Albert Ocran

Albert Ocran
Albert Ocran is one of Ghana's most prolific authors and an award-winning motivational speaker

Saturday, 15 October 2011

THE X-FACTOR!!! Why Some People Succeed Where Others Fail.

This blog is all about bringing you the best thoughts on human capital development. My friend Martyn Mensah wrote this article for the August 2011 edition of our biannual IDEAS Magazine. Enjoy it!!!
I am sure that there are a good number of us who have often pondered about one of the great imponderables of life: what makes the difference between those individuals who make it to the rarefied atmosphere of outstanding success and the vast cohorts of also runs? The truth is that there are a huge number of ambitious, capable, competent, intelligent and talented people who, despite some very determined efforts, have not gotten past being just average in their endeavours. There are times when, like that irritating song, I just cannot get this question out of my mind. I have had the good fortune of working with and for some of our continent’s finest entrepreneurs and at the same time I have consulted for many who, despite their glaring potential and their herculean efforts, “live in the grey twilight that knows not victory or defeat”.
So the question kept niggling me and day after day, I scoured books, the internet and other resources for the potential answer. Whilst there were many propositions and prescriptions that sought to explain that unknown essence which surrounds the stars of the world, I could not help but feel that these were all rather theoretical. Let’s face it, successful people differ immensely in personality and style and yet there is something that they have in common – a common thread that runs through each of them. This thing is very difficult to identify because it is often an amalgam of subtle traits that gel into an attitude – a mind-set – a way of being. What makes this even more difficult is the fact that many successful people have not thought through what it is that lies at the heart of their success. This elusive element is what I am calling the X FACTOR and it is that which makes the difference between the average ones and champions.
The “breakthrough” came one day as I sat in my office. My screen-saver scrolled across my laptop – “WORK LIKE YOU DON’T NEED THE MONEY; LOVE LIKE YOU’VE NEVER BEEN HURT BEFORE; DANCE LIKE YOU WOULD WHEN NO ONE IS WATCHING”. And I had one of those moments that you can only describe as a “Eureka” moment. I suddenly saw something in this statement which I had seen every day for quite a few years and yet I did not even know who originated this statement. Rigorous internet research threw up the fact that this was attributable to a gentleman who played baseball in the 1920s, called Robert Leroy Paige (nicknamed Satchel). And to me, it seemed to capture the various elements of this X factor. In case you are wondering about the connection, let me share what I saw in Satchel’s statement.
To me, WORK LIKE YOU DON'T NEED THE MONEY means you have a passion and love for what you do, and strongly believe that your product or service fulfils a real need in the marketplace. Your prime focus is on being excellent in everything you do. This excellence results from combining the gifts and passion you naturally possess with discipline (the time, effort, and hard work you are willing to invest) and your beliefs (the translation of your thoughts into empowering actions and outcomes). You have determination, patience and a positive attitude in abundance such that when others throw in the towel, you are more determined than ever to press on. This motive or force is the quintessence of all your drive for achievement and not financial return.
In contrast, if money were to be your sole driver, the discipline and sacrifice needed to succeed will become a burden and the patience that is required to build great things will be a struggle. Shortcuts will become attractive and compromise will be your preferred modus operandi as the quest for cash causes you to lose focus and re-order your priorities. It can lead to the sacrificing of customers, staff, family, competitors, values and ethics on the altar of cash. You are more at risk of losing your uniqueness as you are likely to rush to copy those who you think are making it financially.
So this first concept proposes that there must be a higher ideal that serves as the clarion call for your efforts and not one as base as money. If one sincerely identifies this and it becomes the reason for everything that you do, success is very likely to attend your hard work.
The next element seems even farther removed from the world of business; after all, what does love have to do with it? But digging beneath the literal meaning of this statement reveals what LOVE LIKE YOU’VE NEVER BEEN HURT really means.
Successful people understand that business success depends critically on the quality of human interaction – with customers, colleagues, partners, financiers, suppliers, staff, regulators, etc. The most successful people I know are fastidious about building, nurturing and preserving solid relationships with all stakeholders. The key message here is that one requires strong relationships as a prerequisite for success…. Relationships which have suspicion, mistrust and hidden agendas as their defining characteristics cannot be productive relationships.
