Incubating, Implementing and Evaluating your Vision – Talk at Youth Seminar, Cape Coast

TOPIC: INCUBATING, IMPLEMENTING AND EVALUATING YOUR VISION

GATHERING OF VISIONEERS (GOV) CONFERENCE

ORGANISED BY NHYIRA FOUNDATION/YOUTH IN FOCUS

5 MARCH, 2011 – UCC SMS AUDITORIUM, CAPE COAST, GHANA

“Far away there in the sunshine, are my highest aspirations. I may not reach them, but I can look up and see their beauty, believe in them and try to follow where they lead.” Loiusa Mary Alcott

When we were children, our dreams were big, awesome and so achievable, but like Peter as he walked on the waters towards Jesus, we lose our dreams as we consider the circumstances around us as we age.

Visions, dreams, are very powerful, because they energize and embolden us. Every success started with a dream, with an idealistic image, with a shot at the skies. Martin Luther King stated that he had a dream, a dream that white and colored will sit together; that one day the United States will rise up and live the true meaning of its creed. And today it has come to pass. A dream, a decision, a shot at the skies. President Bill Clinton of the United States is known to have first dreamt about becoming a President of his nation after a meeting with President J.F. Kennedy in the White House.

You can change your stars if you want to! And you can do that by your dreams and pursuing them. When you have a vision, you have something to live for. These days we don’t say the sky is the limit. Look beyond what your eyes see. The sky is only a springboard.

Living without a dream, a vision, something to aspire to, is like taking a stroll in life. Many a man deals with life as children with play, who first misuse, then cast their toys away. Without a vision, life is like children with play. With a dream, resources are harnessed and every day assumes a whole new dimension.

A certain man went through a forest seeking any bird he might find. He caught a young bird, brought it home, and put it among his fowls and ducks and turkeys, and gave it chicken’s food to eat. Five years later, a naturalist came to visit the man, and noticed the bird. He said to the owner; “Look here, this is an eagle, not a chicken.” The man replied “Yes, you may well be right, but I have trained it to be a chicken. It is no longer an eagle; it is a chicken though it is enormous”.

Said the naturalist: “No, it is an eagle, it has the heart of an eagle, and I shall make it soar high to the heavens”. The owner comes back with a retort: “No, it is now a chicken, and it will never fly”.

They agreed to test it. The naturalist picked up the bird, held it up, and said loudly: “Eagle, thou art an eagle; thou dost belong to the sky and not down here. Stretch out thy wings and fly”, and with that he hurled the bird up. The eagle turned this way and that, and then looking down, saw the chickens eating, and came to join them. The owner said: “I told you it is now a chicken”. “No”, said the naturalist, “This bird is an eagle. I shall come back and prove this to you”. The exercise was repeated three times, with the same result. The bird always came back to feed with the chickens.

The naturalist returned yet again, chose a hill, and held the bird aloft, pointing it to the rising sun, and shouted “Eagle! Thou art an eagle; thou dost not belong down here. Thou dost belong to the sky; stretch forth thy wings, and fly!” The eagle looked round, trembled as if new life was filling it, and suddenly it stretched out its wings, and with the screech of an eagle, it mounted higher, and higher, and never returned. It was really an eagle, though it had been kept and tamed as a chicken!

“My people of Africa” the storyteller continued “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”.

The story Fly, Eagle, Fly was told by Dr James Kwegyir-Aggrey, and it recognizes that even though an eaglet lives with chicken, it doesn’t make it a chick.

What is your vision, your goal, your purpose in life? Are you living like a chicken when your destiny is to be an eagle? How can you ensure that you first know that you are to be an eagle, pursue that agenda and if you have deviated, to get back to flying away from the food of chickens?

It is a pleasure to be here to interact with you folks, youthful men and women. I love being with young people, I love investing in life, I just love being able to sow a seed into someone’s life, knowing that it will grow and bear good fruit, fruit that may abide.

One of my cardinal philosophies is that you have not started living until you live your life for someone else as well, imparting into someone, changing at least one more life. “What do we live for if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?” asked George Elliot, and Winston Churchill summed it well for me when he said that “We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.” Every instance in your life is an opportunity to impact someone’s life and to be impacted as well. No moment is insignificant. If you invest in someone’s life at any moment, you have no idea what that person may turn out to be and what your seed will turn into. A chance meeting with a fellow prisoner and interpreting his dream was all that was needed to bring Joseph’s name to the attention of the Pharaoh of Egypt.

