Think Big, Start Small, Move Fast – A Speech



26 DECEMBER 2015

Good morning all. As I went through my old files to get a template for writing out my thoughts for today, I found the speech I delivered in this very auditorium and was amazed to realise, again, how fast the years roll by. I was here for the first time in August 2009, for Advantage 2009. The theme for that day was “Dealing with the Past and Opening Up a Great Future”. Pastor Raph (I call him Unco Raph) had sent me an invite on the 9th of July 2009 on Facebook and that is how we connected and that is how I started being involved with Advantage and ICGC, Dzorwulu. I thought I would share the invite Pastor sent on FB:

“Hi Nana, I am grateful to God for people like you, I just read your profile and am convinced of your capacity.

By way of introduction, I am an interior designer, a columnist and a pastor of the ICGC Assembly at Dzorwulu.

I am pastoring a handful of great potentials comprising of about 21 young people who are yet to grasp what they can be in life and society. My humble desire is to get some people to speak to them once in a while.

May I ask if you can honour an invitation like that? I will be putting together a seminar for them in the month of August probably the last Saturday or the one before. I may feature you on the seminar if you are okay with that and probably give you another weekday slot for an evening tete-a-tete with them for about one and a half hour.”

6 years have passed so fast!

I think I have been here again twice after that, and have always enjoyed it. I am honoured to be found worthy to speak to precious vessels such as you, redeemed by grace, justified by faith and fortified by the Holy Spirit to do great and mighty works, affecting our society for good.

The theme for this year’s reflection is “Implore, Improve & Impact”. I am told it also means “Prayer, Work & Results”. Pastor gave me the liberty to share on any of the dimensions. In my language, we say that if you are given the opportunity to be a chief and you deny it, even a palace messenger eludes you. So I take the liberties given to me!

In this vein, I have chosen to share with you one of my cardinal mottos in life, for my career, mission and passion: Think Big, Start Small, Move Fast. I will also share with you a chapter from my latest book, Sebitically Speaking. This chapter is entitled ‘The Power Behind the Platform Performance’.

I am a writer and I love to tell stories. Simple stories from everyday life and from what people share with me. So today, I will only tell stories. A couple of them.

Implore, Improve, Impact.

Implore: beg someone earnestly or desperately to do something.

Improve: make or become better; develop or increase in mental capacity by education or experience; achieve or produce something better than.

Impact: have a strong effect on someone or something.

John Maxwell speaks about three stages in a person’s career: learning, earning and giving phases. At the learning phase, the focus is not on money, but on getting depth and breadth of experience. On the average, this lasts for about ten years. Then one moves into the earning phase where you decide and choose which roles to take and make some money too. The final phase is where people like Carnegie, Rockefeller and now Gates got to, where you go chasing after legacy and giving to society.

Implore: thinking big, dreaming, praying…

Improving: learning, apprenticeship, failing, starting small, becoming better, developing, falling, rising, asking, practising, expanding, being off stage…

Impact: moving fast, earning, giving, affecting, achieving…being on the big stages of life.

Let me tell you about Nii Saka. As the youngest of his father’s children, Nii was a favourite of Ataa Saka Acquaye, what we also call in Ghana ‘pension baby’. Ataa Saka was well-to-do and gave his children the best of education. As a young boy, Nii dreamt of being an owner of a restaurant chain and he spent time watching his mum in the kitchen and watching programs on TV that featured cooks. One of his favourite programs was Asanka Delight. But tragedy was soon to hit the Acquaye house. Returning from a visit to Kumasi, both parents were involved in a fatal accident. Left an orphan at the age of 12, and with the family fighting over his parents’ property, Nii had his education cut short and he was sent to an auntie in Dodowa. The auntie couldn’t support him in school and also contracted him out to be a help in the chop bar of Auntie Atwei. After work in the chop bar, Nii would have to go to the house of Numo Namoale to clean and wash. However, Nii held on to his dream and did his work at both places diligently. He learnt about the chop bar business and also was so diligent that Numo took a great liking to him. With time, he convinced his auntie that he would want to take evening lessons, and so at the age of 20, Nii started adult classes and pushed himself, to educate himself.

Twelve years passed and one day, Numo, who was retiring and was hoping one of his sons would return from the States to take over his farm – where he grew vegetables and reared animals like goats, cattle and poultry – called Nii.

Numo told Nii that having worked with him for more than a decade and having observed his diligence to work, he wanted him to be a partner in his business and also shared with him his dream of extending the business into catering, to link with the backward integrated portion.

