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The Shortcut Generation

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Oct 16, 2014

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In the year 2000 a business venture named Destiny 2000 Ltd registered under joint stock Company under the Ministry of Industries and Commerce of Bangladesh. In the following 5-6 years it became one of the giants of the country, having hundreds and thousands of young people working for it. It was like magic. It started small and within a few years of its being it started to invest in businesses in multiple sectors including an airline and a TV channel. Certainly a model for high growth business!

From day one the company offered a very simple but sly value proposition to the young generation of Bangladesh. Get rich easily. It worked like magic. A country with more than 55 million young people aged between 15 and 35 years old should be the most fertile ground for such a potential business. To make it even more alluring the employment opportunities were limited and were waning with every passing day. The company leveraged this opportunity the best just as you would expect any other venture with business acumen to do. The result was apparent. It had grown like a Chinese bamboo that grows 25 feet in a week.

But there was one significant difference between the growth of Chinese bamboo and Destiny 2000 Ltd.

Before making its leap to 25 feet, Chinese bamboo spends 5 years to build its roots. Destiny didn’t even spend one year. As it happens all the time-when your foundation is weak you can’t carry the load and you crumble. With Destiny nature played its rule.

Shortcut by Nomadic Lass

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This is only one story of how much we are infatuated by shortcuts. Take a close look at technology ventures scenario of the country. There are hundreds of problems to be solved but the only thing we are doing are e-commerce sites and job sites and news24 sites. Various types of it. In a recent interview that I took for Future Startup (yet to publish)- Serial entrepreneur Nazim Farhan Choudhury says we have a culture of copying and following easy path instead of taking that which requires courage and hard work. As a consequence-most of these companies fail. 

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But this is not the moral of this story. There is more to it.

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As a nation we have high hope for our youth. We believe this is the generation which is going to rescue us from the decade long stagnation, political deadlock and misogyny that dominates our society. But the example I cited above is a nightmare to the optimists of this nation. I claim myself to be an optimist. Thus my intention is not to criticize or find flaws in our young people, rather to find the mistakes we are making so that we can progress -as I’m essentially one of this generation.

There is no doubt this generation has the potential and opportunity to realize their dreams too. Truth must be told. There are young people who are doing extraordinary things. But this number is still very small and is still the exception rather than the rule. We need more young people to do great things, to take initiatives and to solve critical problems.

According to the Destiny website it had 43,39,653+ individual distributors till 16 April 2012. A staggering number. The question is what are the products or services this huge number of people was about to distribute? And who were these people?

AsifDestiny by Dhaka Courier

The model that Destiny used to propel their business is called Multi-level Marketing (MLM). The term was first coined by author Dominique Xardel. The first MLM type business can be traced back to 1920. Although the model has been disputed from its birth,it was still in use in many places around the world. 

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Contrary to the usual model of MLM marketing which is a form of direct selling, what Destiny did was a strategic coercion by misusing law. It took money from people against a value proposition that was nothing more than a strategic and pompous lie. Destiny used a pretty simple model. To be a member of Destiny one needs to deposit a certain amount of money starting from BDT 5000. Once you deposited the money you become a member cum distributor. Next time your job is to bring in more people like you to give money. As they said whoever else joins in the network through your reference you will get a percentage from that person’s money. Although they never made it clear from where this extra money will come. Thus the responsibility of a distributor becomes to catch more fishes. Since s/he deposited a certain amount of money he pursued actively to convince more people to join and give money. Thus creating a ripple of deposits. Often the catch of a Destiny members were his/her family members, relatives, or friends. There is more to it but this how it basically operates.

Unfortunately, most fish caught by Destiny were young people. I had my very close friends involved with Destiny and they often touted unrealistic dreams of getting rich and having cars and flats and all in a year. It was all so unrealistic and unbelievable.

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We have a culture of immediacy. From our schools to public institutions we practice and encourage immediacy and shortcut. A hot connection with your superior, achieved by any means, is the sure means to promotion in almost everywhere from a public office to a political party. The whole education system turned into a rapid production facility for GPA 5.00. Schools are more interested in GPA over education itself. Our measure of educational revolution is how many GPA 5 we have garnered.

By now we all know what happened to Destiny and to those half waken young people with gluttony for easy wealth. But what is the underlying reason that motivates these young people to fall prey of such a void proposition?

The reason is simple: these people love the shortcut. Not only that they love a shortcut but given such an opportunity with relatively little trade off, they go for it. This is a very simplistic explanation and I pray that I am wrong. But if this is the truth we have enough reasons to be worried for the future of this generation and thus for the nation as a whole.

Why do our young people look for shortcut? This is a profound question to ask and a very important one to answer.

