Egyptians’ obsession with ‘big ideas’
The “big idea” keeps Egyptians awake at night. The majority of our citizens spend their entire lives searching for an idea that will boost their finances substantially and rapidly — and that entails minimal effort on their part. Our egoism prevents us from realizing that the establishment of large-scale enterprises is not, in itself, proof of either success or good performance.
Egyptians do not believe in the value of cumulative effort. Thus, we tend to work on expanding our outlays with the aim of realizing substantially greater returns on our investments. We are a society that adores taking shortcuts and making big strides; we believe that we can attain our goals in a few moves and tend to decline working in stages. The tendency to take pride in large enterprises drives many of us to keep pursuing the “big idea” (along with its burdens). We don’t accept the concept of “small is beautiful.”
As our minds focus on exploring the “big idea,” we are missing many potential business opportunities, whose small size makes them of no interest to us. In a population of 100 million inhabitants, many of us tend to hope to make a “big killing” in business. We expect to achieve our goal through the misinterpreted tactic of selling to a fraction of this large population, paying absolutely no attention to whether we are competent enough to meet this challenge.
Our government’s megaprojects are the on-the-ground result of our unfortunate cultural trait: The belief that bigger is, by default, better and more successful. The Egyptian government keeps changing its policies to favor its megaprojects, at the expense of small and medium enterprises, and believes that all it needs to transform Egypt into a developed nation is substantially more natural resources. Projects that simply require better management to improve yields in the long term don’t attract the government’s attention.
Egypt’s ancient history, its large population, and its abundant natural resources (nearly 1,500 km of the Nile River flows through Egypt, and we have almost 500 km of Mediterranean beachfront and another 1,250 km on the Red Sea) prompt the government to think big. The Giza pyramids are clear evidence of this argument; however, the extraordinary achievement of building them is not good enough for today’s requirements, which need completely different dynamics.
Egypt’s ancient history, its large population, and its abundant natural resources prompt the government to think big.
The Egyptian government often argues that our growing population is the obstacle impeding development, ignoring the fact that the success of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) nations lies in the size of their populations, most of which are substantially larger than ours. Having managed to establish itself as the largest diversified production facility in the world, China is today able to competitively meet the requirements of any market segment, while India has achieved remarkable growth by capitalizing on its entrepreneurs.
A single tiny mistake in a large project can result in consequential losses. To be successful, “big ideas” require a highly disciplined society, which is not the case for either our government or our citizens. Our inability to operate megaprojects should have alerted us, some time ago, to our defectiveness in this area. We are historically good at planning and developing large projects, but we are clearly incompetent when it comes to professionally operating these projects to yield ongoing profits.
Although Egypt is a large country with a large population, we are better suited, culturally and structurally, to establishing and running small family enterprises than large-scale ones. To validate this concept and shrink the power of large entities, the Egyptian government needs to exert efforts to acknowledge the flaws inherent in the “big idea” concept, and then apply a number of economic policies to empower small enterprises to compete with large firms. The “big ideas” phenomenon is not for Egyptians.
• Mohammed Nosseir, a liberal politician from Egypt, is a strong advocate of political participation and economic freedom.