bored and frustrated lecturer. Everyone has many pain points that they would like solved. It is why we wake up early in the morning and go to work or school. We have problems in our lives that need solutions. We need people to give us solutions to our problems.
I have identified my pain points. I’m tired of routine, tired of having to work hard for what increasingly looks to be a zero sum game. I want to write, play chess and travel, and probably get to meet new women along the way! When I open up and tell people what I really want in this life, I usually end up getting weird and incredulous looks, as if I have broken from reality and I’m very close to jumping off a cliff. Breaking away from the norm certainly comes with its own consequences.
This is something that I believe to be possible. However, I have lived in this world for too long to know and appreciate that there is a price tag attached to everything on the surface of the earth. The price for solving my own pain points lies in solving the pain points of others to such an extent that they feel compelled to help me solve mine. Take a company like Safaricom for example. By providing millions of people with a way of sending money to their loved ones and for other purposes without having to leave their homes, the company has soared in value and has a mind boggling market capitalization.
Solving the pain points of one person, or even a thousand, will not get me where I want to be. I need to think bigger than that. I need to identify pain points that affect large swathes of the population, and come up with a better way of solving these problems than those who are already engaged in providing those solutions. There are numerous examples that I could give to illustrate my thinking. Ubiquitous Energy is a start up that seeks to revolutionize the way we think about solar cells and the applications for solar energy.Theranos is a company that has come up with a new method of blood testing, solving the pain points of millions of people who feel queasy about blood. A simple drop of blood is enough to run a battery of tests, instead of the traditional pints of blood that make you feel as if a vampire is hiding behind the scenes, anxiously waiting to sample your offering.
These are amazing examples of the kind of thinking that I want to be as normal and easy as breathing for me. I have constantly applied myself in pursuit of this objective, and I was gladly surprised that someone else thought of the idea I have for healthcare in this country and has already started working on it. The fact that this ‘someone else’ is a big bank with billions in assets and a culture for innovation (Equity bank has brought millions of ‘poor’ people to banking halls) is proof that I have my head screwed on properly. It is a strange and exciting new world, which requires one to consume a lot of information and think in ways that you’ve probably never thought about before. It is more than selecting a choice on a test question. It is simply mind blowing.
Our heavily built patron had finished our orders, and as I dug deep into my pockets to come up with the money required, I watched him record his sales in an exercise book. It has always amused me that a piece of paper with a dead man’s face on it can allow me to get food and secure the services of another human being. I walked out with a hot,black polythene bag containing my food, buoyed by the prospect of discovering new ways of solving pain points, having forgotten the vicissitudes of life for that one, perfect moment in time.