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[su_dropcap style="simple" size="5"]T[/su_dropcap]To answer this question we need a thorough investigation. However, the apparent reason is cultural. We have a culture of immediacy. From our schools to public institutions we practice and encourage immediacy and shortcut. A hot connection with your superior, achieved by any means, is the sure means to promotion in almost everywhere from a public office to a political party. The whole education system turned into a rapid production facility for GPA 5.00. Schools are more interested in GPA over education itself. Our measure of educational revolution is how many GPA 5 we have garnered.

From outside this may all seem irrelevant and not connected at all. But as you zoom in and take a closer look it will scare you how all these issues are filling up and contributing to a culture of immediacy and certain peril.

We Need A Cultural Shift In Our Mindset.

Nothing comes easy. Success that lasts or wealth generation, whatever we call it takes time. As USA based designer and entrepreneur Debbi Millman proclaims-“expect anything worthwhile to take a long time”. However, we beg to differ. Our expectation is that all flowers will go from bud to blossom within a night. That does not happen. Inventor and founder of Polaroid Edwin Land Once proclaimed it takes 10,000 steps to realize a dream worth achieving. Unfortunately, history is there for misreading not for using as tour guide to life.

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Implication For Entrepreneurs

In the opening chapter of his recent book Zero to One, Entrepreneur and Venture Capitalist Peter Thiel claims:

EVERY MOMENT IN BUSINESS happens only once. The next Bill Gates will not build an operating system. The next Larry Page or Sergey Brin won’t make a search engine. And the next Mark Zuckerberg won’t create a social network. If you are copying these guys, you aren’t learning from them.

Of course, it’s easier to copy a model than to make something new. Doing what we already know how to do takes the world from 1 to n, adding more of something familiar. But every time we create something new, we go from 0 to 1. The act of creation is singular, as is the moment of creation, and the result is something fresh and strange.

This statement has greater implication for Bangladeshi entrepreneurs and aspiring ones alike. There is a trend out there. It is apparent. Most people who are talking about startups are talking about or doing something which is already there. An app, a web design company, a media startup, an e-commerce, an event and so on and on. In today’s eco-system events are prevalent. Redundancy is immense. Copying is the creativity and following mindlessly is the leading.

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We talk, we promote, we participate and we do nothing. The ghost of shortcut culture is chasing us here as well.

We don’t need another app that is already there; we don’t need another e-commerce; we don’t need another event. We need ideas and solutions that will solve some of our critical problems. We need to kill this shortcut psyche and culture of immediacy for our own good.

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Morning shows the day-they say. If that is the truth for us, as a startup community, the days are going to be long, hard, and stagnant. We need to move on. We need to find critical problems of our society before taking over the world. We need to fix the problems that are bugging us every morning before changing the world.

We don’t need another app that is already there; we don’t need another e-commerce; we don’t need another event. We need ideas and solutions that will solve some of our critical problems. We need to kill this shortcut psyche and culture of immediacy for our own good.

Again going back to Thiel. From his closing chapter:

Our task today is to find singular ways to create the new things that will make the future not just different, but better—to go from 0 to 1. The essential first step is to think for yourself. Only by seeing our world anew, as fresh and strange as it was to the ancients who saw it first, can we both re-create it and preserve it for the future.

[su_note note_color="#2989ba" text_color="#f5f7fc" radius="8"]Credits: Article by Ruhul Kader | Edited by: Samantha Morshed | Image Credit: Nomadic-Lass, Dhaka Courier, One Billion Rising, Panos Photographia[/su_note]

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Ruhul Kader is a technology and business analyst based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He is also the co-founder and CEO of Future Startup and author of Rethinking Failure: A short guide to living an entrepreneurial life. He writes about internet business, strategy, technology, technology policy, and society. He can be reached at ruhul@futurestartup.com

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9 comments on “The Shortcut Generation”

  1. What an article by Ruhul! This is by far one of the best article I have ever read by a Bangladeshi about Bangladesh. Amazingly he touched the point from the Destiny 2000 culture to education to present Copy-Paste+Shortcut Seeker Generation. But unlike others he did not just criticized, he accepts the fact, but tried to bring light into facts, how we could evolve, use this huge potential of youth we have now. Remember as we have over 70% Young Generation now, this 70% will get old together too. So, we have to act fast, we have to work together, this is our time, instead of blaming and dreaming about so called "Get Rich Over Night", work hard, have patience. Don't forget the 10,000Hr rule, nobody become successful or even expert on anything other then spending minimum 10,000 hour in it. And trust me you will need real passion to spend 10,000hr in a same thing, very few people could do that.

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