Everyone loves a good story. Regardless of whether we are old or young, successful or still on the grind, rich or working-on-it, we all love a compelling storyline that gets us involved and keeps us on the edge of our seats. That’s why we love books, movies and TV. Storytelling is not unique to any culture or geographical region. We all told stories from time immemorial. It didn’t discriminate against people’s age, gender, occupation or social standing. From when language was created, stories were told and continue to be told. Armed with this ability I’m at a loss to explain where advertising over the last few decades missed the storytelling memo.
Our advertising is a series of well thought out, hard selling layouts, great pictures of beautiful people, great punch lines and captivating headlines but in all this we have missed out on what really engages the audience longer than just a nod of appreciation for work put in. I’m talking about a good old story. I have worked with agencies where the start of a campaign is to decide on the central visual then everything else falls in line. I argue that we need to have the story first and that should determine the visual direction. We seem to have stumbled into an era of in-your-face advertising where ads were created to be ads and the visual is our holy grail. So many agencies search for the perfect visual and much as they may achieve it (which is great), that may just be the reason for the ad clutter we all struggle with now. Once created the ads fit into the traditional media that is available and we would hope for the best. Sometimes results are achieved and sometimes they aren’t. Ad agencies would celebrate wins as the result of visionary talent and choke down failures under the hard-to-measure “Brand Equity” column.
That type advertising has become so much harder to defend because ad avoidance on almost all media types is now at an all-time high. Statistics are still rolling in but estimates tell us that 9 out of 10 people will avoid ads either by fast forwarding on pre-recorded shows, flipping a page, pushing the skip button or just going to the kitchen for a snack during advert time. It’s a quandary for a lot of traditional advertisers because now they push volume with the hope that even as people avoid ads, the sheer volume of them will make it impossible to completely avoid all the ads they throw at you. This shotgun approach is disappointing at best. What if, instead of pushing more distractions, we actually gave people what they wanted and got them to willingly interact with our brands? How, you ask? Well, simply by telling powerful and compelling stories.
Stories define their own media
One of the trickiest things in advertising is to be creative with media choices. Some have the gift and others just stick to the traditional tried and tested methods. Unfortunately, those are the methods that people are now avoiding like a plague. In my experience, if your advertising campaign carries a good enough storyline and begins from the story, it could dictate its own media choices and some of them can be extremely creative and memorable. We have run campaigns that have made radio an exciting and engaging medium again and even one campaign that used toilet paper as a delivery mechanism (we all know that when you are in the loo, you have plenty of time). All this determind by the twists and turns that a good story makes With the power of a good story, you can transform any every day platform into a smart and unique media choice which will guarantee results. The best part about it is that you move away from the clutter and you become a singular voice that people will talk about for a long time to come.
Good stories build endearment
The first thing I was taught in advertising was that 50% percent of buying decisions are made from the heart. Everything else takes up the other 50%. Therefore, wining people’s hearts is the first step in building a winning brand. Human emotion is an interesting thing. If people feel that they can relate to or empathise with characters or their story, they will invest themselves emotionally in the process. Emotional bonds are hard to break. So, when people laugh out loud in movies or cry at plays, rest assured that they will carry those characters for a long time. That is exactly the same result brands can achieve with emotive story lines. By tugging at the heart strings, you can create a relationship with the customers that will last a lifetime. It is key to make sure that other elements of the brand tick the right boxes, of course.
Story based campaigns have longevity
Isn’t it interesting that in the clutter and thousands of ad campaigns that are churned out annually, very few of them last the test of time. Think back on campaigns that have lasted the longest time and you realise that there are only a handful. One that springs to mind is the 50 year Avis, “We try harder” campaign. That is such a compelling story that remains relevant even to this day. The story of an underdog who goes the extra mile. Who doesn’t love an underdog? The lesson from this is that a great story encourages relevance and relevance leads to longevity. So, if you want to run a campaign that is iconic across generations, start with a good story.
You can stack up on products (within reason)
Another thing that a story gives you is the ability to present multiple products in a single ad effort without sabotaging the results of your campaign and spiralling into brand confusion. You can achieve this by ensuring that your character development in the storyline creates a set of characters that are multifaceted yet simple to understand. Think about the Lego Movie as an example. That is one huge and successful example of using a story to promote your brand. A very good story, at that. Because their story lent itself to a movie delivery mechanism, it allowed them to push so many aspects of Lego into the movie which ordinarily would have taken 2 or maybe 3 different campaigns to cram in. That is just one example but by defining your characters and media well, you can achieve phenomenal cost management and impactful results for your client.
It’s just exciting
A good story is just exciting and making your brand exciting is a good enough reason to go this route. Who goes out of their way to be boring? I am yet to meet that person. Exciting things are memorable and make people want to engage with them. The success of advertising is in making people want to engage with you and not avoid you. When they want to engage with you, you had better make sure that they remember you. The one sure way of doing that is through a good and compelling story.
