Open Minds speakers bring powerful messages to Oman

Posted on September 4th, 2014

Synergize, motivate, educate
Inspiring speakers impressed the audience with their powerful messages at the thought-leadership forum .Open Minds that opened at the Oman Auditorium of Al Bustan Palace Hotel on Wednesday. Opening the forum, Malak Al Shaibani, director general of National Business Center, the premier platform which supports Omani entrepreneurs urged young Omani entrepreneurs to be “synergized, motivated and educated” through this platform. Well known quizmaster Giri ‘Pickbrain’ Balasubramaniam and journalist Bikram Vohra moderated the event.

The first day of the two-day forum saw award-winning author Lord Jeffrey Archer; mountaineer Tom Whittaker; Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeler; well known scholar and success coach Sheikh Khalfan Al Esry and British singer Sami Yusuf take stage.

Black & White are the organisers of the forum. MPPH is the presenter. Bank Muscat, Nawras, AVOD (Areej Vegetable Oils and Derivatives), Ministry of Tourism, OAMC (Oman Airports Management Company), W J Towell Ajyal Mustaqbal, National Business Centre are the strategic partners. Oman Air is the official airline. Times of Oman and Al Shabiba are the official newspapers. Merge & Al Wisal are the official radio partners.

Sheikh Khalfan’s Secrets for Success
Among the speakers on the first day of the .Open Minds forum were a mountaineer, a traveller, a sheikh, a writer and a singer. Though they are from diverse backgrounds, each one had powerful messages.

From the moment he started speaking, Oman’s own Sheikh Khalfan Al Esry had the audience hanging on his every word. The scholar, personal leadership coach and facilitator, and expert in multicultural management shared his secrets to success.

Sheikh Khalfan, or as he says in English “it rhymes with ‘have fun’,” kicked off the afternoon session with a series of self-deprecating jokes about how his looks could be deceiving, especially in this day and age when someone with his long beard and pure white turban should be watched by the CIA and end up in Guantanamo, rather than speaking fluent English and mingling with the other speakers. He’s also more fun than he looks, he says. “I used to have a T-shirt that said ‘Sheikh by day, Chic by night,'” he said to a delighted crowd.

But after the laughter died down, Sheikh Khalfan, who studied mechanical engineering before finding his other callings, got more serious, speaking about what young entrepreneurs in Oman need to achieve their dreams and help build the Sultanate’s future.

“Those who have achieved their dreams didn’t do it sitting in a comfort zone. They challenged the status quo,” he said.

His advice is to follow the “Four Ds,” which are desire, decision, discipline and determination. He says if you don’t have a strong desire, you won’t be successful, and you must make a decision and be ready to pursue your vision and passion. Discipline is a matter of doing what you need to do when you need to it, which he says can be achieved by making good, disciplined habits a part of daily life. Finally, there is determination.

“Determination is to say failure is not an option,” Sheikh Khalfan explained. Sheikh Khalfan’s message wasn’t just to those starting out. He also encouraged reminded the business leaders and decision-makers of their responsibilities to society. “I would like to see every successful Omani businessman and businesswoman to mentor 10 young Omanis. Without mentoring we won’t move forward,” he said. He told the decision-makers that Oman’s education system needs to be updated and revamped so that it focuses on values, not just information, and challenges students to think for themselves, explore and debate, rather than memorise and recite information.

‘Change education system’
“I say this: unless we change our education system, we will always have youngsters who rely on someone else,” he noted.

Sheikh Khalfan also revealed his five main pieces of advice: dream big, aspire high; unleash your talent; transform the talent into skills; hold tight to your values; and aim to leave a legacy behind. “Some people are driven by pleasure; other people are driven by fear. People who have big dreams turn fear into pleasure,” he concluded.

Lord Jeffrey Archer’s Adventures as an Author
Since Lord Jeffrey Archer wrote his first book, Not a Penny More, Not a Penny Less, 40 years ago, he has gone on to sell more than 270 million books in 97 countries. As the .Open Minds audience heard from the master storyteller, it wasn’t an easy start, but the journey to get there makes for a great tale. Archer, now 74, admitted that he was also a big dreamer. As a child he wanted to be the captain of the English cricket team, the prime minister, and the Prince of Wales. He knew he wanted to be successful and have a lot of money.

“At a young age I already wanted to be an entrepreneur but I had to discover what was realistic to achieve,” he explained.

From a very young age he found mischievous ways to make money, such as using unapproved sales tactics and raising the prices of things without his employer’s permission. Often his tactics got him fired, but it never stopped him from trying again and again. “I was sacked for making too much money,” he recalled.

The Oxford-educated author graduated from university with the dream of being a politician. He was elected to the Greater London Council, and then the British Parliament when he was just 29 years old.

He was successful, but not so careful with his money, and ended up losing hundreds of thousands of pounds in bad investments. At 34, he decided to try something different to pay off his debts. “I did the one thing they can’t stop you from doing. I wrote a book,” he explained.

Not A Penny More, Not A Penny Less was based on his own experiences with bankruptcy, and at first, it seemed like it wouldn’t help him with his financial crisis.

“The first 16 publishers turned the book down. The 17th publisher printed 3,000 copies,” he admitted.