One of the nation’s top CEOs always reminds me that if one claims to like -- if not love -- your fellow man, then this will be demonstrated in respect, honesty, integrity and empathy towards others. This is a fundamental truth which enables us to get along with and relate well with different types of people irrespective of class. If you understand the mechanics and application of good relationship building, you will demonstrate certain distinguishing behaviours, including the following:-
Ò  You are not over-eager to be the “BIG BOSS” with staff waiting on you hand and foot and people scurrying for cover when you appear.
Ò  You retain the confidence and humility that truly great leaders have and as a result, people will be eager to work with and for you (not out of fear).
Ò  You operate in a cocoon of trust. In other words, you give trust and expect trust. You understand that trust is a function of two things: Character (integrity, motive, intent) and competence (capabilities, skills, results, track record). You demonstrate these in everything you do and expect those around you to do the same.
Ò  You don’t expect the worst from people until they give you abundant reason to do so.
Great people generally tend to give back generously and widely without keeping a balance sheet of their giving. This trait stems from their understanding that success cannot be achieved without the help and support of external players e.g. staff, the community, etc.. So, yes, as counter-intuitive as it would initially appear, loving generously (and of course, sensibly) results in an environment that is highly conducive to achieving success through excellence.
The last dimension says DANCE LIKE YOU WOULD WHEN NO ONE IS WATCHING. If you’ve ever watched a lousy but enthusiastic dancer, you can imagine what this seeks to communicate. They appear to be dancing to a sound that only they can hear…and they definitely appear to be having a lot of fun to boot. Indeed, when you are all by yourself, you pull off dance moves and gyrations which you will never dare to repeat in public. Often, we stop ourselves from doing or saying things that we really want to because we are concerned or even intimidated by what others will say about us. For those who never reach their full potential, they must wonder how different their lives might have been if they had taken that opportunity or voiced that opinion.
For me, the big insight into this element is this; this is not a dress rehearsal, it’s the real life. It is therefore important that every effort is made to enjoy the ride. To do this, successful people carry their own sunshine. They dance their own way, find their own beat and exude their passion. In living their lives in this manner, they recognize that there are many options to choose from in anything that they do. They look, not only at the obvious and trite options, but they create new ways of doing things and in so doing earn descriptors like maverick, eccentric, deviant, non-conformist and the like. They cherish the freedom to question the usual definitions of success and imagine possibilities other than the ones that are familiar to all.
The other profundity hidden in this seemingly simple statement is that it is essential to be absolutely true to yourself as you pursue success. There must be a consistency about everything that you do, driven by the realization that pretence is only self–delusion. Whilst it is helpful to look at role models and mentors, it is important to accept that you cannot succeed as someone else. A cursory examination of success reveals that successful people are confident & comfortable in their own skin, freeing them to carve their own path, chart their own course and create their own legacy.
This is my attempt at defining the X- Factor; the sublime essence of the successful person. I hope that, to some extent, I have achieved my objective of capturing something which is quite difficult to define. The seemingly obscure inspiration (Satchel Paige’s statement) for this insight only confirms the elusive nature of the X-factor. Although I think I have found a perspective to look at this complex trait, I still believe that there is more to the secret of success than this. I cannot shake the feeling that success cannot be prescribed in a formula.
At best, the markers that indicate the path to success can be identified but there remains a single, significant element that does not lie in our control; the gift of the blessings of God, which perfects the hard work that of necessity attends the quest for success. All that we can do therefore is prepare ourselves as best we can so that we will be ready and worthy of this free and generous gift, whose granting no human mind can encompass. Remember, “WORK LIKE YOU DON’T NEED THE MONEY; LOVE LIKE YOU’VE NEVER BEEN HURT BEFORE; DANCE LIKE YOU WOULD WHEN NO ONE IS WATCHING” and watch out for the grace that will deliver the success which you so deserve.

