Alex Lawal writes on 5 important things that have guided him in being where he is today. He emphasises that being part of the commodity crowd erodes your value, and so you must continually try to distinguish yourself. 


Competency in technical skills is necessary to succeed in this world but they are not sufficient to thrive. The question is what can one do differently to be distinguished and move above the commodity crowd? The goal of this manifesto is to provide 5 ways to do just that. You have reached where you are by doing whatever you have done so far. If you need to leapfrog and succeed beyond dreams, continuing whatever you have done in the past may not be the answer. You need to think and be different. In other words, you need to distinguish yourself. 

#1 Build strong relationships

What is one thing that takes a long time to build but can be destroyed in no time?

There are many answers to the above question. My favorite answer is Trust. Trust is the bedrock of solid relationships. As you may have observed, it takes a while for you to trust someone 100%. For almost the same reasons, there is no overnight solution for building strong relationships. It just takes a long time of sustained efforts where each party is cautiously building trust one-step-at-a-time. In my opinion, there are only two types of relationships (1) long-term and (2) very long-term. The rest are casual transactions. Very long-term relationships provide an unfair advantage but not without an investment (long-term explains it all.) Relationships will sustain only when there is mutual value. One-sided relationships will end sooner or later. Why is this important? Here is one reason: Our tendency is to go and find people that are more powerful than us and try and build a long-term relationship with them. The value to us from such relationship is clear and direct.

The key questions are: What about the reciprocal value to the other party? What’s in it for them in this relationship? One trap that most of us fall into is entitlement. Relationships don’t happen by entitlement, hierarchy or position. They happen by design of healthy value exchange. There are no accidents here.

#2 Dream BIG !

Whenever I ask the question — “What is your dream?” I get a variety of answers from people. Some dreams are grand, some are funny, some lack logic and some are unreasonable. This is expected. However, what’s interesting is most people have vague dreams such as “I want to be more happy” or “I want to be financially independent” or something of that sort. More interestingly, most dreams are very small — they could almost be goals two or three years out. That is so sad. Why do we have to put a limitation on our dreams?  There are limitations in the real world but we don’t have to extend these limitations to our imagination.

Let our imagination be wild and let our dreams be unreasonable and seem unrealistic. Watch people who have achieved significant milestones; their dreams were not reasonable when first conceived.  How do we see it in reality if it’s not vividly imagined in our dreams first? Go on, dream BIG and good luck with your dreams!!

#3 Set the right expectations

Underpromise and over deliver.” Easier said than done. Most projects fail even after the team put in a lot of hard work. Many times the project’s success is not even dependent on the amount of effort that was put into the project. If wrong or unrealistic expectations are set, even the smartest teams can fail. The #1 requirement to succeed in a project is to set the right expectations for all parties involved. Organisations are systems, very rarely are projects executed in silos. Every project is connected to one or more other projects; a delay in one project has a cascading effect and the impact will be felt in more places than you might have imagined.  The more you understand system thinking, the better you will be at setting expectations as you will be aware of the overall impact of missing a deadline on your project. Also, remember that expectations keep rising without your knowledge.

#4 Embrace uncertainty with ease

Come to think about it — life would be pretty boring if there was certainty every step of the way. We have uncertainty in several things in our lives, however, most of us can’t handle uncertainty very well. In fact, many of us panic in the face of uncertainty, although, the same people are smart enough to know that there is no way to be certain on everything. There are no guarantees. Life presents us with a series of situations and challenges almost on a daily basis. If there is a problem that will affect us (in other words, the solution to the problem is of interest to us), we are eager to respond to it quickly (most of the time) and we want to be certain that we come up with the best response to the problem. None of us are interested in giving a mediocre response to a problem whose solution matters to us deeply. Let us think about this for a minute. I am sure that in many cases we don’t know what the right response is. The right question therefore is, “Do we have the courage to admit that we don’t know the answer?”

Most often, we are self-conscious and may make up something or provide a diplomatic response. What’s really going on in our mind is something like “Maybe I should know the answer”, “This is part of my job and I know I am good at this” or “What would others think if I say I don’t know” and so on. I urge you to take the challenge and next time you are presented with such a problem or situation respond with “I am not certain about how to handle this.” Then watch how new ideas will flow in. Maybe you will decide to call someone and discuss the situation or you will go to the library and pick up a book on the particular topic or you will go on the web and research. One thing that I have realised is that there is more help than you will ever need but only if you are humble enough to ask. For that, you need to develop an attitude to embrace uncertainty with ease.

#5 Know your values

We all know that values are important. Whether we want to believe it or not, we all have a set of values. Values, in basic terms are deeply held set of beliefs about what is important to us. Values state what matters most in our lives. Values may change over time but it is important we know what they are at this point in time. Interestingly, very few people spend their time trying to identify their values. Whenever we make any significant decisions, it will be based on our values so it’s important that we know what they are. Follow whatever model you like, but please do come up with your own list. There is no “right” set of values, but not knowing what yours are may put you at a disadvantage.

One of my close friends has “Family” at the top of the charts and another close friend has “Wealth”. It’s very easy to guess their decision-making patterns.

So, what are yours?

Alex Lawal is a certified HSEQ professional; “I Love God. I Love Coke. I hate Normal.” Follow @_aalex__

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