Technologist and author of The Bold New Normal, Lucy Quist, was drawn to stories about complex social change from an early age: ‘I did not always understand the subject matter but inevitably learned lessons that have informed my approach to how we can transform our world.’
First Draft is our interview column, featuring authors and other prominent figures on books, reading, and writing.
Our questions are italicized.
What books or kinds of books did you read growing up?
I was a curious child and, growing up, I read several books on different topics. When I was seven or eight years old, my father bought me a copy of Shehu Shagari’s biography by David Williams. He was the first democratically elected president of Nigeria after the transfer of power from military rule. At the time we lived in Nigeria, so he was technically our president. It is the only book I still have from that early in life. I recently picked it up to leaf through and I realized, with a more mature mind, the way the story of Nigeria is woven into the pages.
I grew up feeding on subjects that tackled how change needed to happen and how complex the execution of change can be. I did not always understand the subject matter but inevitably learned lessons that have informed my approach to how we can transform our world.
If your life so far was a series of texts, which text (fiction or non-fiction) represents you at this moment?
My book, The Bold New Normal, is the best representation of my life. My experiences, perspectives, hopes, dreams and mindset are clearly captured in the book. Those who know me in person say it sounds like me speaking to them as I do in real life. It depicts my passion to see Africa and Africans prosper—to thrive and not just survive life—through the transformation we can create ourselves.
What’s the last thing you read and disagreed with?
Generally, I respect the fact that other people have ideas that may differ from mine. If I am reading a book and the subject matter turns out to be disappointing and completely off the mark, I will stop investing my time in reading the book and then forget about it—there are too many other good things to focus on!
So, the thing that comes to mind that I completely disagreed with was listening to an investment analyst (not African) explain that the reason for high interest rates in Africa is high birthrates. He actually sought to present analysis to support this claim. For some reason, in some quarters, there is a clear attack on the very personhood of Africans. It is as though the African’s fundamental issue is their mere existence.
Most nations developed by capitalizing on their human resources. Our people are our greatest asset. We must not allow ourselves to be convinced otherwise. It is the investment in these people with the opportunities for them to realize their potential that will lead to our collective prosperity.
What’s the last thing you read that changed your mind about something?
I am currently reading about Esther, the Persian Queen. Her predecessor was Queen Vashti who has typically been characterized as proud and arrogant. Yet the author of the book I am reading did her a great service in explaining that the request made of her was rather misogynistic. The king, her husband, asked for her to parade herself in front of his guest. She did well to stand up for herself and other women in refusing to be reduced to a piece of entertainment as part of a 180-day long party. She paid a high price in losing her crown, but I view her in a very different light now. She clearly was a champion for women, even if she did not know it.
Most nations developed by capitalizing on their human resources. Our people are our greatest asset.
What is your writing process: edit as you write or draft first, then edit?
I write short pieces frequently such as posts and speeches. These all feed into the bigger writing project where I am able to organize thoughts from different days and extend them. So draft, then edit for me. I need to see the full picture and go back to edit.
What was your process for writing ‘The Bold New Normal’?
The start of The Bold New Normal was actually a TED Talk. That helped me to succinctly crystallize my thoughts on the transformation of Africa. For the most part, the rest of the writing process was as described above. I took the time to discuss some of the more thought-provoking ideas to get feedback on how they would be interpreted and whether I needed to expatiate more. I want people to read and be inspired to take action in creating their bold new normal.
You are an industry leader in technology and financial services. What’s some advice you wish you got early on in your career?
I have been extremely fortunate in my career but the one reminder I needed was to make sure I had more fun along the way. With the right values, work ethic and focus success will come along but make sure you enjoy your journey because time does literally fly.
I want people to read and be inspired to take action in creating their bold new normal.
What’s something you wish more people knew about the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace?
Diversity and inclusion are business imperatives and not something people do out of their personal goodness. It is about talent and having access to a broader talent pool. It is necessary for continued business success in an evolving world. As such, companies need to create equitable pathways for access to recruitment and career progression. It goes without saying that an inclusive culture that allows each person to thrive in an authentic way underpins this.
Which two books would you recommend to anyone trying to understand Africa today?
Reforming the Unreformable by Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. It is about her journey as a transformational leader as part of the Nigerian administration. Nigeria is an African behemoth and I encourage us all to understand the dynamics of the country. Understanding Nigeria will certainly help us think more about what we need to do in other countries.
The Bold New Normal by Lucy Quist. I encourage people to read this because we need to go beyond understanding Africa to creating and acting on visions of the Africa we want.
Diversity and Inclusion is a business imperative… It is about talent and having access to a broader talent pool.
And what’s the greatest book you’ve read about business, finance and/or the economy?
Greatest is a strong word. What underpins business, finance and the economy is people. We need more books that open us up to understanding how people think, behave and respond to situations. What drives them at a fundamental human level? I have a heavy bias towards books that challenge my understanding of people. I recommend all of Malcolm Gladwell’s books!
What role do you see technology playing in the transformation of African economies?
As a former CEO of a telecommunications company in Africa, I know that technology is a key enabler to the transformation of Africa. The transformation we need is about solving large scale challenges such as access to high quality education and healthcare. Technology is our basis for efficient and scalable solutions. We have to solve for all and not a privileged few. We should not simply copy solutions but create our own solutions by coming up with new applications of technology or adapting existing technologies.
We need to go beyond understanding Africa to creating and acting on visions of the Africa we want.
What can we expect you to write about next?
Leadership. That is all I will say for now.
What is the most meaningful piece of career advice you’ve ever received?
There is never a ‘right time’ to progress your personal life as you build your career. Get on with doing both!
Who’s an author you wish you had discovered earlier?
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.
I have followed her for a good number of years now so I have made up for lost time but she was a couple of books in before I discovered her.
Technology is a key enabler to the transformation of Africa.
Who are the African women leaders you’re most excited about today (and why?)
Freda Duplan—I have had the privilege of knowing Freda for the best part of a decade. A remarkable woman who started her career in computer science and yet took on every challenge a corporate career has to offer spanning many roles in several countries. She was Managing Director for Nestlé in Ghana and then Pakistan! Today she leads boards in banking and oil and gas, while still making time for her family including her delightful grandchildren. She proudly represents what it means to fully realize your potential!
Mo Abudu—I have followed her journey right from her show ‘Moments with Mo’. A remarkable journey of vision beyond self, taking Africa to the entertainment world!
Question from Sangu Delle: If you could allocate $1 billion to any one person, thing, cause, or entity, what would it be and why?
The fundamental thing we need to change in Africa is mindsets. That is what I would spend $1 billion on. Rather I would focus it on fundamentally educating and transforming mindsets across Africa. It would be dedicated spending for a few years of sustained engagement demonstrating what we can do through changed mindsets by amplifying successful outcomes and impact of changed mindsets. We need to galvanize the entire population but most importantly our young people.
Bonus: Please suggest a question for a future author’s First Draft
What can we do to change mindsets to boldly believe and focus on creating African prosperity for Africans?⎈
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