I trust that you have enjoyed and been inspired by Martyn's thoughts. Keep learning and excelling in the things you love to do.
Peace & Many Blessings.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Linking Dots, Love & Death: My “Ten Commandments” from Steve Jobs

You don’t always wake up to the news of the death of one of the most iconic CEO’s of our generation. Steve Jobs was a legend in his own right. In his honour, I reproduce the full text of probably his greatest speech and share ten lessons I have learnt from it.
Steve Jobs delivering his famous 2005 Commencement Speech at Stanford University

Below is the full text of the Commencement address delivered by Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios, on June 12, 2005:

I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I've ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That's it. No big deal. Just three stories.

The first story is about connecting the dots. I dropped out of Reed College after the first 6 months, but then stayed around as a drop-in for another 18 months or so before I really quit. So why did I drop out?

It started before I was born. My biological mother was a young, unwed college graduate student, and she decided to put me up for adoption. She felt very strongly that I should be adopted by college graduates, so everything was all set for me to be adopted at birth by a lawyer and his wife. Except that when I popped out they decided at the last minute that they really wanted a girl. So my parents, who were on a waiting list, got a call in the middle of the night asking: "We have an unexpected baby boy; do you want him?" They said: "Of course." My biological mother later found out that my mother had never graduated from college and that my father had never graduated from high school. She refused to sign the final adoption papers. She only relented a few months later when my parents promised that I would someday go to college.

And 17 years later I did go to college. But I naively chose a college that was almost as expensive as Stanford, and all of my working-class parents' savings were being spent on my college tuition. After six months, I couldn't see the value in it. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. And here I was spending all of the money my parents had saved their entire life. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out OK. It was pretty scary at the time, but looking back it was one of the best decisions I ever made. The minute I dropped out I could stop taking the required classes that didn't interest me, and begin dropping in on the ones that looked interesting.

It wasn't all romantic. I didn't have a dorm room, so I slept on the floor in friends' rooms, I returned coke bottles for the 5¢ deposits to buy food with, and I would walk the 7 miles across town every Sunday night to get one good meal a week at the Hare Krishna temple. I loved it. And much of what I stumbled into by following my curiosity and intuition turned out to be priceless later on. Let me give you one example:

Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Throughout the campus every poster, every label on every drawer, was beautifully hand calligraphed. Because I had dropped out and didn't have to take the normal classes, I decided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can't capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it's likely that no personal computer would have them. If I had never dropped out, I would have never dropped in on this calligraphy class, and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do. Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college. But it was very, very clear looking backwards ten years later.
Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.

My second story is about love and loss. I was lucky — I found what I loved to do early in life. Woz and I started Apple in my parents garage when I was 20. We worked hard, and in 10 years Apple had grown from just the two of us in a garage into a $2 billion company with over 4000 employees. We had just released our finest creation — the Macintosh — a year earlier, and I had just turned 30. And then I got fired. How can you get fired from a company you started? Well, as Apple grew we hired someone who I thought was very talented to run the company with me, and for the first year or so things went well. But then our visions of the future began to diverge and eventually we had a falling out. When we did, our Board of Directors sided with him. So at 30 I was out. And very publicly out. What had been the focus of my entire adult life was gone, and it was devastating.

I really didn't know what to do for a few months. I felt that I had let the previous generation of entrepreneurs down - that I had dropped the baton as it was being passed to me. I met with David Packard and Bob Noyce and tried to apologize for screwing up so badly. I was a very public failure, and I even thought about running away from the valley. But something slowly began to dawn on me — I still loved what I did. The turn of events at Apple had not changed that one bit. I had been rejected, but I was still in love. And so I decided to start over.