Luckily the paperback edition found success, and it has since been reprinted 57 times, though Archers claims he has to remind the publishers to keep printing it.

It was his book Kane and Abel that made Archer his big bucks. He described it as making him a millionaire overnight, though while promoting it he was once upstaged by Mickey Mouse on an American TV show. “Mickey Mouse taught me something about television. If you know it’s the last question, go on talking,” said Archer. He has now but a #1 best seller in fiction 18 times, #1 in short stories 4 times, and even #1 in non-fiction, a feat he can be incredibly proud of.

As he continues writing books and making money from them, he has also started giving away his riches. Though he was always interested in making money, he eventually realised that it’s not everything and is pleased that so many of the richest people in the world have pledged to give away most of their money before they die. “Now I get far more interest in knowing how many people have read my books than knowing how much I earned from my books,” said Archer.

Sami Yusuf, a Singer with Soul
There was a great surprise at the end of the first day of the .Open Minds forum when Iranian-born British singer Sami Yusuf made an appearance.

One of the most popular voices of Islamic spiritual music, the 34-year-old musician, composer and singer-songwriter who has sold more than 30 million albums spoke about the importance of staying true to oneself.

He says that as child of immigrants in the UK he had a lot of challenges and difficulties growing up because he didn’t always fit in with his schoolmates.

“As a child of immigrants, one does go through humiliation, challenges, bullying and negativity in general. There are almost 1000 reasons for one to hide away and wither away and give up, but I didn’t do that,” Yusuf said. Instead, he found a way to positive change the world around him without losing his own identity.

“We need to inspire change without change. What’s important is to find that eternal ‘I’. Be at peace with your roots and your culture and your heritage. My parents taught me how to harmonize being Muslim, Persian, Azeri, British, European,” he explained.

He says youth should do something for their countries, their people, their communities, and for the good of the world in general, and do so without straying from their traditions. “I’m a lover of tradition whether it’s Christian, Jewish, Islamic,” he said.

In Sami Yusuf’s case, the contribution was through music. He admits that he could have easily sold out and become an Arab or Western pop star (he studied Arabic in Egypt), but instead he wanted to put his thoughts on philosophy and spirituality into music and move people in a positive way. “But I had this feeling that I had to do something become music is a great trust. Poetry and music bring about change, but what kind of change do we want? I wanted to touch humanity,” said Yusuf. And with those words, he touched the hearts of the audience at .Open Minds forum and beyond.

Failure is not an option for Tom Whittaker
Failure is not an option for me, asserted Tom Whittaker, the first amputee to climb the Mount Everest summit, while speaking at the opening session of the .Open Minds Thought Leadership Forum.

Stressing that the mind is more powerful than the body, he urged invitees “never to give up on your dreams.” Whittaker now wants to become the first amputee to conquer the highest peak on each of the seven continents with his next destination being Antarctica.

Inspiring attendees with his incredible story, he said, “When I climbed the mountain in 1998, the chances of perishing were one in six.” He said it was “persistence and passion” that helped him achieve his goal. Whittaker spoke about his ‘personality disorder’ which is, “If someone says I can’t do something, I do it.”

Admitting that challenges are a part of life, Whittaker said, “The great thing about disappointment is that you learn from it and find a new way to make your dream happen.”

Whitaker also reminded everyone, “People who have abandoned their dreams will stand in the way of you achieving yours.”

Lauding Oman, he said, “The quality of its people makes this country a home, not (just a) house.” He asked the Omanis to focus on their qualities “that distinguish them from the rest.”

He reminded the young Omanis about the “vast possibility that needs to be tapped in the country.”

Tony Wheeler’s travel tales
Since his first big adventure in 1972, when he and his wife travelled overland from the UK to Southeast Asia and then down to Australia, Lonely Planet’s founder Tony Wheeler has had a thirst for travel. As the second speaker at .Open Minds, Wheeler took the audience along with him on his expeditions, giving insight into many of the countries he has visited and written about.

Some of his interesting destinations have included the so-called “Axis of Evil” countries, Iran, Iraq and North Korea; Cuba, where he was delighted by the old American cars; and Libya, where he described former leader Muammar Ghaddafi as “the Michael Jackson of dictators.”

Though he and his wife sold Lonely Planet in 2011, Wheeler has continued writing for the company.

In 2013 he wrote a book called Bad Lands, which took him to conflict-ridden countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Palestine and Israel, Zimbabwe, Pakistan, and Papua New Guinea. He’s been to Oman, too, driving in the Wahiba Sands and hiking in the mountains and wadis, and he spoke of his interest in the forts and castles here.

As one of the most-travelled people in the world, Wheeler has met people from myriad backgrounds. What he discovered along the way is that basically humans are all the same.

‘People are people’
“People are people everywhere. We all essentially want the same things. We want our children to be safe. We want to eat well. We want to live in comfort,” he said.

Wheeler and his wife are doing their part to improve the lives of others, too. Lonely Planet is the only guide book publisher to have books about every African country, and this was part of the inspiration for their charity organisation, Planet Wheeler, which provides funds for health and education in many developing countries.

“We thought we should be giving back to these countries,” Wheeler said.