It is funny how sometimes the smallest most seemingly insignificant moments or conversations can have the most significant impact on your life and outlook


It is funny how sometimes the smallest most seemingly insignificant moments or conversations can have the most significant impact on your life and outlook. Two weeks ago all of the Balloon ICS volunteers were assembled for the weekly team meeting hosted by the team leaders, Sam and George to run through the programme thus far; how we are getting on and to see if we needed to raise any issues etc. The session was conducted like normal, with the intermittent debate and points to be taken for improvement and then just as the meeting was adjourned, George, the UK team leader made a brief speech and it’s the content of that speech which is the primary focus of this blog; it’s called 100% responsibility.

The basis of 100% responsibility is rather self explanatory in that you should be fully responsible for everything you do and in what goes on around you. Stop complaining, stop pointing fingers and take control of your own life. So in the context of Balloon Kenya; are your entrepreneurs late? Stop complaining and do something about it. Are you frustrated with someone in your team? Your living pair? Life? If any of the above apply, then do something about it rather than taking a passive backseat and hoping for someone else to sort your problems. I am aware of the concept through my familiarity with personal development but when George said it, it just seemed to cut through and resonate and since and since then it has caused me to question my every thought and decision since.

I completely agree with the concept and feel that if you want to get something done then you should simply go ahead and do it and so subsequently I believe your environment and current living conditions are a direct product of you, your thoughts and your actions. The way I see it, we are all self-made but the majority of the time it just tends to be the successful that care to admit it. With this in mind however, with my over analytic nature with a dash of obsessive compulsive disorder, when the concept was dominating my thoughts I was lead into quite the dichotomy of at which point does my 100% end? At which point does the effort I have put in qualify as being sufficient and at which point is it that the external factors overriding my intention to do good reach the breaking point where I cut my losses and say enough is enough. To me, delegation of tasks and responsibility does not equate to absolving oneself of responsibility, but surely there has to be a line?

Anthony Robbins says at any one point in your life there are three things which determine the quality of your life, they are what are you going to focus on, what does it mean, and what are you going to do about it? So to combine this with George’s 100% responsibility, my thought pattern was focusing in a situation which wasn’t going perfectly as planned and reframing it to focus on myself at the epicentre of the issue, see how it reflects on me and subsequently what am I going to do about it to make it right.

It was revelatory. Its first practical application to my life here in Kenya came with my mornings. Every day around 6am I have to head to the garden, heave a bucket of water out of something which resembles a well before proceeding to using that bucket of cold water as my shower… in an outside shed. Initially, I’m not going to lie, I wasn’t a fan; standing there naked with a bit of a shiver, pouring water over myself and longing for a big hot bubble bath where I wouldn’t have to make my dreaded run back from the shower across the garden to my bedroom in my towel. Yet when applying this concept of taking responsibility for myself and my enjoyment and using Anthony Robbins’ teachings to decide which part of the act I was going to focus on, my experience was transformed. I focussed on it being a cross between actually quite funny and culturally immersive, it meant I was being more open minded and from then on I was going to take my previously feared shower and make it all part of the great experience that is Kenya.

Not wanting to tear off more than I could chew the initial trial with the shower seemed as if I was on to a winner. I found also that if I take 100% responsibility then it doesn’t then just mean that when everything falls apart the buck is left with me but also that when everything goes perfectly to plan then I can equally assume full responsibility.

Applying 100% to entrepreneurs came next and here is where it was more difficult and I would regularly engage in a mental battle with myself when apathy was apparent on whether or not it is me not trying enough or the entrepreneur being disengaged with the programme and consequently it is their fault.

A prime example of successful application of the concept in this field came with a clothing entrepreneur named Peninah. It would be impartial to say we got off on the wrong foot. Peninnah was late to meetings. Peninah wouldn’t act on the ideas agreed upon. Peninah was reluctant to try anything new. Peninah wouldn’t keep her finances. I would ask Peninah a question in English (who is perfectly fluent) and she would reply in Swahili to my Kenyan team member. I wasn’t a fan of Peninnah. It felt as though we were making no progress whatsoever at several weeks in and the team had had enough and I wanted her off the programme. I considered every hour that I spent with her I was detracting a valuable hour that could instead be allocated to a committed entrepreneur desperately wanting our help. Anyway, back to 100%. As it came to the final straw and I was ready to go all Alan Sugar and tell her she’s fired, I figured I could again look internally and adapt my approach. Naturally, I’m forward with the entrepreneurs and quite straight to the point, arguably sometimes a little too much so and it transpired that Peninnah, our youngest entrepreneur, wasn’t such a fan of me and my bull in a china shop approach. Who knew, right?! So I took it upon myself to restrain my natural approach and to be more diligent, take more of a backseat in meetings and spend one on one time with her chatting about anything other than business; all of which amalgamated to building bridges and something which could actually resemble a connection between us where previously it was more of a wasteland.

The results were incredible. She was on time, accepted the business leap change to selling tea on the market instead of clothes and she would even reply to me in English! The tea she made sold out on the first day. In one day she started making more money on tea than she did on clothes. She then took the initiative to expand into selling mandazi and stew and practically operating a fully functional cafe within no more than a week and increasing her daily income ten-fold over in less than two weeks. Business is booming.

Unfortunately I can’t take the sweep stake 100% credit in the transformational development as it was of course a team effort but certainly me looking inside myself and choosing to focus on how I can change as opposed to why on earth she isn’t changing made a significant contribution to the reborn entrepreneur.

The anecdote of Peninah is a fantastic success story of which is quite possibly my proudest achievement since being in Kenya, completely defying the odds but then with it giving credence to the idea that the issue is internal the mental battle resurges when I look at my other entrepreneurs that turn up late or aren’t as far as they should be or I think will be unlikely to attain the investment funding. I feel a bit like the story of the man who was digging for gold and dug for years on end determined he was going to succeed and then one day it all became too much and he threw in the towel; only for someone else to enter the same hole the following day and within a few hours strike gold. I could have easily and justifiably given up on Peninah and when I then think of her situation I imprint that same thought process on other entrepreneurs and get lost in the dichotomy of whether I’m digging a dry hole or whether I’m one axe pick away from an untapped goldmine.

It is difficult to conclude a continuing dichotomy as there is no golden bullet answer and it’s all subjective. I suppose the brilliance of Balloon is that it gives you the autonomy to find your own balance and test your own boundaries, so right or wrong you are confident of when to call enough, enough; not the kind of thing you’d find in a text book. I’m still finding my boundaries and trying to establish where the line is drawn but I can unequivocally say that by adopting the 100% responsibility, as subjective as it may be, I have achieved considerably more than what I normally would as the results of the circumstances I was in went from being a product of externalities to simply a product of me and best of all I have helped others such as the entrepreneurs achieve more than what they originally would for my enhanced efforts.

Cheers George.