I didn't see it then, but it turned out that getting fired from Apple was the best thing that could have ever happened to me. The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.

During the next five years, I started a company named NeXT, another company named Pixar, and fell in love with an amazing woman who would become my wife. Pixar went on to create the worlds first computer animated feature film, Toy Story, and is now the most successful animation studio in the world. In a remarkable turn of events, Apple bought NeXT, I returned to Apple, and the technology we developed at NeXT is at the heart of Apple's current renaissance. And Laurene and I have a wonderful family together.

I'm pretty sure none of this would have happened if I hadn't been fired from Apple. It was awful tasting medicine, but I guess the patient needed it. Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don't lose faith. I'm convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You've got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven't found it yet, keep looking. Don't settle. As with all matters of the heart, you'll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don't settle.

My third story is about death. When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn't even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor's code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you'd have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes.

I lived with that diagnosis all day. Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I'm fine now.

This was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope it's the closest I get for a few more decades. Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept:

No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true.

Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

When I was young, there was an amazing publication called The Whole Earth Catalog, which was one of the bibles of my generation. It was created by a fellow named Stewart Brand not far from here in Menlo Park, and he brought it to life with his poetic touch. This was in the late 1960's, before personal computers and desktop publishing, so it was all made with typewriters, scissors, and polaroid cameras. It was sort of like Google in paperback form, 35 years before Google came along: it was idealistic, and overflowing with neat tools and great notions.

Stewart and his team put out several issues of The Whole Earth Catalog, and then when it had run its course, they put out a final issue. It was the mid-1970s, and I was your age. On the back cover of their final issue was a photograph of an early morning country road, the kind you might find yourself hitchhiking on if you were so adventurous. Beneath it were the words: "Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish." It was their farewell message as they signed off. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish. And I have always wished that for myself. And now, as you graduate to begin anew, I wish that for you.

Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.
Thank you all very much.

You can find the speech and video at:

Albert’s ‘Ten Commandments’ From Steve Jobs
1.    Difficult beginnings can be a springboard for success. Rejection and setbacks in life can really be a blessing in disguise.
2.    Your future potential is not evident at your foundation. If people around you, including family, had an idea of who you could become, they might treat you very differently.
3.    You must find what you love in life and do it with all your heart. That is only when you can do great work. Don’t spend all your life doing what you hate.
4.    Important as it is, the role of a university degree has been exaggerated.
5.    If you conduct a daily evaluation of your life and you do not like what you see, keep making changes. Continue exploring the perfect contribution you can make in your life. Don’t settle till you find the best you.
6.    It will be an unfortunate tragedy if you live your entire life trying to please others.
7.    Learn how to start again. Remember the blessing is often in the person and not in the product, organisation or location.
8.    Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish! You are personally responsible for your life. Members of the so-called Unemployed Graduates Association of Ghana must rethink their position.
9.    We all need to carefully ponder over the issue of legacy. The number of apple products being used all over the world and the high profile homages pouring in from presidents, colleagues and even competitors is ample evidence of Jobs’ impact. No expensive funeral can make up for that.
10. The certainty of death must make us focus on the most important things in our lives. The three greatest priorities in my life are Christ, Family and Purpose. Period!!!
Thank you Steve Jobs (1955-2001). You’ve certainly paid your dues.

Peace & Many Blessings,

Monday, 3 October 2011

Ten People No One Can Help

A pastor decided to go against the ethics of his profession by indirectly castigating a particular member of his church with his entire sermon. He went on and on about people who would not submit to authority, people who thought they knew when they really did not know and people whose financial success had gotten to their heads and made them unresponsive to spiritual things. All through the sermon he kept looking in the direction of the man, who listened with rapt attention. After the service, the man walked straight to the pastor with a wry smile and said, “Congratulations Pastor. That was an absolutely brilliant sermon. It’s a pity that those who should have heard this didn’t come today.”