I am in my mid thirties, I am married with three children: two boys and one girl; my background is Chemical Engineering. I am married to lovely Vivian, who has been a wonderful wife to me and a great mother to our children. She is an example of prayerfully appreciating that the future is not by chance, but by change. I went after her with my eyes open, knowing what exactly I wanted in a wife, having prayed for years and God blessed me with her.

I also write. Excursions In My Mind, my first book, was launched in 2008 and is available in Ghana and also online through Amazon and other outlets globally. My second book Through the Gates of Thought was released in April 2010 and launched in Accra in November last year.

I instigate thoughts; I provoke people with my writing. But I am primarily a storyteller. I like to tell stories of my life, what I learn, what I have gather through my reading and through that derive lessons for myself and for my readers.

As is characteristic of my writing and reflections, I will tell you stories gleaned from my life, the Bible, books and quotations I have read, as well as my observations. I am a keen observer of life, as a proponent of continuous learning.

The theme for today is “A step beyond your Vision” and my topic is: Incubating, Implementing and Evaluating Your Vision. A number of key words to reflect on, even before we see the how.

To incubate. To implement. To evaluate. To plan, do, check and act/take remedial action. PDCA – that is the wheel of continuous improvement used in quality and productivity programs in many manufacturing industries.

I was born and grew up I was born in Kotobabi, Abavanna Down, Accra. I grew up in a compound house of about ten families. My family was made up of our parents and eight siblings. We grew up in a three-room rented apartment, what is traditionally called chamber and hall. Three-room, because there was the main bedroom, which was used by my parents and the younger kids, who slept on mats on the floor, the second room which was a combined sitting room with a bed on one side (my eldest brother used this) and served as a bedroom during the night when the chairs and tables were packed at one side to make room for mats and mattresses to be put on the floor for sleeping on. The third room was a kitchen space, but it was used to keep other stuff like water drums and served as the storeroom as well. And don’t have the image of the kitchen with fridge, cabinets, electrical cooker, et cetera. Just think kitchen space! Nine other families lived in the compound house and we all shared the same utilities – bathhouse, toilets, water pipe, etc. At a point, there was no flowing water and no toilet in that house. We used to walk from Kotobabi to Pig Farm to use the public latrine there. Imagine trying to control your bowels over that distance when nature was calling urgently! It was great fun, however, living in this house and growing up in Kotobabi. I went to the local Preparatory school, and used to hear with admiration and envy the exploits of the well-to-do kids in the neighborhood who attended Association International. From that time, however, I had a dream to be the best I could be. And reflecting on today and appreciating what I have become, I can say that my dreams are coming through.

Not many of my friends in Kotobabi have turned out as I have. When I drive through where we used to live, I sometimes wonder how I made it. Apart from grace, I will tell you one reason as well: the dream and vision I had. A dream of my future, and I didn’t leave that dream to chance. I worked at it, I inputted into that change that I sought. What I am now didn’t come by chance.

Synonyms of vision are: goal, hope, plan, dream, concept(ion), idea, mental picture. What you want to be in future; what you want to do in life. Vision is a common metaphor for insightfulness, perceptiveness, and point of view.

One of my favorite characters in the Bible is David. The young man David was anointed King when he was still shepherding his father’s flock and was not even eligible for draft into the army. That was the vision that was given him – to be King. Yet, David had to wait for a number of years for him to ascend the throne of Israel. What I like about David as he waited was that he built himself up, he developed himself, he learnt to lead, govern and rule. David worked hard as he waited for the vision to come to pass. Another person to consider is Joseph. He had a dream that he will rule over his brothers, and even his parents. It took awhile for that dream to come to pass. We will use these two characters and some contemporary examples in our discussion today.

The first step is to have a vision, to capture it, to incubate it. I like synonyms, because they bring a lot more insight to a word. The synonyms of incubate: nurture, sit on it, develop, hatch, keep warm, brew. I like three of them: sit on it, keep warm, hatch.

When a child is born prematurely, it is put in an incubator, given special attention, for it to grow and survive, and not die. When you have your vision, spend quality time thinking about it, your future and document your dreams and aspirations.

Many of us don’t reflect on our vision, we don’t dream; more dangerously, many of us don’t spend quality time thinking!! We worry, yes, but we do not think. We don’t project ourselves into the future. We don’t utilize imagination. Once you sit on your vision, and reflect on it, keep it warm. Keeping it warm will be discussed more under implementation. But it is important as the incubation stage that you don’t kill the vision. Keep it warm. And then hatch it – move into action phase.

