Interview with Musa Kalenga: On achieving exponential career growth

Vera: Congratulations on your book “Ladders and trampolines” What are the key elements of comparison here between the two metaphors so to speak?

Musa: They are both essentially mental constructs – one, the ladder is relating to incremental and fairly linear progression, the other – a trampoline is all about exponential and non-linear progression.

 

Vera: Some believe that climbing a ladder step by step to success is a realistic approach to career building but your view is basically that of why a ladder when you can use a trampoline?

Musa: The ladder is the prevailing norm so to speak. It is the dominant system that we have grown accustomed to. I believe that in the context that we live, it is not the only option – mobile, globalization, access to information and the internet have made it possible for us to have another option. Truth is, a ladder has and will always be an option, but in this day and age it is important that young Africans understand that there are other options.

 

Vera: How does one achieve exponential instead of incremental growth?

Musa: There are a few things – there is a period of investment in yourself that allows you to gain confidence in the value that you are able to create. You need to be able to own and articulate this clearly. Then there are character traits that act like magnets to trampoline opportunities. Dynamism is rigorous activity related to achieving goals and objectives. It is important that to be dynamic, you are actually progressing – often young people mistake motion for progress, which is not the case. The second trait is resilience. This is the ability to withstand huge adversity and toughness and bounce back quickly. The third, ultimately is high performance- pushing boundaries and changing narratives as a way of working.

 

Vera: Trampolines shoot one high up, but can also be a free fall in reverse. What are the most effective ways to stay up when one soars?

Musa: Nothing beats preparation. A core concept in my book is the ability to add value and be certain that you understand the environments in which you are operating. These are the best ways to safeguard against free falls. However, a great support system through family and mentorship also act like parachutes in times of need, but more importantly to avert the free fall in the first place.

 

Vera: When you urge others to turn any scenario into a trampoline opportunity, how do they go about it at least in terms of critical first steps?

Musa: You have to be able to identify a trampoline to begin with. Living your life with “decided eyes” around opportunity and ambition is important. ‘Decided eyes’ is essentially the notion of looking at life and your scenario with eyes that are set on what you want to achieve. It’s being deliberate about how you view opportunity. If you think about the old adage about people who up and leave a village to gain education and worldview; when they come back, their eyes see the village as a world of opportunities, whereas the villagers themselves fail to see the same thing. It’s the reason why Asians come to Africa and open up stores in random locations and become successful. Once you have identified it, you need to position yourself correctly to be able to capitalize on the opportunity. In the process, trust your ability and don’t be afraid.

 

Vera: You are considered a marketing guru and an avid supporter of the digital age. But you say digital marketing is dead? How so and what’s cutting edge in marketing?

Musa: I am far from a “Guru” of any sort. I am an Afro optimist obsessed with value creation. The reason why digital marketing is dead is that the mobile and digital revolution is already here. More people in the world have phones than toothbrushes. Therefore our context is digital and therefore we are simply marketing in a digital context – that is why “digital marketing “ as an idea is dead. We are privileged to live in an age where technology is accessible and able to solve human problems. This is the role of technology that is most exciting to me and truly inspiring to be a part of.

 

Vera: As a relatively young person with many accolades including being described as a change agent/ leader. How can young people become more of an asset in/for Africa?

Musa: Everyone must begin from where they are. It is impossible for all of us to be Elon Musk or Trevor Noah, but it is possible for me to be Musa Kalenga in my context solving problems and adding value to my community. Each and every person can start by looking around their environment and trying to make a simple change there. The momentum that you gain once you are having impact is self sustaining and contagious. That’s how movements begin and that’s how industries, businesses, countries and communities change.

 

Vera: You believe technology is an opportunity to solve Africa’s problems and this is happening already. Where is technology being underutilized and how/where can it be scaled up?  

Musa: Technology is not always the fancy stuff. That’s where I think most people miss the boat. Simple applications of SMS, or clever use of indigenous knowledge also equates to technology. Most people focus on trying to solve via Artificial intelligence before it can be considered as “technological innovation” and nothing could be more untrue. Zipline in Rwanda is a great example of relatively simple technology solving a critical need in the community. They use drones to deliver scarce medical supplies to rural areas. In this instance, the most wow part of the tech is probably the use of a drone, but that too is becoming pretty standard. So, the big opportunity with tech is to use it to serve humanity – not the other way around.

 

Vera: Your book is largely about your experiences: which is the most poignant for you and why?

Musa: The process of writing a book – being unapologetic about my experiences, failures and successes was poignant. I found the process to be extremely cathartic for me.  I lay my soul bare on the pages with no feeling of regret or having to ask for permission to express myself. I am grateful for the opportunity.

 

Vera: Where’s your trampoline taking you next?

Musa: I want to change the fortunes of small businesses in developing markets by helping them access new markets using online media and advertising. Wish me luck!

 

Musa’s profile

Musa Kalenga is founder and Chief Executive of Microtising – a next generation advertising engine for small and medium businesses. A published author, Brand communication specialist, strategic marketer, speaker and entrepreneur, he previously worked for Facebook as a Client Partner for the Africa business and prior to that as Group Head of Digital Marketing at Nedbank. Musa has experience as an entrepreneur having built his first company from zero to R6,5-million in turnover by the age of 26.  Musa has worked with foreign governments as well as multinational companies to create innovative digital products and solutions in travel, insurance, automobile, FMCG and banking industries. Musa focuses on marketing and business strategy to respond to a digital world. Musa has been recognised as one of the Top 200Young South Africans by the Mail & Guardian newspaper, was a member of the World Economic Forum Johannesburg Global shapers, Head of Brand for IAB and a member of Africa Teen Geeks. He is passionate about emerging African markets and in particular, about Africa, its people and the challenges that we face – it is his mission to inspire, share insights and be involved in projects that work towards making Africa better through technology. Musa is author of “Ladders and Trampolines”. More of Musa’s work at www.kalenga.me

 

For more information on Vera Ng’oma’s work and resources in leadership, personal and career development and excellence building, click here.

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