Since I posted my thoughts on “Why I Left church So Angry” on this blog, I have had an incredible flurry of responses from all over the world. Reactions have largely been admissions of mediocrity or anger at the status quo. A number of people felt that their own thoughts on the need for excellence in everything African had been captured. What seemed largely missing was that personal ownership and sense of responsibility manifested by a stated commitment to demonstrate the high standards, leadership and values that we all seemed to expect.

While it is easy to blame governments, colonial masters, our forefathers or the world order for any undesirable situation, the higher calling is to take charge of that change and to make a difference  starting from our own small corner. The late Michael Jackson captures this best in his song “Man in the Mirror” when he sang:

I’m starting with the man in the mirror.
I’m asking him to change his ways.
No other message could have been any clearer.
If you wanna make the world a better place,
Take a look at yourself and then make a change.

The socio-economic transformation of our continent or the “African Spring” must begin from our homes, workplaces, neighbourhood, our churches or wherever we find ourselves. Interestingly, while a number of young people are responding to calls for a culture of entrepreneurship and excellence as the way forward for Africa, others are making little or no effort. As a conference speaker, I sometimes leave an event highly charged at the sight of many young executives and entrepreneurs determined to make a difference only to drive past another group of young people crowded outside a night club and engaging in all manner of vices in the full glare of the public. I sometimes pause and ask myself if there is anything I can do to help them. I have tried in some instances to engage such people with ‘interesting’ results.

A leader cannot help everyone. A pastor cannot change everyone in their congregation. A manager simply cannot keep everyone in their company. I have come to the humble conclusion that I cannot help everyone. I have therefore compiled my own list ‘unhelpable’ people. This may help you understand why you have had little success in helping some people. Even more importantly, it should help take a closer look at yourself and if you find these behaviours in your own life, to initiate immediate change. Here is my list of the ten kinds of people no one can help.


  1. Someone Who Insists He Or She Has No Problem. A lady once raised an objection when I called her up for a confidential assessment of the suitability of a young man who had applied to work for us a driver. She intimated that even though he was generally well-dressed and well-behaved, he had a permanently offensive body odour. Several attempts by different workmates to help had failed because he always argued that there was nothing wrong with him. Some people simply see nothing wrong with anything they ever do and, like the story of the emperor who walked through town naked, everyone else could be aware of your problem but no one would tell you because their views might be unwelcome.

  1. Someone Who Sees You As The Problem. Equally frustrating to deal with is the one who believes that you are their problem. What do you do as a manager when your subordinate refuses to learn from his mistakes and instead blames his failure to progress on the fact that you are occupying the position he is aspiring to. When someone sees you as the unlawful occupant of their position, even your gifts or generosity could be seen as a return of what should have been theirs in the first place. It is therefore not appreciated. No one can help a person who believes that other people are responsible for all their own mistakes. You can choose to blame your situation on the government, your employer, your parents or even the world at large. The truth is, you are where you are today because of the choices you made yesterday. And something you are doing or ignoring today is creating your future for you.

  1. Someone Who Wants Results, But Not The Process. We live in a fast-paced generation that believes in instant results as evidenced by fast food joints, fast-track courts, microwave ovens, quick marriages and equally quick divorces to boot. Bob Marley once sang that “everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.” Everyone wants to prosper and get to the top but how many are willing to pay the price for success? Success is achieved through time and patient application. There is a time for everything and in life, you sow, you cultivate and then you reap. Greatness does not come overnight. No one can help a person who wants to be rich, famous or powerful in a hurry and is therefore far more interested in the car you drive than how you got there. It is this unbridled pursuit of fame, fortune and the pleasures of life that pushes many into internet fraud, crime and all manner of socioeconomic vices.