As I speak, five years after that discussion, Nii is the CEO of Namoale Ventures, with outlets in all the capital cities of Ghana, providing world-class food outlets, combining both continental and local dishes, known for top class customer service and even doing deliveries. The farms serve to provide the raw materials for the front end food joints.

Nii dreamt, he had to struggle through the imploring stage, but he learnt, he improved and now he is making an impact.

Where in the world do you think this story took place?

Well, let me tell you. Nii, in this story, is a man called Joseph. Nii’s story was enacted more than 2000 years ago. Joseph, son of Jacob, is one of such who implored, improved and impacted.

For both Nii and Joseph, when the door onto the big stage was opened, they were ready.

In mid-August 2012, I visited my old time friend Fafa Asiedu-Dartey. Amongst the many things we had to catch up on, we got to talking about the facilitation of a management retreat of a leading financial institution in Ghana that I had just done the previous day. I had actually travelled from Lagos to Accra for that and was returning to base that evening. It was the second such role I was playing for leading banks in Ghana in a matter of three months.

Fafa asked me when it all started, and how I had become such a resource. A pause, and I responded that it all started way back from the first major talk I gave in Ghana National, perhaps in 1993. Now I can’t remember which club, society or church group invited me, but I was in Upper Sixth and it took place in the Assembly Hall. I have always been a collector of quotations and anecdotes, and I recall that the speech was full of them. It turned out to be disjointed and I could feel that my audience didn’t relate to what I was sharing with them. As I delivered that speech, I realised I wasn’t sharing my experience, I was just reciting what others thought. I still have that picture in my mind. I am certain that it was that day I learnt that the best speech or sermon is one that infuses one’s own experiences.

Reflecting further after my chat with Fafa, I realised that actually I didn’t give her the right answer. The starting point was earlier.

I was a quiet and reserved guy right up to form five in secondary school. I loved to stay more in the background than in front. Though I had had some responsibilities as class prefect in preparatory school and as dormitory monitor during ‘O’ Levels, I remained mostly shy and afraid of speaking before large gatherings.

I continued to sixth form in Ghana College, and was active in the Scripture Union as I had been always. The time came for appointment of SU officers and our patron Mr. Gordon Egyir-Croffect called me to his office. The news he gave me surprised and frightened me: they wanted to appoint me as the Secretary and Financial Secretary for our SU. Me? Thinking back, I don’t know how Croffectus, as we affectionately called him, was able to convince me. One position was scary enough, and the most challenging was not the Financial Secretary role, which was a support, in-the-background sort of role. The Secretary was responsible for taking minutes when the Executive met (I honed my writing skills in this role) but that wasn’t the toughest part. The Secretary was also responsible for facilitating meetings and making announcements; meetings were held three times a week. The first time I addressed them in the theatre in the Red Block, I shook like one of those Ghana flags the boys sell in traffic, atop a moving car. I recall that I couldn’t remember what I actually said that evening. As I wrote in my book Excursions In My Mind, in the chapter entitled Shyness Is Not A Virtue, that day marked the break from my stage fright and shyness.

Small beginnings.

When I got the invitation to give a talk and organise a team- building activity for a bank in June 2012, at the forum of their top management including their Board (there were three speakers, I was the only Ghanaian), I was asked how much I would charge. I went blank! I responded that I had been doing it for free for churches, groups and para-Christian organisations. Those were the preparatory stages. After my facilitation of the second institution’s management retreat, their new HR manager asked me what other training modules my company gives! Company? I did it with my pal Kofi Akpabli.

Consider the life of Jesus. All he did, and is mostly captured in the gospels, happened over three and a half years, in his thirties. It took him thirty years of preparation off-stage before he got onto his platform. Churchill, Lincoln, Mandela: they all had baking time, time in the oven of hard preparation. Nkrumah not only spent years in prison but also in the trenches before becoming Prime Minister and President. Mandela spent twenty-seven years in prison. He came out a transformed person, spent under ten years in executive leadership of his country but his influence transcended his Presidency and even his death.

President Mahama stepped in seemingly effortlessly into his new role when President Mills passed away. That achievement was, however, possible because when Egya Atta was alive, he gave a lot of room for Mahama to grow. Mahama took advantage of the opportunity given him and learnt.

One person whose life challenges me when I think of preparation time is Dr. Mohammed Ibn-Chambas. For ten years, he was Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, and then he was appointed, again as Deputy Minister for Education for three years. In these supporting roles, he learnt. When the break came, first with ECOWAS as President and later with the African, Caribbean, and Pacific (ACP) Group of States as Secretary General, he was ready. He is United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA).

