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First Mover Significance and the Ingenuity of New Adopters in African Creative Industry

Stories have origins, but what converts them to history is the presence of continuous life. In biology, the cell theory, which is also the foundation of life, states that cells come from previously existing cells. 

This theory helps us to understand our roots as humans. Despite the uniqueness in our idiosyncrasies, we all originate from a single cell, but we eventually outgrow the cell stage and morph into the solid version of ourselves.

Did the cell pave the way for us? Yes. 

Are we allowed to bloom into the most potent versions of ourselves without feeling guilty for daring to be better? Yes.

But would it be fair to claim we bloomed without an origin? No.

The creative industry follows a synonymous dynamic. Evolution is a constant event in life, extending to the chain of creativity. The categories of influences, impacts and obstacles determine the flow of events in the creative industry. To understand these categories and their relevance in the evolution of creativity, we must understand who first movers, adopters and gatekeepers are.

First movers can be likened to the cell in which life originates. They are majorly the pioneers of new movements and innovations. They nurture new ideas to life regardless of the risks, and this is the reason why they are often tagged as Way Pavers when their innovations soar.

When we say someone paves the way, we mean that they create a situation in which it is possible or more likely for other people to explore. This might come in different forms, it might be directly, for example, through financial support or professional recommendations, and it can be indirectly, for example, by showing other people just what is possible.

By nature of their actions, first movers pave the way for newcomers. The achievements of first movers are of great importance in the creative industry because they show possibilities and ultimately create opportunities. Undoubtedly, developing from the grassroots can be very challenging, and the efforts of first movers will permanently be imprinted on the sands of time in their respective industries.

An example of a first mover is Alexander Graham Bell, the telephone inventor. He had a keen interest in working on sound and transmission devices. He invented the first telephone in a bid to upgrade the telegraph- a device for sound transmission limited to the transmission of a single message at a time- into a harmonised telegraph for the transmission of multiple messages at a time.

Although Graham’s history of inventing the telephone could make him pass as an adopter of the telegraph, he remains an excellent example as the first mover of the innovation of telephones.

Adopters are morphed from the steps first movers have taken. They are the new form of life. They save the innovations of first movers from stagnancy and even improve them by implementing advanced knowledge and new technologies. 

In exceptional cases, adopters may achieve more than the first movers. We see this in the evolution of the telephone. After Graham’s groundbreaking invention, there has been a commendable improvement in the creation of telephones. From the era of telephone exchanges and rotary dialing, to the period of touch-tone dialing and cordless phones, to the implementation of caller ID. And in more recent times, the sleek evolution from cell phones to smartphones.

Considering the laudable chain of achievements by first movers and adopters, one would always expect the flow of interaction to be smooth and without sentiments since the goal at the end of the day is to create, but reverse is the case when some first movers proceed to be gatekeepers, and adopters fail to acknowledge the impact of first movers in their creative journey.

Gatekeepers are often first movers who want to receive credit for every achievement in their industries because they discovered the idea or started the acclaimed movement. And in serious cases, they take extreme actions to control the entire operations of their respective industries. 

Referencing the case of Graham Bell’s invention, I perceived a case of gatekeeping. His telephone was patented in 1876, and he established his company, Bell Telephone Company, in 1877. Being a prominent figure in the invention of phones, the America Telephone and Telegraph Co. merged with Graham Bell and controlled the production of telephones. The account is described this way:

“Up until 1977, AT&T had a monopoly on phone design in the US. But that year, the Supreme Court lifted restrictions that once prevented people from buying and designing their own phones. This decision, along with AT&T’s divestment from the Bell Company, resulted in all kinds of creative phone designs.”

This shows how gatekeeping stunts the growth of creativity and innovation. For about ten years, a handful of people couldn’t bring their imagination to life because the sole discretion of production was in the hands of the first mover. And the removal of this obstacle brought about a swift increase in the variety of phone designs. Who knows how large the telephone industry would have grown in those ten years if the gatekeepers hadn’t locked the gate of the industry with their selfish padlock?

The contemporary creative industry is rapidly changing. New methods, styles, improvements and branches are constantly being created with the speedy emergence of new tools and unrestricted access to materials required for learning. 

The consequence of this constant change and unrestricted access to information is that, more than ever, players in the industry need to be on top of their games to keep the audience’s attention. But the compensation for that is the beauty of an abundance of talents. 

In the last couple of years, like much of the world, the African creative scene has evolved to welcome the emergence of new fields. Twenty years ago, fields like content creation, influencing, skit-making, and vlogging were not a thing. As technologies began to emerge, creatives worldwide began to explore new fields.