  1. A Person One Who Doesn’t Value Integrity. A young man recently called into my radio show, Springboard the Virtual University, and argued that living without principles was driven by individualism, which is a natural offshoot of capitalism. His conclusion was that we should learn to accept it. My reaction was that if we accepted the unbridled pursuit of speed without principles, a person going to the airport would ‘justifiably’ jump all red lights. Employers would and employers would openly swindle each other and accept it as normal. No relationship or contract would then be worth the vows or paper on which they were sealed. Some people love corruption and shortcuts and would seek the back door even if the front door is wide open. In the words of Warren Buffet, "In looking for people to hire, you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if they don't have the first, the other two will kill you.” A person who lacks integrity cannot be helped to find favour, promotion and longevity in business.

  1. Someone Who Is Unwilling to “Score.” In the late 1970s, Ghana’s premier club Hearts of Oak had a really formidable side including five attack-minded players who could hold their own anywhere on the planet. In 1977, they played exceptionally well throughout the continental championship. However, in the final against Hafia Club of Guinea something interesting happened. The Hearts players uncharacteristically missed a number of sitting chances. They played all the good football in their own half of the pitch but whenever anyone found himself in a scoring position he either shot over the bar or passed the ball backwards. It was later rumoured that the team had allegedly consulted an oracle in the build up to the match that had predicted a win but cautioned that the player who scored the first goal would die. The truth or otherwise of this assertion was never verified. However, since no one wanted to die, the players refused to score and the team lost. You cannot help someone who is unwilling to score or to succeed at anything. If a person is unwilling to work, you can get them a job but they will get themselves fired or soon find an excuse to drop out. This is a very common occurrence. You can kit a player, train him, field him and pass the ball to him but you can never score for him.

  1. Someone Who Does Not Listen or Observe. Some people are specialists ‘conversing’ without listening. They love to repeatedly hear their own voice. Without realising it, such people consistently interrupt every meaningful discussion in their hurry to make a point. People like that talk more than their mentors when they meet. They therefore miss out on important lessons and end up repeating the same things they could have learnt by listening. It is said that it is not for nothing that God gave us two ears and one mouth: that we might listen more and talk less. Similarly, many are not observant and fail to pick obvious lessons from trends occurring all around them. Not every lesson in life is directly taught. Some are meant to be gleaned from observing occurrences around us. No one can help a person who sees his neighbour destroyed and learn nothing from it.

  1. Someone who keeps a catalogue of offences. One of the most common laws in relationships is that those who are closest are those likeliest to offend you. The most enduring associations therefore thrive on forgiveness and tolerance. At home, school, work or wherever, relationships involving people who are easily able to forgive and move on last longer. However some people are experts at archiving and compartmentalising a detailed and regularly-updated catalogue of offences committed against them. You cannot help such people even if you wanted to. Offences are best discarded quickly and are poisonous to the keeper when stored overnight.

  1. Someone Who Rejects Authority Levels And Structures. While we are all equal before God, He still gives us various levels of talents and corresponding responsibilities. There will always be a boss and followers or manager and staff. Some people cannot submit to any authority in life. They deliberately reject and try to undermine system of governance. When you fail to recognise a system of authority, you deny yourself the chance to participate in it. People who think anything goes and refuse to work with structures cannot be helped in life.

  1. Someone who lacks Self Control or Self-Discipline. One of the most pathetic people to try and help is someone who lacks personal leadership or self-discipline. There are several rags to riches stories of sporting or entertainment personalities who rose from deprivation and battled all odds to the top only to capitulate to drugs, sexual sin or violent misconduct. Pythagoras says “No man is free who cannot command himself.” Self-discipline is the foundation of personal leadership, which is itself the springboard to progress. No matter how much you wish to help, a person without control over their appetites will run into trouble again. Henry IV made this point when he said, “Great eaters and great sleepers are incapable of doing anything great.”