The problem with most of us is that we don’t spend good and quality time in the learning phase and rush on to the next, half-baked. The quality of the performance one has on the big stages of life is usually determined by the quality and quantity of preparation time spent off stage. How are you using your time or chance off-stage? Will you be ready when the platform beckons?

In 2004, I started writing articles in a series I called ‘Empower Series’. I used to send them out by email to friends. Normal reflections on everyday life events, lessons from my Bible studies, nuggets from my book readings which I then ruminated on and wrote about. I took a decision then that since I loved writing, I would share original stuff instead of just forwarding emails – chain mails. The feedback from friends was good! I had people forwarding them all over the world and my distribution list grew. By 2005, when I was moving to the UK for my Master’s, I had quite a number of them. In December 2005, I told my friend Dr Moses Ademola, a Nigerian who had schooled in Ghana and spoke Twi with a better accent than I did, about my compilation and how I wished to publish someday. I sent him the compilation and on 22 December 2005, he responded to me via email:

“Like the Nigerian would say. Look at this man ooo, you no dey serious at all! You already have a book now! What’s left is just the binding, yea and the chief launcher. That’s so impressive. When we see, I think we would talk about how to print and sell it.”

That was the first time I had ever shared the manuscript and Moses’ mail never left my mind.

I continued to write and to dream of being a published author one day.

I returned to Ghana in October 2006 after my course and resumed working at Unilever. I kept on writing and compiling.

As Moses said, I had the book. What I needed was a publisher. As you know, publishers, real publishers who would take on a new/emerging writer and launch them, are as rare in Ghana as a week without dumsor!

But I continued to write, to hone my craft, to get feedback, to improve and to dream.

I was on a flight from Israel in November 2007. I was flying business class and by my seat, I found a copy of the Economist magazine. At the back of that magazine, I saw a small box advert for Athena Press, an author-funded publisher based in the UK, what is usually called ‘vanity press’. I thought to myself, in Ghana if you wish to get your book out, you usually paid a printer to do it and fund it yourself, so why not? When I got back to Ghana, I sent my manuscript, responding to the advert in the Economist. Just that first step. With that step, I moved from implore to improve.

I took a loan of 60 million cedis (GHC6000, which was the equivalent then of 2800 GBP) and paid for the publishing process of my first book, Excursions in My Mind. Through this process, I learnt about the various stages of editing, cover artwork design, cross-checking references, re-writing, how phrases could be understood only in Ghana and may not make sense globally, etc. We went through three stages of editing – manuscript, first proof, final proof – the entire works. That was part of my improving stage. On 18 December 2008, at the British Council Auditorium in Accra, my first book was launched. In 2010, I again paid Athena Press 2800 GBP to publish my second book – I used all my annual bonus from work. You know how much I received from Athena Press so far? Less than 50 GBP. Later they wrote to say they had been liquidated but I see they have transmogrified into another company and still selling my books on Amazon. I have written to Amazon and they have been removed as a prime supplier of my books.

With the investment of 5400 GBP into my publishing education, I have been able to self-publish my last three books and learnt so much to add to that foundation. I have written five (5) books so far – 2008, 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2015. My books are listed on Amazon, iBooks, Kindle etc and I do it all myself.

This year has been phenomenal for me as a writer. My book has been featured a number of times on Newsfile, on Joy FM. As a writer, I guess I can say that I am beginning to make an impact. I just came here from Joy FM where we used a material I have been releasing at the end of each year since 2011, called Sikaman Awards.

Am I in the impact stage? I dunno. I am still improving, I am still learning.

Dream big – which I did. Start small – which I did. Move fast – well, I am still moving. But the most important aspect is that I spent time in the trenches, off-stage, preparing. I was clear in my mind right from the start that the last book people would buy will be my first book. People ask when they read Sebitically Speaking: wow, is this your first book? I only smile and perhaps now I can tell them: “No, I have been imploring and improving over the last 7 years; hoping I can look forward to making impact.”

Has it been easy? No. It has been tough along the way. I haven’t recouped all my investment. Sometimes I have wondered if it really was worth it all. In 2011, I launched Tales from Different Tails after the lowest time in my life when I went through depression. It has not been all rosy.

But like Joseph and Nii Saka, sometimes you have to go through the pit before you can get to the palace.

I ask again: How are you using your time or chance off-stage? Will you be ready when the platform beckons?

I thank you, and God bless. Merry Christmas.

Nana Awere Damoah

December 2015

Accra, Ghana


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