I need to sound a warning in my conclusion. There are boring and poorly crafted stories out there. Those will not achieve the results any brand is looking for. So, not just any story will cut it. It has to be a good and compelling story so time must be spent in the storytelling process. There are numerous steps that include character development, plot layouts etc. These are things that any brand or agency must pay attention to in order to achieve the best results. I can guarantee you that your brand can capture hearts, results, awards and market share. All through the age old art of storytelling.
I got into advertising purely by accident. Somehow, on my way to becoming a lawyer I waddled into the advertising pool and never got out. Don’t get me wrong, even though I came upon this profession accidentally, I love it. I love it so much that now I own my own firm with offices in 3 African markets.
The way in which I got into the profession left me no choice but to become a generalist. When I look back, specialisation was never really an option available to me. I went to meet a man who owned an advertising agency and I’d been told that there was no vacancy but he was interested in meeting me. The meeting cum interview was an hour of me declaring that I could do anything he needed just to make sure I got the job. Since I write poetry, I told him copywriting was doable. After all, it’s writing. Since I like talking to people, I told him account management would be a walk in the park. Needless to say, he called my bluff and hired me as an account executive / copywriter.
Being a sucker for punishment, I wrote I proposal a few months later on how the agency could attract more business and streamline structures to become more efficient and accountable. Once again, they took me at my word and promoted me into what they called a Business Development role. So, 6 months into that job and into the advertising industry, I was doing new business acquisition, client management and copywriting. I also did all our presentations. Without getting into more detail, courses in web design, social media management and graphic design made me the ultimate generalist.
I realised a couple of years down the line that while you are employed, being a generalist can be great for the organisation especially if you are above average in a few of the disciplines. You save the organisation money and you bump up their efficiency. What I hadn’t bargained for was the complexity of finding new work as a generalist. The employment market has a strong bias towards specialists and with good reason. Specialists are more predictable. You know what they know and what they are good at. It’s so much less of a gamble to take a specialist than a generalist and no employment agency wants to gamble on a jack of all trades. They assume that a generalist has only basic knowledge of things but not enough to execute at an expert level. A good analogy is like thinking about an accounts teacher. You can trust them to teach your child accounts but not to do your business’ books.
Much as I understand the limitations that generalists may have in traditional advertising agencies, the modern advertising landscape has created an unprecedented demand for generalists. The new forms of media and the conscious millennial consumer have changed the way in which brands communicate with the market and the way in which advertising is consumed. In the past you could get away with silos within advertising agencies largely because your market was predictably loyal to a media choice. Therefore, you could afford to segment your specialists. Now, the millennial consumer is a seamless multiplatform consumer whose take on media is not so broken down but more connected. Therefore, modern advertising agencies are looking for people with a deep understanding of numerous disciplines to bring it all together and respond appropriately to the new consumer. That person is the generalist.
Moreover, as an entrepreneur intent on setting up your own agency, survival demands that you become a generalist or at least work with one. I can assure you that after a quarter of zero billings, you are unlikely to want to turn away a client because you only work on above the line media and can’t do their below the line work. The start-up or entrepreneurial organisations requires people who are adept in various disciplines in order to be able to satisfy the requirements of clients before they are able to hire specialists. Believe me, I learned this from experience. Interestingly, generalists usually end up in senior management as organisations grow because of their ability to see a broad picture more clearly. This means they can connect what may seem to be unconnected dots to create patterns that define modern marketing mixes.
One thing that people turn a blind eye to is the possibility of jobs going obsolete. It’s an uncomfortable thing to think about but if you’ve been around long enough, you would know that it’s a reality that may happen and is happening faster than most people realise. If you think about it, mailrooms hardly exist anymore but every reputable organisation had a mailroom at the turn of the century. In just under 20 years, few people remember what that was. Closer to home, printing firms used to have colour separators who would digitise artwork for printing. This was so specialised that at a point Africa had under 50 colour separators on the entire continent. Now with digital platforms, they are spoken of just like the dinosaurs. I’m not saying your job will disappear but how sure are you that it won’t? With all the talk of artificial intelligence, chatbots and big data, where do you fit in all this? The advantage that generalists have is that they often find relevance in one or more roles that they already work in. Furthermore, they are adaptable because they have had to be all along. Survival is reason enough to be a generalist.
Just to make sure that I’m not misunderstood, I must stress that being a generalist doesn’t mean you’re a jack of all trades and a master of none (gosh I hate that phrase). A generalist can specialise in one discipline and still have the capacity to develop a working knowledge in a few other disciplines. As an example, I have specialised for several years now, in reward systems and am one of very few people on the African continent with the ability to design and implement effective reward systems across various industries. At the same time, I still take on strategy, planning, web design, graphic design and client management and copywriting on the rare occasion within my firm. The demands on mental and learning capacities are much higher on the generalist but it doesn’t need to mean that the generalist has no speciality. It simply means that we have developed the ability to learn quickly, broadly and over a short space of time. We have also learned to create relationships among things that seem unconnected. This is a valuable modern skill.
