In its simplest form, alchemy is the process of taking something ordinary and turning it into something extraordinary -sometimes in a way that cannot be explained. Alchemy is seen in the way an artist can, quite magically, transform a heap of scrap metal into a breathtaking piece of art.
I believe that in the business world, we are all trying to create alchemy. We want to take something ordinary and turn it into the extraordinary. Whether you are social entrepreneur Patrick Awuah, taking tertiary education through it transforming lives so that students learn to shape their societies in remarkable, unique ways. Or whether you are Mo Abudu, CEO of Ebony Life TV, Africa’s first Global Black Entertainment and Lifestyle network, taking up the challenge of owning an African TV network where Africans can demonstrate their artistic skills and creativity in a relevant way.
Lessons from Coelho’s “The Alchemist”
One book that continues to have a profound effect on me is “The Alchemist”, by Paulo Coelho. A simple fable about pursuing your dreams, “The Alchemist” has enough wisdom in it to inspire and motivate you. It can push you to pursue and take charge of your business aspirations as much as any work you will find in the Harvard Business Review –the story is that good.
It starts in Spain, where a shepherd boy, Santiago has a dream. He literally slept one night and had a dream that he travelled and found a treasure in Africa, Egypt to be precise. The dream was so compelling –just as your business aspiration might be– that Santiago could not let it go. He had to actualize it. Selling all his sheep, he set off across the ocean to find his treasure.
Where your treasure is, there your heart will also be
Much of “The Alchemist” is about the Santiago’s odyssey. His adventures, the people he came in contact with (the good, the bad and the ugly), his new learning, love, and eventually finding his treasure in the most unusual place. This reminds us that as we pursue that compelling vision, that business aspiration, we must be aware of the dynamic world we live in. We need to be flexible to succeed at alchemy.
Now to connect “The Alchemist” to Patrick Awuah and Mo Abudu. It may have been on a CNN’s African Voices interview, that Patrick recalled that he was driven to leave his work and life in the US. What pushed him was his vision of starting a first class tertiary institution founded on strong leadership principles in Ghana. He was further motivated by that most famous quote from Goethe; “Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”
Like Santiago in “The Alchemist”, I imagine that the dream was so compelling for Patrick that he could not let it go. And similar to Santiago who sold all his sheep and set off to find his find his treasure, Mr Awuah forfeited an assured life in the States and came to Ghana to start something new and risky. And what genius and magic that boldness has delivered through Ashesi University, Patrick’s creation.
The first lesson that you learn from “The Alchemist” is that business, often requires us to leave our comfort zone and take risks, but wherever your heart is, your treasure will be.
For Mo, she was a succcessful HR consultant who left a fabulous international career to host a talk show. Many people asked why, let them wonder. Like Santiago, Mo was drawn to her dream and focused on her purpose. She perfected her art by raising and talking about pertinent national issues. She gave visibility to the work and lives of remarkable Nigerians and international personalities on her show Moments with Mo. Her show may have awakened Mo to the opportunity of creating something bigger than Moments and giving Africans an opportunity to display and demonstrate their own creative skills through the platform of a global entertainment and TV network.
Today, EL TV is a testament to not only Mo’s hard work, resilience and vision. The network has also become a channel through which many other African creative entrepreneurs and story tellers can effect and build their own creative dreams.
That is alchemy. Transforming the ordinary to extraordinary.