In the early days of this evolution, a few African creatives joined in. Like first-born kids, they were new to an open environment and only had their international counterparts to connect with and possibly learn from. These were the first movers, and their ventures tilled the ground of possibilities for the second and third borns who would come after them.

When you think of these people–the Sisi Yemmie’s of vlogging, the Craze Clowns of skit making, the Jason Njokus of online movie streaming, the Auracool (TweetOracle) of social media influencing–who ruled the creative world in the 2010s, you can’t deny that they literally started the fire. These people were the ones who showed that this industry is possible.

Many years after the foray of these first movers, new adopters have taken over from them. Many people no longer know them because they have either retired, or because their knowledge and energy could no longer carry them on in the new dispensation. Whichever one it is, the new guys have taken over, and they are adding ingenuity to the craft.

As the creative world transitioned from the methods of the 2010s and the new decade ushered in with its pandemic, new creative crops flooded the industry, and the baton passed into new hands. These new crops have watched the progress of the creatives that ruled the 2010s. They have seen what is possible and witnessed their mistakes and growth as spectators. It means they are now equipped with not just knowledge, but also newer technologies.

As the baton changes hands, it is not unusual to experience friction from both parties—the old guys wanting to prove that they are, of course, not new to the game. And the new guys want to prove that they run the show now.

While these two sides have good points, it is easy for either side to shift to the extremes of trying to erase, dismiss, or belittle the works of the other. In other words, the old guys might want to gatekeep the industry, while the new guys might thread into reckless arrogance.

For example, for a long time, the Nollywood industry gatekept newbies from joining in. This has arguably affected the quality of the films produced. But things are changing, and new names are bringing new glory to this delectable industry.

In a recent tweet, Korty, a Nigerian YouTuber and filmmaker whose rise into prominence skyrocketed by a video she made about trying to get a meeting with Wizkid, stated that no one paved the way for her in the YouTube industry.  “There’s no Nigerian YouTuber I can call goat,” she proclaimed. “Nobody pave any stupid way for me, except God. Na me dey make them sit up now.”

This tweet aroused critical reactions. Many expressed that it was rude of Korty to have made such claims. They believed that creatives who had been in the space before her had done the work as the first movers and paved the way for adopters like her. Others, however, think YouTube is a new industry, so it’s too young for such conversations.

Korty’s content may not exclusively be the first of its kind, the originality and authenticity of her works have placed her on a high pedestal, and this may be the reason for Korty’s self-adulation.

Still, there is a thin line between taking pride in one’s work and the dismissal of other people’s impact disguised as self-adulation. In every industry, newcomers will always bring in new magic, and it does not mean that the works of old comers should be dismissed.

As we’ve established above, the old comers have indirectly paved the way for newcomers and any newcomer disputing that is arguably only trying to breed an unnecessary rift.

Korty has since issued a public apology for the uproar. 

Similar arguments have sprung up in the creative industry. Any argument that tends toward taking either of these sides is ultimately detrimental to the industry’s growth. Every generation of creatives has a role to play, and it’d be best for each category to recognise their abilities and find a middle ground.

How do we achieve this? How can first movers and adopters find a balance to avoid the recurrence of intergenerational rifts and facilitate industry growth?

The first thing is for each party (i.e. first movers and adopters) to acknowledge the impact and relevance of the other party in the journey. First movers should not feel threatened by the progress of adopters. Instead, they should see it as a progressive extension of their innovations. 

And adopters should desist from writing off the importance of first movers in their industries because no matter how hard they want to deny it, everything on earth has a source. Every idea has an origin, and they are not exempted.  I’ll buttress this point with words from Austin Kleon’s “Steal Like an Artist”. 

“What a good artist understands is that nothing comes from nowhere. All creative work builds on what came before. Nothing is completely original and “there is nothing new under the sun. Every new idea is just a mashup or a remix of one or more previous ideas.”

On a final note, I’ll end this with words from Graham Bell. “Great discoveries and improvements invariably involve the cooperation of many minds. I may be given credit for having blazed the trail, but when I look at the subsequent developments, I feel the credit is due to others rather than to myself.”

Funnily, the quote contrasts with his initial actions, but I think one of life’s most valuable gifts is the ability to unlearn and relearn. 

Perhaps, witnessing the rapid growth of the telephone industry after the restriction was lifted helped him understand the benefits of allowing others to thrive on his legacy. There’s a powerful message, and I hope creatives get the memo.

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