My defence of the generalist is not blind. I must caution anyone who wants to be a generalist to ensure that they have more than just a surface knowledge of the fields they want to enter into. One must be competent enough in each field to advise clients professionally and effectively. This means being a generalist in advertising is more work and more learning than being a specialist. Therefore, it isn’t something to be taken lightly.
The signs are clear and the new creative economy has more space for the generalist than ever before. Being a generalist comes with the need to prove oneself consistently but that is the price to pay for owning the future.
As an entrepreneur who has had the privilege of working across Africa, I have come to respect the role that systems and structure have to play in the success of any industry or enterprise. I really believe that these form an integral part of the secret of entrepreneurial success but that’s a story for another article.
It is against this backdrop that I set up an office for our advertising agency in Kigali, Rwanda. I was and still am impressed with the progress that this country is making and with the systems and structures that you find across most facets of the economy. In addition to this, the economic indicators are exciting for an entrepreneur like myself. With the economy growing at over 7% per annum and with international investors and businesses investing in the country, I smelt opportunity like a shark smells blood in the water. Numbers like that should ordinarily mean that there are endless opportunities for support industries like insurance, management consulting and in our case, advertising. Here’s what threw me off a little (not a lot). A few months after setting up, I realised that regardless of the growth everywhere else, the advertising industry in Rwanda was on the decline and the decline had been steady over several years. It was and still is hard to believe. Imagine that billings within the advertising industry have fallen to between 16% and 22% of what they were 5 years ago. I’ll give you a moment to gasp.
I took the time to try and understand why and I uncovered the challenges that bedevilled the industry. The largest firms in the country prefer to work with international and external agencies from Kenya, South Africa and even Madagascar as opposed to Rwandan ones. One executive unapologetically told me that there were no good agencies in Rwanda (hey, I’m here now J). Others have decided that it is more cost effective to hire internal design teams to work with their marketing departments rather than spend millions on agency fees. I kept asking the question “why” and a deeper analysis revealed that over the last 15 years, companies have been so disappointed with what they have received from advertising agencies that they no longer see value in them. This comes as no surprise given that the oldest advertising agency as an example, operates in similar fashion to what more developed agencies in Africa were doing 12 years ago. In addition to that, the industry has little or no oversight so anyone with a computer and a design programme can call themselves an agency, sell their services and without doubt they will disappoint on delivery or creative or strategy or any other facet that requires more than a laptop and design software.
To sum up my findings, although Rwanda has a number of advertising agencies, there is no advertising industry. Measures have to be taken to transform this collection of companies into a self-regulating and accountable industry. The only way to resurrect the advertising industry in Rwanda is to develop the systems and structures that will make it an industry. My suggestion is to bring together industry players into an organisation or chamber that represents the professional interests of every player and is managed and regulated in the same way in which Chambers of Commerce are. This gives the industry credibility and organisation that works for everyone involved.
An industry body of this nature has immense benefits for agencies, suppliers and clients and this has been demonstrated by similar bodies in other markets that we operate in namely South Africa and Zimbabwe and beyond and even in industries outside advertising. Firstly, a body like this would be able to set minimum standards that each business would need to adhere to in order to remain an operational agency. This protects clients more than anyone else but it also protects the reputation of Rwandan advertising agencies and by extension, the Rwandan brand. Therefore, no more fly-by-night agencies that rip clients off and give the profession a bad name. This also means that we can all raise our game to international best practices or at the very least, work towards that goal.
Such a body would also make lobbying more effective. I will give a practical example. In Zimbabwe, the Advertising and Media Association (ADMA) has a deal with media houses across all media. Any accredited agency that places ads with any media house gets a 16.5% commission off the media cost. Should any client approach the media houses directly, they will be quoted a full fee including the 16.5%. Moreover, the agencies can offer discounts to clients by reducing their own commission. This encourages clients to place their ads through an ad agency as opposed to going directly. This works well in that you will find that gross media bookings account on average or 60% of agency billings and even more for the larger agencies. This means jobs and revenue within the industry. It has worked so well, that in some instances media agencies have emerged which only place media for clients and yet-to-be-accredited agencies. Juxtapose this with the current industry practice in Rwanda. A direct client is more likely to get a discount from a media house than an agency is likely to. Therefore, most agencies earn absolutely nothing from media placement. Simply put, Rwandan agencies could be making twice as much in turnover if there was an industry body to lobby and negotiate on their behalf. The lobbying can go beyond this to include areas such legislation etc. Surely another 100% in revenue would have kept many closed agencies open and created some jobs within the sector.
When we mention developing and maintaining global best practices and I’m sure one wonders that if the industry is a decade behind, where would those come from? The answer is simple. An industry organisation would have the mandate and capacity to offer learning opportunities to members. These learning opportunities must be accredited to international organisations to ensure that we are plugged in to the latest trends and developments and to ensure that we can put these into practice. This means that as long as agencies set up well and correctly, opportunities are offered for the agencies to grow. That can’t be a bad thing, can it?
