27 January 2018
Speech delivered at Adonten SHS, Aburi
Joyful Way Incorporated Speaker Series/Outreach to schools
How many sing in the bathhouse?
How many of us won’t sing outside the bathhouse?
How many of us dream when we sleep?
How many of us forget what the dream was about as soon as we wake up?
(Raise up your hands please)
We all get ideas in the shower. Don’t you? Well, I do. Even without singing in my gravelly, guttural voice! 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 the shower, dry themselves and do something about the ideas.
Thomas Robert Gaines said “It is good to dream but it is better to dream and work. Faith is mighty but action with faith is mightier. Desiring is helpful, but work and desire are invincible.”
This same notion was articulated by John Hancook Field when he 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.
“An acre of performance is worth a whole world of promise.” William dean Howells
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 had been displayed at vantage points in the Tema factory of Unilever Ghana where I used to work. One caught my attention once, and engaged my thoughts:
“Small deeds done are better than great ideas planned.”
James Rusell Lowell captured the same truism when he said that “all the beautiful sentiments in the world weigh less than a single lovely action”.
A former boss of mine, then 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 years ago, dubs SPOTS: strategic plans on top shelves – left to accumulate dust, yielding no results.
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 now, 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 clarify that I am not advocating for 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.
“Think like a man of action, act like a man of thought.” Henri Bergson
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 ‘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.
This means that you should not despise small beginnings.
What do you have in your hands? That is the question God asked Moses, and that is the same I ask you: what are you doing today and yet despising? Take an inventory, and you will be amazed what future that holds, if only you will think what you can do with it.
I am known more as a writer and publisher now than even as a chemical engineer which is what I was trained in, or a manufacturing professional, which is how my career for the past 17 years has mostly been. But how did it start? It started about 40 years ago in a small school in Kotobabi.
Mr. Okpoti Manison of blessed memory had structured his school Providence Preparatory in Kotobabi, Accra, such that on the day before the vacation date, the ‘Our Day’, the entire school gathered for the entire day for plays, poems and dance. Each class had to perform a play, and parents and guardians were invited to watch. I loved the drama day. Knowing one’s parents were in the audience was always an added incentive to perform well. My earliest memories are of reciting a poem in my three-piece batakari, complete with a hat, the attire made from UAC cloth, where my dad worked as a driver distributing textiles all across the country. Small beginnings, appreciation of the arts, learning the rudiments of prose and poetry. Special tribute to Mr. Aidoo and Mr. Edem (we called him brother), two special teachers in Providence who affected my life for good. I remember being taught, in preparation for the Common Entrance, to answer the question: Write a story ending with ‘…and the boy learnt a lesson for life, that obedience is better than sacrifice.’ You ever wrote such a story? Small beginnings of creative writing.
At a point, especially around 2004, I felt and acknowledged that writing could be an important part of my life. The publishing dream can along later. But I started. Borrowing money to get my first book published and using all the annual work bonus to get my second book published. Big money. Did I get my money back? No, I didn’t. I tell myself that the £5600 (which will be GHS 36,000 or $8,000 today) was my diploma in publishing! Then, from 2008, I started actively telling people on social media about my writing and introducing my writing. I was also writing more and was quite clear in my mind that I had to write more books. I answered messages on Facebook. I engaged with people who read my works.
I had that big dream and I was working slowly and slowly. Today I have about 27,000 people reached by my single post on Facebook. I get people recognising my books, name and face.
After my first two books, I used the experience from my ‘diploma’ to self-publish my third book and to learn how to put the book on Amazon. As a hardcopy. I also researched on how to create ebooks on Amazon Kindle and iBooks. Last year, I tried audio books and spent a week or so learning about how to create CDs on Amazon. I learnt these from scratch, starting small.
Then I did my third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh books. Then I learnt some more and did even more. Learning and applying.
From last year, my friend Akpabli and I sent up a publishing company and started moving fast! I resigned from my job in Nigeria and came home to focus on building my dream. We produced five books last year, including one book by an 18 year old ex-Aburi Girls student who wrote her book whilst a student here in Aburi, on a campus close to yours, at the age of 16. One of our books is one of the fastest selling in Ghana now, even read by the President and the Vice President.
Let me tell you about that 18-year old author. She is called Ashley Nadom Turkson, now a Communications Studies student at UCC. She always had a dream of being a writer and an author. She said the first six or so chapters that she wrote of Aseye’s Journey, her novel, got missing. She had to sit and rewrite. In September 2016, we had a book reading at JamRock Restaurant in East Legon. Her father brought her from school to listen to three authors and be inspired. Inspired she was and a few months later she submitted her manuscript to us. We used a year to finish the editing and publishing and in January 2018, we launched her book! Ashley says she is going to write more books! Her book is Amazon and her cousins abroad are reading her.
