In its most simple form, alchemy is the process of taking something ordinary and turning it into something extraordinary – sometimes in a way that cannot be explained. Rather like the way that you find that an Artist can, quite magically, transform a seeming heap of scrap metal, into a magical work of art. 

In the business world, I believe that is what we are all trying to do – to take something ordinary and turn it into something extraordinary. Whether you are social entrepreneur Patrick Awuah, taking something seemingly ordinary such as tertiary education and transforming lives through that process so that they in turn can shape the process of transforming societies in remarkable, unique ways; or whether you are entrepreneur 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 the multiplicity of their artistic skills and creativity, in manners that are relevant and valid to and for our societies. 

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 to pursue and take charge of your business aspirations as any work you will find in the Harvard Business Review – the story is that good. 

The story starts in Spain, where a shepherd boy, Santiago, had a dream. Literally, he slept one night and had a dream that he travelled and found 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. Selling all his sheep, he set off to find his treasure in Africa. 

Where your treasure is, there your heart also will be 

Much of The Alchemist is about the odyssey of Santiago. His adventures, the people he came into contact with (the good, the bad and the ugly), his new learning, love, and eventually finding his treasure – but his treasure he found in the most unusual place. This brings to the fore that as we pursue that compelling vision, that business aspiration, we must be awakened to the dynamism of the world we live in, we need to be flexible. 

There is so much I could write about what I have personally learned from The Alchemist but if I could even begin by just briefly relaying from the two people I referred to above – Patrick Awuah and Mo Abudu. I have never personally met either of them, but I have read about them and listened to many interviews by both. 

I remember, I believe it was on a CNN’s African Voices interview, that Awuah recalled that the was driven to leave his work and life in the US by his compelling vision to start a first class tertiary institution founded on strong leadership principles in Ghana. I also recall him saying that he was further motivated by that most famous quote by 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 Mr Awuah, 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 in Africa, 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 unto Ghana through Ashesi University, Mr Awuah’s creation. 

The first lesson that you learn from The Alchemist is that business life, often requires us to leave our comfort zone and take risks, but wherever your heart is, your treasure will be. 

For Mo Abudu, she was a professional international HR consultant. I recall viewing the earlier Moments with Mo on TV every time work took me from London to Lagos. Many wondred why a successful HR consultant would leave a fabulous international career to host a talk show. Let them wonder. 

Like Santiago, Abudu was drawn to her dream and focused on purpose. She perfected her art by raising and talking about pertinent national issues, and also giving visibility to work and life of remarkable Nigerians and international personalities. I believe one of things that whole process did was to awaken Abudu to the opportunity of creating something bigger than Moments with Mo and giving Africans an opportunity to display and demonstrate their own creative skills and abilities through the forum of a global entertainment and TV network. 

Today, EL TV is testament to not only Abudu’s hard work, resilience and vision, but the network has become a channel through with many other African creative entrepreneurs and story tellers can effect and build their own creative dreams. 

 

That is alchemy. Transforming the ordinary to extraordinary.

Author: Ruka Sanusi is a business management adviser with a unique focus on providing advisory support in the technical areas of business strategy and business operations. With two decades of international consulting experience, Ruka has worked in 16 countries across Africa in senior management positions with two global corporations (PwC and Crown Agents) as well as with the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Corporation, the development assistance vehicle of Commonwealth nations.

Ruka has advised on a multiplicity of international projects across sub-Saharan Africa, with each project building valuable and responsive business experience and networks. She brings a deep knowledge of matters pertinent to business management, strategy development, and organisational transformation. A proficient and experienced professional with the authority and ability to operate at the highest levels, Ruka enjoys a challenge and seeks tough objectives.