Just like with any other industry, the body would offer protection for agencies. A good and recent example reported on bizcommunity.com is where South Africa’s Association for Communication and Advertising (ACA) sanctioned fixed telephony provider Telkom for unfair tender and pitching practices. According to the article, they felt that the tender process was skewed in that it offered agencies less than a 10% chance of getting the work and the pitch costs and requirements were prejudicial to smaller agencies. How many times do we hear that with pitches especially with the bigger companies in Rwanda? The playing field is so skewed against anyone who hasn’t been around for 10 years such that fairness is lost in the process. With an industry body looking over those things and with enough clout to do something about it, the advertising industry in Rwanda can only get better and stronger.
There are many more reasons why professionalising the advertising landscape in Rwanda is a good idea. Any client who has been the recipient of shoddy service and work would agree. I have heard people asking why they should invest in making other agencies better. The simple answer is that such an investment benefits us all and if you are the biggest agency now, business coming back into Rwanda can only make you bigger. Moreover, better skills and more revenue certainly cannot hurt. We can also contribute to the incredible developments that are taking place in Rwanda and being part of the process and not left behind. I am convinced that this move will not only serve Rwandan agencies well, but also make Rwandan advertising agencies regional players within East Africa..
I was 16 years old when my physics teacher bolted into class and asked,
"Do you know how to make a million dollars?"
My mind raced to a million places and my heart beat excitedly in anticipation. I expected that he perhaps had created a laser that could heal a disease we had never heard of or perhaps he devised a Nobel Prize worthy formula for the earth's rotation. Before you condemn me as an overly excitable fellow, let me give you the context. This guy was an African Einstein. I can't vouch for what went on in his head but he kept plenty of unkempt hair and a sporting mustache with a dusty lab coat completing the look. When you saw him he always looked like he was working out something. I always imagined that his head was like a projector beaming complicated calculus that only he could see. Clearly I can be forgiven for thinking that the look went together with some higher cognitive ability.
You can imagine my utter disappointment when he offered his answer,
"You plant a million cabbages and sell them at a dollar each."
I was shattered. How could my Einstein be advocating for agriculture in this modern age. Short of prostitution, agriculture is as old as economic activity gets. Moreover, it's as creative as shelf packing. A man who was meant to fill our minds with a desire to conquer the unknown wanted me to plant cabbages. Needless to say, now in my 30s, I am yet to forgive this man.
If you look at it closely it's a very African way of thinking about economics and perhaps it's the reason why our great continent is only advocating for beneficiation of natural resources 100 years after the West got to it. The example of my physics teacher illustrates just how conflicting our own thinking is. It's the strangest oxymoron. The analogy basically gives us the understanding that we are in a position of knowledge. Being a part of the global economy, we know what we want. We know what we buy. We know that we would want more but we never venture out to search for that "more" ourselves. we even boast great education systems yet we seem afraid to encourage our young entrepreneurs to venture towards the unknown. instead, we tell them to plant cabbages. What we really should be doing is encouraging them to dream and make new things. We should be encouraging them to be a part of the creative economy.
It may be appropriate now to explain what I mean by the creative economy. The best definition I can think of is the set of socio-economic trade dealing in creativity, knowledge and information and the transformation of those into tangible problem solving economic entities and products. To even simplify it further, I see it as the ability to create something out of nothing or very little and the foresight to monetize it. Basically, to borrow the children's game, to make a dollar out of 15 cents.
I'm sure the more perceptive of you have already realised that cabbages in my assessment go well beyond just cabbages or just agriculture but it illustrates the usual economy. Things that people have been known to do all along. It's either you are a teacher, a doctor, a lawyer, an engineer and so on. Oddly, it seems that if you can't give it a name, it doesn't exist. That's the quandary that I have faced my whole life and it has taken me 3 decades to find an answer. Maybe I needed therapy, who knows. You see, I became part of the creative economy against all odds. For a long time I felt like a misfit. I'm the sort of guy who doesn't fit into any conventional mould and I never have. For instance, I played soccer as a wingback, even though I was slow (running wise, that is), I played rugby even though I wasn't very big, I'm a whizz at commercial business and organizational development even though I write poetry and humanities have always come easy for me. That's just a tip of the iceberg. Now you can imagine my misery when I was asked what I wanted to be. Everyone else wanted to be doctors, lawyers, accountants and I knew that wasn't for me. I was expected to give a name of a profession which had no name. I then became smart about it. I made stuff up. Sometimes I wanted to be a painting poet, a supermodel (in my defense, I won a modeling competition when I was 13), then a race car driver and once, to the dismay of those around me, I wanted to plant cabbages. Not be a farmer. Just cabbages.