  1. A Negative And Ungrateful Person. Some people are serially negative: suspicious, critical, sceptical and hardly able to see anything good in life. They are experts at seeing the dark spot in every bright situation. They receive every compliment with a pinch of salt and are always on the lookout for hidden motives in the people they deal with. Your efforts at helping could be easily misconstrued and conflict could easily be ignited at the slightest contact. No one can help someone who is totally blind to anything positive and yet highly imaginative about the negatives. Such people are forgetful, discontented and always ingratitude. The three travel together and can easily destroy your chances in life. Forgetful people are thankful to you one day and mad at you the very next. The ungrateful person behaves as if everything that happens in his life occurs automatically. They fail to see the role God or others play in their lives. As a result, do not appreciate the blessings that come their way and end up despising or cutting them short. People like that are often left alone by those who could have helped them.
Having read all ten, it would be a perfect time to pause to look at the man or woman in the mirror. If one or more of these attitudes or behaviours are present in your life, you could be cutting short your supply of help. Do something about that today.

Peace & Many Blessings!!!


PS. If you think someone could be challenged by this post, kindly share the link with them. God bless you.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Why I Left Church So Angry

On the night of 21st May, 2008, Chelsea FC captain John Terry stepped up to take what was supposed to be the winning penalty of the Champions League Final in Moscow. All was set for the festivities and he straightened his arm band in anticipation. However, just before he kicked the ball, he slipped on the watery turf and saw his effort clip the outside of the post. A few minutes and four penalties later, Manchester United were crowned champions of Europe leaving Terry and his teammates disconsolate with grief.

My Chelsea-supporting friends did not take the loss so graciously. To them, that moment, that mistimed kick, was the culmination of years of hard work and preparation. The feeling was that he had not maintained his focus and had ended up taking the opportunity too lightly. Some sports analysts even accused him of fantasizing about the next day’s newspaper headlines and engaging in premature celebrations. Similar feelings and thoughts resurfaced when Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan missed that last gasp penalty that would almost certainly have taken his country into a historic semi-final at the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Unexpectedly let out of jail, the Uruguayans seized their moment and progressed at Ghana’s expense.

How do you feel when someone with a rare opportunity seems to be taking things rather easy and running the risk of losing out on a historic or life-transforming experience?

That is what got me angry at church today. In fact I am still angry as I write. I do not know who I am angry at….  But before I go into that let me tell you what provoked me. Sharing an unusual message entitled, “Do You Understand What You Are Reading?” Pastor Mensa Otabil took congregants on a journey that lent solid credence and a scriptural framework to something I have been feeling so strongly about of late - the fact that Africa’s time has come.

I will not attempt to serialise the sermon as time, space and context would not permit me. For my purposes however, let me say he laid the foundation with the encounter in Acts 8 between the Philip the disciple and the Ethiopian Eunuch.
26 Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, “Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is desert. 27 So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, 28 was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.”
30 So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?”
31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him.

The man from Ethiopia (Dark Face) was described in seven interesting ways:
1.    A Black Man
2.    Eunuch (Powerless/Unable to Produce)
3.    A Bureaucrat (Man of great authority)
4.    Submissive (under Candace the Queen)
5.    Trusted (Steward of great Treasure)
6.    Educated (Reading)
7.    Religious (Travelling from worshiping at Jerusalem)

“To all intents and purposes, this is the story of today’s Africa.” Dr. Otabil stressed.

“An educated, religious black bureaucrat with access to great resources yet unproductive and lacking understanding.”

Africa has so much potential, so much promise but very little to show from our recent past. The result is an inferiority complex and a sense of despondency about the future. As is his custom, Dr. Otabil intricately navigated his way through the Old Testament, starting from Abraham through Moses. He made special reference to the role of Jethro the Midianite (or Ethiopian) priest who mentored Moses in law, worship, governance and leadership. The conclusion was that the black man had been the source of light and knowledge to the world before and could step up to the plate once again. Of course, I impatiently await the concluding part next week.

While I do so, let me give you 10 reasons why I feel so angry.