What do you have in your hands?
Proverbs 16:3 – Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.
But you must have a plan. Dreams should lead to a plan of action. Analyse, think, reflect. Some of us don’t like to think. We only worry. So think and brainstorm and organise and prioritise the steps. Write them down. Then start small. But start.
Some of us dabble in analysis to paralysis. We will think saaa and talk saaa and do nothing. It is called NATO: No Action, Talk Only. Desist from NATO behaviour.
“To do anything in this world worth doing, we must not stand back shivering and thinking of the cold and danger, but jump in, and scramble through as well as we can.” Sydney Smith
Prepare to start and learn. In engineering solutions, there is something called iteration. It’s a loop and the more you iterate, the closer you get towards a better solution to a problem. To your dreams.
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.”
Why do we despise the days of small beginnings? Why are we afraid to take infant steps? Why do we usually want to move from crawling to flying? I love a quote from Emmanuel Dei-Tumi’s book What I wish I knew before the age of twenty: ‘The elevator to success and wealth is always out of order and one has to use the stairs, one step at a time.’ A few friends have asked me how I got a publisher in the UK to publish my first book Excursions in my mind. My response? I sent a manuscript, responding to an advert in the Economist. Just that first step.
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.
In Scripture (Zechariah 4:10), the question is asked: “For who hath despised the day of small things?” Another version renders it thus: “Who despised the day when little things began to happen?” In some versions, it is the ‘day of small beginnings’. Many of us do, many of us despise such a day, many of us don’t give much thought to such a day.
Don’t despise the days of small beginnings, for they are many. I go through my old scripts and I get amazed about the stuff I wrote back then, not bad at all! Why did I not write more then, why did I not publish more often? What you are doing today with your talents, with your thoughts, with your ideas may look small, but every giant was once a sperm, an egg, microscopic. What we are and will be is and will be a totality of the experiences, lessons, failures, mistakes, flops we have; block upon block, piece by piece, small step after small step, for every man is built up “precept on precept, precept on precept; line on line, line on line; here a little, there a little; that they might go, and stumble, and be broken, and snared, and taken”, that is how we are built by the Word of God, that is how success is made of a man. Don’t underrate any step along the way, and be fortified by the thought of John Dryden that “mighty things from small beginnings grow”
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.”
Permit me to conclude by giving you homework. What I call Action exercises. Please write them down. Three of them:
1. List three top ideas you have for your life: career, personal development, studies…
2. Spend more time thinking of how to implement.
3. Decide today to start working on their translation into reality.
Many thanks for your attention and God bless you.
Nana Awere Damoah
Some More Quotes for reflection
“Nothing splendid has ever been achieved except by those who dared believe that something inside them was superior to circumstance.” Bruce Barton
“Action may not always bring happiness; but there is no happiness without action.” Benjamin Disraeli
“Act quickly, think slowly.” Greek proverb
“Great thoughts reduced to practice become great acts.” William Hazlitt
“Iron rusts from disuse, stagnant water loses its purity, and in cold weather becomes frozen; even so inaction saps the rigours of the mind.” Leonardo Da Vinci
“Let deeds match words.” Plautus
“However brilliant an action may be, it ought not to pass for great when it is not the result of a great design.” Francois De La Rochefoucauld
“Suit the action to the word, the word to the action.” William Shakespeare, Hamlet
“What is done hastily cannot be done prudently.” Publilius Syrus
“Actions lie louder than words.” Carolyn Wells
“Thought and theory must precede all salutary action; yet action is nobler in itself than either thought or theory.” William Wordsworth
“The beginning of all things are small.” Cicero
“Are you in earnest? Seize this very minute. What you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Begin it and the work will be completed.” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
“Dare to be wise, begin! He who postpones the hour of living rightly is like the rustic who waits for the river to run out before he crosses.” Horace
“The beginnings of all things are weak and tender.” Michel de Montaigne
“The only joy in the world is to begin.” Cesare Pavese
“While we ponder when to begin, it becomes too late to do.” Quintilian
“The difference between getting somewhere and nowhere is the courage to make an early start. The fellow who sits still and does just what he is told will never be told to do big things.” Charles M. Schwab
“Experience is the hardest kind of teacher. It gives you the test first and the lesson afterward.” Anonymous
“Experience is the comb Nature gives us after we are bald.” Belgian proverb
“Experience is not what happens to a man. It is what a man does with what happens to him.” Aldous Huxley