What Entrepreneurs Can Learn from Raftery the Poet.
A Blog by Pádraic Ó Máille.

I climbed Abbey Hill in the Burren early this morning and had one of those BFO Moments (Blinding Flash of the Obvious.)

For most of the climb you keep your eyes firmly fixed on the slippy limestone flags in order not to fall and make progress. But every so often you need to look up and focus on the cairn at the summit to see where you’re headed and to measure your current position in relation to where you’re going.

Planning is a lot like climbing. You spend most of your time doing the day-to-day stuff but periodically you need to focus on the goal, the target, the destination.

Imagine if you could improve the quality of the next 750 hours in just 15 minutes!

You can. And now’s the time to do it because today is February 1st and Lá Fhéile Bríd – the start of a new month and also the start of the Spring.

A month is a powerful unit of time to plan around in that it enables you to lift your head out of the day-to-day minutiae and once again focus on your bigger picture and your core purpose for existing.

To begin with list the victories you enjoyed in the last month.

This will instantly improve your accountability, your confidence and your positivity.

Secondly, write out in action oriented language – verbs like ‘start’, ‘begin’, ‘hire’, ‘fire’, ‘marry’, ‘divorce’, – what would make it a good month professionally and personally. Avoid having more than five actions per category or else it will become a ‘to-do’ list.

Thirdly, estimate the time required to carry out each action. This may vary from a five minute phone call to a 100 hours task that you are managing.

Fourthly, put a start and finish time on each task and time activate it – ie put it into your diary or phone.

Finally, review it critically at the end of the month.

This simple monthly planning exercise is one of the most valuable business rituals you can develop.

Most business people operate from a daily to-do list and this is great. ‘To-Do’ lists are a useful way of reminding you of what needs doing today. Used exclusively however, they create and nurture the habit of reactive management. You end up reacting to crises of the moment at the expense of more highly leveraged and important activities.

This exercise is also a wonderful exercise to do with your core executive or management team. Doing it on a flip chart is a very visible and tangible way of engaging people and also a great way of reviewing things at month end.

I’ll leave the final thoughts with the poet Raftery, or Antoine Ó Raifteiri, as he was known then. He may have lived over 200 years ago and he might have lost his sight at a young age to smallpox but it never succeeded in thwarting his vision.

Anois teacht an earraigh, beidh ‘n lá dul chun síneadh
’.                            Is tar éis na Féil’ Bríde, ardóidh mé mo sheol,
Ó chuir mé ‘mo cheann é ní stopfaidh mé choíche
Go seasfaidh mé síos i lár Chontae Mhaigh Eo.’

Now that spring is coming, the days will be getting longer
And after St Brigid’s Feast (February 1st), I’ll hoist my sail,
And since I’ve put it into my head I won’t stop a moment,
Till I stand in the middle of County Mayo.’

Like vintage wine slurped from a plastic cup the translation of Raftery’s poetry from Irish to English was never what it was intended for. Raftery’s poetry was created to inspire minds around the fire or to be recited at weddings and wakes and occasions of significance. The fact is that at the time of his death not a line of his poetry was in writing. Lady Gregory would later tend to this in the balmy evenings at Mount Vernon in New Quay long after his death.

But like the alcohol in the wine, the English translation still contains four wonderful messages.

1. Light always follows the dark. The days are getting brighter. Get out in them.

2. When the time is right you need to take action. ‘Hoisting your sail’ is a dynamic metaphor for taking action and getting momentum. As they say, ‘Vision without action is a daydream. But action without vision is a nightmare.’

3. Visualise (put it into your head) and persist. These are the twin engines of all meaningful progress.

4. Arrive at your destination but remember that the journey is as important as the destination. Enjoy the climb, and the view, and the company.

PS. There’s a lot of truck in contemporary business writing on the power of an ‘Elevator Pitch.’ There have been books written on the subject; conferences themed on it; and countless PhDs produced on it. I don’t suspect Raftery ever heard of an ‘Elevator Pitch’ but as sure as light follows dark he himself had a powerful one.

Is Mise Raifteirí an file,
Lán dúchais is grádh,
Le súile gan solas,
Le ciúnas gan crá.

I’m Raftery the poet,
Full of hope and love,
With eyes without sight,
My mind without torment.

There’s more value conveyed in those 17 simple words than in the entire contents of a good many of the post doctoral theses I slogged through.

PPS. In addition to elevator pitches there’s a lot of talk these days about your avatar or ‘ideal client.’ Raftery was wise to this too and was always patently aware of his audience. The bottom line question always should be: ‘can your prospective customer pay for your services? Listen to what Raftery once had to say about a particular audience.

Féach anois mé
Is mo chúl le bhfalla
Ag seinm ceoil
Do phócaí folamh.

‘Look at me now
My back to the wall.
Playing music to
Empty pockets.’

PPS. Do yourself a real favor and listen to Liam Clancy recite ‘Mary Hynes’ by Raftery. Mary Hynes was said to be the most beautiful girl born in the west of Ireland in the course of a hundred years. Although she lived with her peasant parents in a cottage near Gort, she always dressed in brilliant white. When Mary Hynes appeared at any sporting event, people rushed to see her. She was also said to have refused eleven offers of marriage in one day. Her end was the sad but not unusual one of such peasant beauties – she was seduced and abandoned by one of the so-called aristocracy, and died in poverty some years before the Famine.

Both are masters of their craft. Our purpose is to be a master of ours.

All you need is SMÁCHT.