1.   There must be a reason why the Eurozone is in such a deep debt crisis and the well-oiled American economic machinery is tottering so badly. But are we thinking of what that means for us?
2.   The number of African countries in the list of top ten fastest growing economies in the world must surely mean something. But do we really know?
3.   Why are we not able to massively rally the young people, who form the majority of Africa’s population, around the solutions to our problems? It is easy to get people on the streets to demonstrate for or against one cause or another but there surely must be a higher calling. There is so much untapped energy but so little understanding of what it takes to positively galvanise it.
4.   Every prediction about the future seems to suggest that global food security will be a very big issue going forward. Sadly, we still do not seem to have found an integrated solution that massively utilises the huge tracts of arable land that literally engulf us.
5.   We are so deeply divided along political, tribal and religious lines that someone reading this will be spending all their time trying to place me in one narrow box or another. It is a pity that we think the things that divide us are more important than those that unite us. I thought that the years many of us spent in boarding school were supposed to neutralise these unnecessary divisions. Maybe I am naïve…
6.   The last time I was in Lagos on the Springboard Road Show, I was impressed with how Governor Fashola had cleaned up the city. He had cleared the most notorious slums and planted grass and flowers along the street sides with sprinklers working and ambulances parked at designated slots. I know how that city looked like before and I sincerely don’t care about any explanation. I just got one message… It can be done!!! We are not a dirty continent and should not accept it.
7.   It is unfair for a substantial chunk of our political discourse to focus on trivial issues like who is suffering from what sickness and who smokes what when major issues like unemployment, corruption and sustained economic wellbeing are crying for significant, long-term solutions.
8.   There is talk of a new scramble for Africa with our Asian friends at the very forefront of the effort. While others spend day and night strategizing about how to completely take over the pillars of our economy and our resources, we seem to be content to see everyone as a friend or partner. There are parts of our economy that are literally no-fly zones for any Ghanaian. We know them but do not seem to care.
9.   We celebrate the mediocre and pat ourselves on the back for having come close to the so-called advanced countries in any activity, sport or business. We crave their endorsement and rejoice whenever the “bosses” have something good to say about us. Every small organisation or person in some country somewhere thinks that they can relate to us with some imaginary authority. African businesses pay thousands of dollars to receive awards from fictitious organisations and flaunt them just because they come from Europe. Come On!!! Aren’t we worth much more than that?
10. Isn’t it sad that some of the greatest Africans of our time have passed on without publishing as much as a word as a legacy for posterity? We surely cannot sit quietly and let our heroes die with all their wisdom when in other jurisdictions, butlers, drivers and even neighbours of accomplished people publish books providing their perspectives as observers of their achievements.

Dr. James Emman Kwegyir Aggrey (1875-1927) did not mince words when he stated that “Only the best is good enough for Africa.” I wholeheartedly agree. There is nothing like African time and African quality, especially when it refers to mediocre work that is allowed to pass off just because it is African. Our books, music, schools, businesses, churches and leadership must all aspire to the highest global standards. We must believe that we are good enough to compete in anything and at any level. Let’s not apologize for taking our place and insisting on being heard. We have a story to tell and tell it we must.

I must confess that I am still not sure about who or what I am angry at but does it really matter? I suppose it doesn’t, especially if I channel that ‘righteous’ anger into something fruitful. After all, isn’t it more empowering to contribute to the solution than to complain about a problem? God bless the Aggreys, Nkrumah’s, Otabils and the several others who have championed African excellence over the years. May posterity be far kinder and more appreciative of you than we seem to be today!

Let me end with the words of the man they called the “Aggrey of Africa” who told the story of the eaglet that stayed with chickens for a long time until it had a revelation of what it really was. It then flew away never to return to scratching for crumbs.

“My people of Africa” said Aggrey “we were created in the image of God, but men have made us think that we are chickens, and we still think we are, but we are eagles. Stretch forth your wings and fly! Don't be content with food of chickens.”

So help us God!!!

Peace & Many Blessings!!!

From A Very Pensive Albert

PS. If you think someone could be challenged by this post, just go ahead and share the link with them.