Travelling is a brilliant opportunity for seeing new places, people – and spotting new ideas. On a recent journey through Botswana and Namibia along the Trans-Kalahari Highway to the far-off coastal town of Swakopmund I discovered a few important life and business lessons at stop-overs along the way:
Watch your valuables closely. I couldn’t believe it when someone pee’d in my coffee; then had the cheek to knock my mug off the wall. Okay, the “someone” was a male meerkat called “Kiekie” (because of the clicking sounds he makes), an imaginative and sociable little fellow. In business you never know who’s going to try misuse, misappropriate or ruin your valuable assets. Keep a close watch; you never know who may be eyeing them.
The sweetest fruit are those which ripen on the tree. A farmer gave me a ripe naval orange straight off the tree outside his kitchen door. It was sweet, chilled from the winter air, and delicious. Timing is important in any business venture. Take the example of solar power. Very few could sell the idea let alone the products (except for a few solar geysers) until electricity blackouts became frequent and iniquitous price spikes came about with even more regularity. Now everyone is looking seriously at solar energy – from home-owners to industrialists.
Marketing surveys aren’t over at the point of contact. A Namibian university student asked me at a fuelling or gas station to fill in a survey questionnaire about tourist preferences in Karibib, a pass-through town on the way to Swakopmund. From the survey questions it was evident that the town and tourism authorities are desperate to lure travellers to stay over in this town instead of merely buying a bröchen (roll) and coffee at the filling station. After the interview, I drove away and saw several historical buildings, long neglected. These acres of diamonds were starring these townsfolk in the face. But I had no contact e-mail to send this observation and afterthoughts to the interviewer. Always give your contact details when surveying prospective customers.
Look before you leap. After supper at The Wreck restaurant next to the sea at Swakopmund, I drove off not realising that the sand in front was soft. The car’s front wheels dug into the sand with the chassis nearly resting on the ground. Fortunately the security guard brought bricks and placed them under the tyres… and with some pushing from the front I was able to reverse out onto harder sand. Before setting out on any business venture or new product and service development, make sure you know the condition of the road ahead.
You never know when you need a helping hand. Staying on a farm in the Aranos district well-known for its dorpers breed of sheep and Kalahari red goats, I experienced the caring and support that a one-and-a-half-month old goat needs. After being separated from her mother, “Suzie”, the goat wondered about knocking everyone’s knees for milk. The farmer hand-fed her with a baby’s milk bottle and medicated her eyes. We are all dependent on someone for our survival in business such as for our contacts, relationships and mentoring. You never know when a helping hand may be crucial.
It pays to stand out in a crowd. Eateries and restaurants abound in Windhoek yet one restaurant and watering hole stands out above all the others – Joe’s Beer House. Locals and international tourists flock to this famous restaurant even on a Monday night. Festooned in bric a brac including fishing net, a rusty wheel barrow, a weird imaginary feathered creature in a bird cage, a windmill, an old petrol pump, a toilet and even a real mini car provide many hundreds of fascinations through the restaurant enclaves. Joe’s Beer House has become one of the must-see and experience places of interest in Windhoek. Far too often businesses copy each other with similar establishments trading alongside each other with little point of difference. A unique sales or selling proposition (USP) is essential to stand out in a crowded marketplace. It doesn’t necessarily require great amounts of investment but rather clear positioning, local knowledge and imagination.
Life’s little lessons are all around us. It needn’t take a 4000 km journey through one of Africa’s harshest, arid landscapes to gain fresh insights – we just need to take time to observe whatever happens around us wherever we are.