But there are those who dream and yet remain dreamers. The best way to do something about your dream is to wake up, wash your face and take an action. For many who do dream, what is lacking is the translation of the dream into reality and the tenacity to hold on to the dream when the going gets tough. According to Myles Munroe, the poorest man in the world is the man without a dream and the most frustrated man in the world is the man with a dream that never becomes reality. Run with the vision. The whole world steps aside for the man or woman who knows where he/she is going. “Vision without action is merely a dream; Action without vision just passes the time. Vision with action can change the world.” Joel Barker

There is power in knowing what you want to do and letting your mind be focused on it. Napoleon Hill, author of the bestseller ‘Think and Grow Rich’ puts it most aptly: “Our brains become magnetized with the dominating thoughts which we hold in our minds, and, by means which no man is familiar, these ‘magnets’ attract to us the forces, the people, the circumstances of life which harmonize with the nature of our dominating thoughts.”

Write down the vision, the dream. Write your dreams down, and run with them. Winston Churchill, the great wartime Prime Minister of Great Britain, had a vision during the war and he verbalized it, in 1940 – see how it energizes you:

“We shall not flag or fail. We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”

In moving to implementing your vision, don’t share your dream with just anybody. Associate with mentors and like-minded people. Joseph shared his vision with his brothers, and see where it landed him. David got aligned with Jonathan, a King’s son, and learnt from him. Get a Jonathan, who can teach you the rules of royalty.

Surround yourself with people of like-mindedness, friends who will not distract you from your aim, your vision. In my case, I have decided to shy away from whiners and complainers; they only pull you back. I surround myself with people better than myself, so I can be better, and be challenged. Check out the mighty men who were around David in I Chronicles 11 verse 10ff.

Be focused on your dream and act with that end in mind, with that vision in mind. He was my year mate in the University and a very popular guy in the greatest hall in all the Universities in Ghana, Katanga; let’s call him Kwame. Kwame was the typical fun-loving student, who believed in the philosophy of our hall: play all you can, and learn all you should. The reason was simple: youth was short and must be enjoyed, but learning is what University is for and good grades are not only desirable but also necessary. With this principle in mind, Kwame indulged in all the activities that the hall had to offer, including the notorious proce (short form for processions) known as BWT.

Processions were organised at various times within each semester and for different purposes. There was the “First on asphalt” proce, which was done early in the semester to commemorate our return to school for another semester. Then, there was the Matriculation proce, when the hall escorted its new members to the Great Hall for their matriculation ceremony. The “Sharp brain” proce was conducted just a day before the start of the end-of-semester exams, and the idea was that if you had an exam early the next day, yet made time to go on a two-three hour proce that night, you were a “sharp brain”, an expression used to denote one who is intelligent. The “Jesus March” proce was organised during our hall week and was usually well patronised, though it was not unusual to smell some un-holy incense within the march, exuding from the mouths! The most notorious of all the proces was the BWT proce. I won’t go into the details of this proce but suffice it to say that it bordered on the obscene and the participants always went on this proce disguised, with masks on their faces and so making it difficult to know who was in the band. During our third year in the University, Kwame decided to stand a Student Representative Council position and suddenly it dawned on him that he needed to re-create the image he had created for himself in the three years he had spent on campus. And, certainly, he had to redeem himself from the BWT label. To do this, he decided to dress nicely, in a suit and follow the BWT train! It served two purposes: to show that he wasn’t in the disguised band, and to clear any doubts, there he was in person, behaving civilly!

Each step, each decision, each direction you take: make sure it is aligned with your vision and your dream. See the bigger picture. Choose your subjects with your vision in mind. Don’t take an easy route when you know it will not lead you where your dream is.

For you to succeed with your vision, live with long perspective in mind. Stephen Covey said you need to start with the end in mind. Whatever you do, ask yourself: how does this enhance my journey towards my intended destination? What does it take out? I launched my first book in October 2008. I planned release my second book in 2010, and I thought about how to create publicity towards it, two clear years ahead of time. One of the platforms I decided to use was Facebook. Friends tell me I am always on Facebook, posting, writing, engaging with people; what they do not know is that it was part of a grand plan. It is interesting to note that it was through this medium that I met Nana Ama Ghansah. Via this same medium, I have had about eight reviews of my second book, by people in Nigeria, Ghana, UK, with some being worked on in Kenya and USA. I have had the reviews published in newspapers in Ghana and Nigeria, and magazines distributed across Africa like Business Times and New Africa. I actually a copy of the latter in the Jomo Kenyatta Airport in Nairobi last year. Via Facebook, I have got the opportunity to have my short story Truth Floats in an anthology Africa Roar. I was acting with the end in mind here, waiting for the due time of my second book Through the Gates of Thought.