The psychologist in me will tell you that it was more a cry for help and the pursuit for definition more than anything else. Whatever funny example I used was to illustrate that I desired to create and even more than that, the cabbages quip was a desire to make that million dollars. I guess I spent so much time trying to define myself in a world that boxed you according to a name and where a name didn't exist, I was lost. That for me is the saddest thing. How many young creative minds have we killed because we have convinced them that they belong to pocket and they should stay in their lane? I can literally see the brain cells committing suicide. So, because you are an accountant or engineer, you can't like Hamlet or you can't dream. Have you ever thought that the much revered Leonardo da Vinci was a painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer. These things don't fit together nowadays and it led me to realize that Africa could embrace a creative economy and build creative entrepreneurs just by understanding that the world need not stand on convention. People need not be pigeon-holed. We must encourage our entrepreneurs and children to open their minds and explore possibilities. Only then do we build more fulfilling enterprises and create new things for the world to admire and hopefully buy from us. In case you are wondering, I have now found my definition. If someone asks me what I do, I simply tell them that I create value.
The problem from a macro economic level goes much deeper than just our thinking. We can't ignore the role that policies and institutions play. I believe that our governments should have an unwritten contract with their citizens. Governments should say that if you create something viable and new, and it works, we will help you protect it and we will ensure that you will earn handsomely from it. This understanding is often created by enabling policies and institutions that support people who are bold enough to venture outside conventional comfort zones. Unfortunately in Africa, God giveth and the government taketh away. As an example, about 20 years ago, in a Southern African country far far away, a 15 year old student made a working rifle for a science fair. He was told that what he had done was dangerous and illegal and he must never do it again. He now works for a top arms company in the United States. In another incident, an engineer made a helicopter at home. He was told that if that contraption rose 10cm from the ground, he would be arrested. Now he consults for an aircraft company in Germany. Yet in another African country, a 17 year old boy made a radio using card board, wood, wires and Coca Cola bottle tops. He is now a lab technician in an underfunded hospital. Allow me a moment to wipe the tears from my eyes. It's hard to understand why we stifle progress and creativity. The oddest thing is that we actively and vigorously stifle this creativity. Why we threaten those who create yet we have policies and institutions to support traders, cabbage planters and people who dig up stuff. Can we not understand that by embracing creativity we can be so much more? Creativity is an equalizer in that a single idea can leapfrog a business or an economy 20 or 30 years ahead.
We are happy to tinker on Facebook or Google but we don't stop to think that not so long ago these were ideas that may not even have seemed plausible. They were created by the crazy imagination of people not so different from you and I. Knowing some of our governments as we do, had the concepts of Facebook and Google been mooted on this continent, they would never have seen the light of day. I can imagine how many privacy laws they would have broken and heck, if the government felt adequately threatened, jail time may have been the end result. But it shouldn't be the case, let's learn from the examples we have and encourage ourselves to become so much more.
I wrote this piece to encourage and in support of the misfit which I firmly believe I am too. Against the odds of alienating nomenclature where we belong nowhere because where our minds take us has no name and against economic circumstances that work against you, we have stories of victory. Yet we need more of those. We need to harness the potential of creative economies because there we can begin to compete with the advanced world instantly. We can create creative economies because that is the way of the 21st century and we ought to be modern people. We must open our minds to new things and new possibilities. To boldly go, where no man has gone before (I had to). So forget cabbages and forget labels. Let's open our minds to creating something out of nothing or out of very little. Or at the very least, if we can't live it ourselves, lets have the mental fortitude to encourage those coming after us to make a dollar out of 15 cents.
I’m frankly tired of waiting for the world to end and I know I’m not the only one. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy here. I don’t want the world to end but there have been so many end-of-the-world prophesies that it’s now getting quite exhausting. The worst part about it is that they keep us on edge. We stock up on tuna and sell our belongings and then come the date, nothing happens. Do you know how hard it is to go through 12,653 cans of tuna before their sell by date? I’m not wasteful so it all has to go, somehow. It was while I was eating the tuna desert after the tuna dinner which had been preceded by the tuna starter that I had had a thought. It seems to me that anyone just postulates their own end-of-the-world date. The silly part about it is that they put it so close, that they can be proven wrong. Maybe I should give it a go. Why not?
Here is mine. I predict that the world will end in the year 2,000,000,000. Yep, the year 2,000,000,000. Now, you are probably going to read that twice or thrice to make sure. Yes, it is a year and not a currency, not a typographical error nor is it a random number. I will write it again. The world will end in the year 2,000,000,000. That year is 1,999,997,987 years away from now.
I will hasten to say that my prediction was arrived at not through zealous religious fanaticism, because that has let many apocalyptic prophets down but through science and a deep sense of self preservation. I’ll come to that later but allow me to give you some background. My tuna-inspired enlightenment led me to read on as many end-of –the-world predictions as I could. Would you believe that I found over 200 highly publicised ones, the first one coming in 634BC. They were way off (poor buggers). The bulk of these were driven by religion. For instance, in 793 AD, a Spanish Monk named Beatus of Liébana prophecied the coming of Christ to be April 6 in that year. In 1000AD Pope Sylvester II predicted the end of the world that year but alas. Europe rioted and the world travelled to Jerusalem only to be back home by the end of the week. Pope Innocent III had his punt in 1284, Marin Luther predicted 1600, and it goes on, right up to the Mayans at the end of December last year. What have we learned from this? Well, simply that religious dating of the end of the world is very unreliable.
