“There was something about the piano solo that Charlie Puth played in the YouTube version of his song ‘One Call Away’ that always evoked the perfect blend of sadness and beauty. For me, it feels lonely, and yet it is in that very position of loneliness that greatness can be built,” he said. And then suddenly, he bellowed with an imperfect tone: “I’m only one call awaaaay….”
Billy Koko was always one of my favourite characters to drive in Accra. Looking back at him through my rearview mirror, I could tell he was elated. He was always full of life; but today, he seemed exceptionally excited.
“Koko!” I said, since that was his preferred moniker. “Koko, I suppose you closed a huge business deal? I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so excited.”
“No, Dede. It’s even better,” he responded. “Tell me what you see here,” he said as he tossed a white book into the passenger seat from his position in the back.
Before I could even glance at what it was, I heard more from Koko. “I hope you’re not planning to drive past the Shell Station without our Celebratory Twix, Dede! You know better than that.”
Koko is a consultant in a marketing firm in Ghana. We had met fortuitously one morning a few years ago when, on his way to a business pitch, his car had inexplicably broken down on a lonely road on the outskirts of Accra. I happened to drive by to, as he put it, save the day and take Koko to his destination. Koko had anticipated a short meeting and insisted I kept the metre running. Two hours later, an overjoyed Koko sauntered back to the car, pulled out a bar of Twix chocolate and said, “We did it. So half of it is yours”. Since my half-hearted attempts to resist it fell on deaf ears, I acquiesced to what has become a tradition for both of us. Koko, calling me his lucky charm, makes it a point to book me every time he has a meeting he refers to as “kridikal”.
“Don’t worry, boss”, I quipped back, “But when are we starting our diet? You said you were getting a six-pack this year”.
“Ah, Dede, you too? I beg, don’t come and sit on my happiness. Six figures over six packs. You know the thing…” He responded without missing a beat. “..and this year, we just have to manage the ‘bɛllɛ” like that.”
Smiling back, I tossed a bag of dozen Twix back to him. “I already have it here.”
As he sheepishly grabbed the bag of Twix, Koko pointed back to the book and said, “I have an autographed copy of Flo’s puzzles right here”.
“I have a feeling you’re going to explain why this is significant”, I said as I continued driving.
“This is a collection of puzzles created and published by a lady named Florence over 15 years ago”. He continued, “What I find most fascinating about this is that she did this as a National Service student at a bank and financed the entire project herself. Do you know what type of mind it takes to create that?”
Unsure whether that was a rhetorical question, I stared blankly at Koko, waiting for a sign.
“Neither do I!” he exclaimed, “But it’s unique! And I have convinced her that we should go digital. I don’t know how, but I think it can be impactful.”
“So, is this a big money deal? Because I don’t see how. -” I asked.
Koko interjected. “It’s not about money, Dede, it’s about impact. There are so many good ideas left un-nurtured in this modern, fast-paced world that we often neglect the most impactful ones just because they aren’t shiny, and I have a feeling this is one.”
I had never seen this side of Koko before, but he seemed very moved.
“The profane pursuit of money cheapens the life experience,” he said. “The more we encourage devotion to productive leisurely interests, the more likely it is that we would unlock some dormant greatness in ourselves or others.”
“In one of my many conversations with Florence, she described herself as unambitious. This description made me think about my relationship with that word and try to figure out what it means. On the one hand, it’s insane for someone to call publishing a book of puzzles in Ghana while completing your national service unambitious, but Florence absolutely believed this.”
“While speaking with her, I thought the following. As a society, do we define ambition as the exhausting pursuit of riches and perhaps fame from people regardless of their limitations?”
Catching himself drifting off into his thoughts, Koko asked, “Have you ever heard of the flow state, Dede?”
“No, I haven’t. What’s that?” I questioned.
“It’s a term attributed to a Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi”, Koko responded. “It refers to a mental state of complete immersion and focus in an activity, characterised by a sense of timelessness, effortless concentration, and a merging of action and awareness.”
“You mean, like being in the zone?” I asked.
“Exactly!” Koko continued his point. “I think this should be the goal of every individual. Where we effortlessly focus on significant and valuable tasks that we find alluring. The irony is that in a culture where “hustle culture” is celebrated, this level of ‘effortlessness’ may be accompanied by guilt, especially for knowledgeable people since they may be viewed as ‘unambitious’. I believe Florence, whose day job is to be a big player in the money markets in Ghana, is in the flow state.”
“What are the characteristics of the Flow state?” I inquired.
“Well, there’s intense focus. Individuals in a flow state are highly focused on the task at hand, often excluding everything else from their awareness,” Koko responded.
“Then there is a loss of self-consciousness. When someone is in flow, they often experience a diminished sense of self-awareness. They become so absorbed in the activity that they may lose track of time and forget about worries or concerns. Flo’ is hardly ever perturbed by anything, and no matter how much I try to nudge her, she is always unfazed.”
“Clear goals! Flow is often associated with a clear sense of purpose and well-defined goals. The task is challenging enough to require focus and skill but not so difficult as to induce anxiety. Sometimes, this becomes apparent when the person in flow state insists on tasks remaining simple while others, for whatever reason, want to ‘overcomplicate’ things in an attempt to seek perfection.”
“Flo’ is a hard nut to crack, but I’m extremely interested in what drove her to publish this puzzle book 15 years ago and how she was unable to unlock this, especially in an environment like this.
“I have no doubt that as we translate it into its digital format, we will also be able to inspire the next generation of Florences with her insight.”
“You know what you should do?” I said, “You should write Flo’s Flow State. I think it will be a bestseller….now pass the Twix!”
Hello, my name is Dede Nyansapo. I am an entrepreneur who also participates as a driver in Accra’s burgeoning gig economy. My love for meeting fascinating people and my curiosity about how they think usually place me in the midst of some very entertaining conversations. Invariably, these conversations lead to some key learnings that may be useful to anyone on their business journey.