Think big, start small, move fast. Break in down into steps, action steps. The best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. Being visionary is having the ability to set realistic (SMART) goals and to understand steps that will lead to achieving these goals.

We all get ideas in the shower. Don’t you? Well, I do. But what differentiates successful people from the others, what sets apart those who make a difference on their generation from dreamers, what makes distinguished persons achievers, is that these people get out of the shower, dry themselves and do something about the ideas. John Hancook Field stated that “all worthwhile men have good thoughts, good ideas and good intentions – but precious few of them ever translate those into action.”

It is the translation of ideas, the deployment of strategy into action and the movement of blueprints from the drawing boards into the performance sphere that matters. William J.H. Boetaker asserted that “the individual activity of one man with a backbone will do more than a thousand men with a mere wishbone”.

A number of posters have been displayed at vantage points in the Tema factory of Unilever Ghana. One caught my attention, and has engaged my thoughts: “Small deeds done are better than great ideas planned.”

My former boss, the Supply Chain Director of Unilever Ghana, Stephane Achio, once remarked that we are generally excellent at mapping up extensive and elaborate action plans. Very meticulous, comprehensive and thorough, with all the fanciful timings and meeting all the specifications of SMART – Specific, Measurable, Agreed/Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound. The problem is that most of these plans become what Andrew Ogutu, a trainer with Accenture, dubs SPOTS: strategic plans on top shelves – left to accumulate dust, yielding no results. Don’t let that happen to your vision.

So let me tell you about baby steps. I believe in baby steps. Our second son, Nana Yaw Appiah, commenced walking in September 2008, just before his first birthday. I was absent during the walking trials of his elder brother Nana Kwame, due to my peregrinations in 2007 so it was a personal delight to observe Nana Yaw’s walking development. Nana Yaw turned expert and confident over time. He evolved from crawling on his stomach, through crawling on all fours to holding onto objects to rise – enhancement, progress, improvement each day. Brick-by-brick, step-by-step, taking the journey to the top one stair at a time. No one strides by moving both feet at the same time. I returned home one evening from work to meet a thrilled house – Nana Yaw had taken four to five steps without holding onto any object! A month later, he was even able to walk backwards, dancing in the process!

See, the baby is not afraid that someone will say he/she is taking baby steps and not walking in the right way. The baby is not bothered. Don’t wait to become an expert before you attempt converting your thought into action, for as Art Buck said “though good may come of practice, this primal truth endures: the first time anything is done, it is done by amateurs”. However, it is significant to elucidate that I am not advocating baby thoughts on issues, for according to Mary Beard, though study without action is futile, action without study is fatal. Study, thought, contemplation must go hand-in-hand with action. “Contemplation is necessary to generate an object, but action must propagate it,” so said Owen Feltham.

When I sent text messages to my friends to notify them of the release of my first book Excursions in my Mind and its impending launch, Sammy Owusu Asiedu, the brother of my close pal Eric Dapaa, called to congratulate me. He noted that he was even more impressed that I had gradually progressed from writing short stories for publication in the Ghanaian weekly newspaper, the Mirror, to getting my book published. My first published story was in 1994, in the Mirror, titled ‘Showdown’, and my first book came out in 2008, fourteen years in-between.

We concur that Rome was not built in a day but in practice, we want to leap from lying in cots to walking in space. Orison S. Marden declared that “we live in an age of haste. Some people look at an egg and expect it to crow.”

You have some grand ideas in your mental bank now – I can almost bet on that. So start now on the way to implementation. Take baby steps with the idea. “Think big, start small, move fast”, I discovered years ago. When a review of your life is done by history, you will not be remembered by the immensity and plethora of ideas you had, but by those of that number you turned from idea into launch. Aristotle summed it up well when he said: “In the arena of human life, the honours and rewards fall to those who show their good qualities in action.”

David used his time in the bush, shepherding his daddy’s sheep, to learn how to trust in God, how to fight animals, how to use the sling. When the time was due to fight Goliath, he was ready. I have sat in interviews for recruiting new graduates into Unilever; for standards of leadership, we draw on the experiences acquired in school, usually university, of these young people. David used the preparation time to learn how to lead people. He actually started learning leadership skills with sheep. He led an army of willing soldiers, and by so doing developed the skills of what we call in business “buy-in” – getting people to believe in your vision. Don’t despise any ‘small’ opportunity that comes your way, to build you up.