Let’s now explore my scientific methods and my sense of self preservation. You see, I am tired of packing my bags and buying tuna every couple of years. If I have my own prediction, I can now sit comfortably and chuckle at anyone else’s predictions. How’s that for wisdom? Now to my science. My reason for predicting that the world will end in 2,000,000,000 is because it will be the end of our Sun's current phase of development, after which it will swell into a red giant, either swallowing the Earth or at least completely scorching it. That’s as far as I will go. I’ll let the Theologians work out how that merges with Revelations in the bible.
I guess my overall message is quite simple. We are so often overwrought with fears of an impending end; we forget to live our lives. I hope that by giving you my prediction, you will be calmer and focus on the things that matter while you are here. Enjoy this trip and do the best you can for those you can and eat less tuna. So often we have been frightened by so many people into giving up only having to rebuild later. I say don’t worry; the year 2,000,000,000 is very very far away.
I’ve been an entrepreneur all my life.
Do I think I deserve an award for that? Hell yeah! But I know I’m not getting one (or am I?). Well, almost all my life. I feel that I have the battle scars that allow me to speak authoritatively on behalf of entrepreneurs. There is a brief period when I took up the comfort of employment. It was rewarding in its own way and truth be told, I was allowed to express myself entrepreneurially even in that setup. I learned something important during that time. I understood that the biggest difference between an employee and an entrepreneur is that entrepreneurs are hardly ever comfortable. Not that they never make money or attain wealth, that’s not what I mean. What I mean is that entrepreneurs rarely ever sit back, feel content and think they are done regardless of their successes or failures. They are often asking, “What’s next?”
Opportunity is next. You see, the answer to that question lies in the next opportunity. That’s what’s next.
Though it’s probably impossible to prove, I believe that less than 50% of the opportunities available to human beings are ever taken up. That’s a disappointing percentage, isn’t it? There are a myriad of reasons why opportunities are never utilised. There may be capital constraints, poor timing, bad location etc. However, in my view, the biggest reason is that we don’t even know that the opportunity is there. So may opportunities come by and pass without us ever seeing that they were there. The good thing about these is that they leave us with less regret but wouldn’t we stand a better chance if we knew they were there? How much better would we be if we were able to pick these opportunities up? So much better, I say.
We owe it to ourselves to develop our skills to be able to identify opportunities wherever they may present themselves. But how do we do that? How do we turn ourselves into efficient receptors for opportunities that we often miss? The first answer lies in the very essence of being an entrepreneur. Instinct. Before you ask, instinct is naturally contained in some people but it must be developed and can be learned. Like most things, if you don’t build on it, it dies and if you build on it, it grows. If you are asking what happens if you don’t have good instincts, let me break it down for you. If you are an entrepreneur and have set up a new business and it has survived more than 1000 days, then you’ve got it. Just build on it by putting it more to the test. See what your instinct tell you about a situation and act on it. The only way to hone in your instinct is through experience. I realised this in my own experience. Now, when a client approaches us, I can tell with 90% accuracy, which client will cost us time and money. That has saved us quite a bit of money. So now, we are quite selective about the clients we take up. Better not to earn money than to lose it, right?
The second answer came to me when I took a trip to Zimbabwe a few months back. Whilst there, I was driving a Japanese imported vehicle. I’m generally a creature of habit and when I’m there, I listen to the same radio station. For some odd reason, the radio in the car I had could only pick up 2 radio channels. None of which were my regular channel. The fact that I couldn’t listen to the channel didn’t mean that it wasn’t there. It simply meant that the frequency at which it was broadcasting isn’t the frequency at which I was listening. That’s often the same problem with us and opportunities. They are often broadcasting at frequencies that we aren’t listening at. For some of us, these are frequencies we aren’t able to listen at. There are various reasons for this. Sometimes we consume our minds with noise borne from disappointments, frustrations or a lack of focus or any of a million reasons. The opportunities simply come and go. We need to keep our minds open and aware so we are able to pick up the frequencies when we need to.
I know, I seem to be creating a maze but it gets clearer. Wait for it.
The best way to make your mind “opportunity ready” is to constantly and continuously feed your mind. Yep, you heard right, feed your mind. The process of feeding your mind is easier than many people would think. You do this by reading, listening and watching things that challenge your mind and developing a healthy curiosity about the things in the world around you. Make that brain work. That’s how you expand it. If you constantly feed your mind, you become a receptor for much more stimuli around you than before and you are more likely to see opportunity when it comes. What may seem like useless information becomes your next breakthrough because you have opened up your mind to it. You become more aware of it. Sometimes, it may simply be because you are more aware of coming trends because your mind is now in that space. And as your mind continues to expand, you become more pre-emptive of trends. Here’s where it gets more exciting. When you get here, not only do you start picking up more opportunities, you begin to create opportunities. This is a realisation that has profoundly changed my life and has made me more relevant.