I was in Kumasi, Ghana, in January 2005, for a gospel concert with Joyful Way Incorporated. The afternoon was spent in the Charismatic Christian Centre (CCC) in a launch of the group’s newly released album “Nyame Ye Ohen”.

An event happened as we waited for the start of the programme that set me reflecting. Two kids were running around the hall and in front of where I was seated. They were having a great time. Suddenly, one of them, a boy of about eight years, tripped and fell heavily right before me. I reached out and helped him up. He winced his face in pain and stood on his feet. This phase lasted only about five seconds. Then he was off again, running at the same speed and enjoying himself!

The little boy taught me a great lesson that day. I remarked to a colleague sitting by me that as we aged, we tend to forget that we can rise again after a fall and go back to play. For the kid, the key was not that he had fallen; play must go on so long as he could still run!

Life is full of falls, failures and setbacks. But, like with the kid, it is not whether you have fallen that matters; it is what you make of the fall. A life well-lived is one that has survived through stress, triumphed through trials, and has come back after a setback. A life that is still being lived with optimism after challenges. A life well-lived is not one that has been without the tsunamis of life!

During the implementation stage of your vision, learn to deal with failure. Dealing with failure is intricately connected with evaluating/reviewing your vision. On your road to your future, you will have ups-and-downs, but the victor is the one who didn’t stop. A classic example in a competitive working environment is when we get discouraged because an anticipated recognition hasn’t come through. The vision or dream is pending. What tends to happen is that most people then slack and work lousily. And then, their chances of recognition go down further and further. At work, you are promoted for your demonstrated potential and not what you will do when you are promoted!

Closely linked with failure is criticism. Let criticisms enlighten and guide you, not discourage you: There once was a bunch of tiny frogs who arranged a climbing contest. The goal was to be the first to reach the top of a very high tower. A big crowd gathered around the tower to see the race and cheer on the contestants. The race began. No one in the crowd really believed that the tiny frogs would reach the top of the tower.

They shouted things such as; “It is way too difficult!” “They will never make it to the top!” and “There’s not a chance that they will succeed. The tower is too high!”

One by one, the tiny frogs began collapsing. The crowd continued to yell, “It is too difficult! No one will make it!” More tiny frogs got tired and gave up. But one continued to climb higher and higher. This one just wouldn’t give up.

Finally, only this one tiny frog reached the top of the tower. All the other frogs had given up. Naturally, all the other tiny frogs wanted to know how this one tiny frog managed to do it. One of the frogs asked the tiny frog how he had found the strength to succeed and reach the goal.

It was at the point that the secret of the winner frog was found: It was deaf.

We tend to listen to too many voices, and get affected by the negative and pessimistic attitudes of people. The end is that these voices take our most wonderful dreams and wishes away from us, and take us off-track.

Always think of the power words have because everything you hear and read will affect your actions. Therefore, be positive and be deaf when people tell you that you cannot fulfill your dreams! Always. Listen but filter. We will speak about review later.

During the implementation stage of your vision, seek to improve each day. The Chinese philosopher Confucius said ‘do not be afraid of going slow, only be afraid of standing still.’ I only admire those who seek improvement in what they do every day. Remember that even the ant reaches its destination. Practise continuous learning, to be better each day.

Learn to take stock of wherever you are. Self-assessment is good for improvement. That is the review part of the process. Get a mentor in the field of your vision. Find someone who can guide you, who can give you unadulterated feedback. Get a Nathan in your life, who can tell you in your face that you are wrong. Our elders say he who cuts a path does not see that the path is crooked, only someone watching behind you can do so. Be willing to take that correction and become better.

Underpin all the points above with discipline and self control.

Proverbs 19: 21: “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails” and “Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.” Proverbs 16:3. The Lord is the only one who can bless the work of your hands and bring your vision to fruition. Make Him a partner on this journey.

Dreams are powerful and they need incubation, thoughtfully. Beautiful sentiments do not weigh more than the simplest of action. So take action, even if little, on your dreams. The journey will be long and tortuous but with tenacity, focus, hard work and God’s help, you will arrive. Keep the end in focus at all times, and make sure to have reviews periodically.

I wish you well on your journey.

I thank you, and God bless.

Nana Awere Damoah

March 2011

Accra, Ghana

www.nanaaweredamoah.wordpress.com

www.excursionsinmymind.blogspot.com

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