If you think about it, this message isn’t just for entrepreneurs. It can be for anyone because the concepts are universally applicable. Like anything in this world, it’s not easy. You must invest in the time and resources that allow you to be better. Read a book (I know some of you haven’t since college), play a game of chess or even scrabble. The basic principles hold true. You must strive and you must seek. That is the only way that you will find.
What is the object of life?
I’ve asked many people that question and I have received as many answers as there are grains of sand on a beach. When you ask people what the object of life is, you will get a panoply of interesting and creative answers. The religious will speak of the tenets of their religious dogma and how that defines their purpose on this earth. The goal oriented will speak about the need to attain set targets and the romantics will bring tears to your eyes and joy to your heart speaking about love and the beauty of the rising sun (or some such). I don’t necessarily disagree with any of these or a myriad of others who I have not mentioned; however, I believe that they are overthinking things. Let me explain why. I agree wholeheartedly that our lives have a purpose. If you don’t think so, it may save you time to close this page. I believe that we can’t just be here to float around, breathe air and excrete waste until we die. Our purposes as different people on this earth may not be the same but we are all drawing from the same motivational reserve to be able to attain targets that lead us towards our goal. Therefore, the honest reality is that the object of life is to win.
Yes, to win.
Before you condemn my thinking as capitalist propaganda, hear me out. If you believe that your purpose is to help others by alleviating poverty, as an example, then if you are able to do that and help people around you, you have won. If your purpose is to make a billion dollars, once you attain that, you have won. If you believe you are here to find love and enjoy it then by attaining that, you have won. Therefore, the reality is that everything we aim for, dream or desire, whether it is for us or for others constitutes a win once attained. If we commit to it and search for it then, it follows that the reality is that we seek to win every single day of our lives. The basic reality is that human beings are goal oriented creatures and by understanding that, we are able to motivate ourselves so much more and so much better because it’s always easier to run a race with a goal in sight. That is why people spend countless hours trying to learn how to set goals and drive towards them.
It is important to understand that human beings are not one dimensional. Very few things in life ever are. So, you don’t live in this life with one goal or one target for your entire existence. It would really be sad if people did because it would mean that if you fail (and failure does happen) then you may as well hang yourself on the nearest tree. The reality is that we have so many different things that we wish to attain, some big and some small. You could be a husband /.wife, a parent, an amateur sportsperson, a writer and a business executive all at the same time. Therefore, you want to grow your marriage, improve in your sport of choice, publish articles, provide for your children and make money all at the same time. The is no known limit to the things we can strive for. That’s because if there’s one thing that God gave us in abundance, it’s potential. What we do with it is another matter.
The two ideas that we have introduced bring us to the win principle. We have understood that human beings desire to win, that is the object of life and at the same time, we desire to win on numerous fronts simultaneously. It goes without saying that with this multi-dimensional approach to life, not everything can go smoothly at the same time. At times one thing will go wrong or at times everything goes wrong and we stop seeing our targets in sight. That’s just the way it is. Expect it and anticipate it. In order to get the right drive to surge forward in our goals and secure those wins, we must be motivated. Motivation is really the desire to go on. It says to you, regardless of what’s on the ground, “Let’s go!” To be able to meet our targets and do the great things we would like to do, we must really keep our motivation levels up. The win principle is all about motivation.
I have realised in my numerous personal and entrepreneurial battles that things can go very bad. And often, when you are juggling several things at the same time, one of them going wrong can throw a spanner in the works. That’s why you often hear that when people are having challenges in their relationships, their work also suffers. That is because the negativity of the area of your life that’s going wrong often carries itself into other areas of your life. It’s really a play on your motivation. A cocktail of losses demotivates and leads one to believe that there are losses in other areas of their lives. That assertion is often just an impression and often not the prevailing reality but by lacking motivation, your actions then drive the rest of the areas of your life into a nose dive. Therefore, a single real loss can create a domino effect by inspiring perceived losses which inform our actions and then create more real losses.
All is not lost though, (tuck away your hangman’s noose), the same is applicable to the reverse and positive side of life. In exactly the same way that losses demotivate, wins can motivate. A win in one part of your life can lead to a scenario where you believe that you can do anything. You begin to believe in yourself and you take on more and hence achieve more. Thus, a real win, creates a number of perceived wins which often lead to winning actions which inspire more wins in your life. Therefore, the pursuit of wins motivates.
It gets even better. One of the most interesting things that I have realised is that is that you can turn around a series of losses by attaining a single win. The power of a win often trumps the power that losses have over you. That’s because of how human beings are wired. We are naturally positive and aspirational creatures and therefore we embrace wins in a big way. It’s that same aspiration and positivity that allowed our ancestors to create fire when they were cold when it was so much easier to curl and die. It’s that same aspiration and positivity which has seen us continuously and consistently turn problems into solutions and that has become the bedrock of human innovation.
More interestingly, you don’t need to secure a win in the area in which you need it most or in the area where you are facing loss to be motivated. Allow me to explain. There was a point in my life when I was dabbling in a number of businesses and at the same time working on my fitness and health. Things in business were going badly and needless to say, my motivation levels were low. However, when I ran my first 5km run, I felt like I was on top of the world and I could do anything. I took that positivity and enthusiasm into business and that was our turning point.
Therefore, the win principle simply says that motivation is derived from wins and the wins needed to motivate a person or people do not necessarily need to be related to the area of loss. They simply need to be present and realised.
The last part is absolutely critical. You need to see a win as a win for it to motivate you. If you don’t, then it’s like it’s not there. Awareness of where you are, what you need and what you have is absolutely critical. Therefore, to bring it to a more practical level, when you see things taking a wrong turn in any part of your life and sometimes you can’t find a solution to a nagging problem, take the time to craft a win. We often know where it’s easiest to find that win. Go there and get that win, you will often find that you will create a reservoir of motivation and enthusiasm which often drives your turnaround.
The object of life is to win
My morning routine during the week is fairly standard. I’m up early to beat the morning traffic then I hit the gym to pretend to exercise before I go to work. My time at the gym is mainly spent on the treadmill. Not because I’m a running junky, far from it, but simply because the treadmills have TV screens. It sounds lazy, I know, but this allows me to catch up on the news as I exercise. A stroke of genius, I keep telling myself. Who can resist a healthy and knowledgeable guy? My reason for writing this article stems from my watching the news in the gym on one fateful morning.
Fade to a chilly winter morning about six months ago. As I ran on the treadmill, an interesting story came up where scientists were now able to create sperms cells using skin cells. I immediately fell off my treadmill! Shock and horror! In the article they heralded this as fertility treatment for men who would have survived cancer and chemotherapy that would render them sterile. Now, they could still have children thus changing the lives of hundreds of thousands of families. After hearing this you must be at a loss as to why I fell off the treadmill. Allow me to explain. This is a good sounding tale, but I wasn’t buying what they were selling.
As many men were excited about this, I could see the reality behind the smoke screen. The wood for the trees, so to speak. This was the beginning of the end. Our slow…very slow Armageddon. In order to understand my logic, we must go back to pre-historic times. When humanity started, men were valuable. Initially, our value was because of our superior strength, we could and would protect our women and provide for them. Women needed us. Then things progressed. Some form of economics developed and whether the currency was in the form of sea shells or rocks, it was economics. There with it, came the sale of weapons which could mitigate the perils of physical weakness. But, we were still on top of this because men controlled the economics and the purchase of weapons etc. Therefore, women still needed us.
This persisted until the early 20th century when women now began to take part in economics. Slowly but surely, men’s value as protectors and providers started to lose its shine. A woman could simply hire her own bodyguards or buy her own gun. All was not lost though because as we began to lose our prehistoric and economic advantages, we still had a benefit that they did not. We had the means to pleasure our women through our God-given phalluses. Our saving grace! In essence, women still needed us.
But then, the hedonistic world of sexual depravity reared its ugly head and commercially women could now buy manufactured penises. Some which would make any man feel inadequate. Moreover, the women now had the choice to have several of these “objects” and hence satisfy numerous fantasises, without us. But wait! No matter how these were made, women could not sire children without us. No matter what they tried to do, they needed men to sire children. Therefore, women still needed us.
I’m sure by now you can see where I’m going with this because this news story hit me where it hurts (literally). In no time, this will go commercial and all women will need to do is go for skin grafting and boom, she’s pregnant…by herself! If evolution is anything to go by, the uselessness and redundancy of the Y chromosome won’t be hard to pick up and after Lord-knows-how-many years, production of it will cease entirely and poof…no more men. We will become extinct. Oh…I can see the last days, when unshaved and unkempt men are staring from within cages in zoos at women as they walk around and take pictures. We won’t be able to talk now because no one would have talked to us in thousands of years so our grunts will seem to them to be proof of our animalistic and pre historic nature. I can even hear the conversations.
“These are called “men”. Yes, just “men”. They used to be better than us, and then we were equal. Then…well…here they are.”
Dark days indeed! I know my conclusion may seem a little farfetched but isn’t that the course of evolution? My hope is that in the future, women may discover this article and then they will know that men once had ideas and thoughts and perhaps I could be the Mayan who predicted the very distant future.
Garikai M. Nhongo
Garikai is the Thinking Entrepreneur. He has interests in Advertising, Media and consultancy in East & Southern Africa. He is a published poet with 2 books of poetry available worldwide. Visions of My Heart: 101 Tales Tales Told in Verse and Words on My Canvas. He has a poetry blog and he is also a speaker and a trainer. Talk to him by email or social media below.