Origin stories are the stuff of superheroes. How, for instance, Peter Parker was once bitten by a genetically enhanced spider, which causes him to have supernatural powers of the spider. Or how Bruce Wayne’s father and mother are murdered and that forms the basis of his journey towards becoming Batman.
You hear about ‘unicorn’ start-ups who founded their companies based on some really interesting origin stories – AirBnB founders renting out their air mattress in San Francisco; Uber founders having trouble finding a taxi in Paris, so on and so forth.
That said, it’s not only the reserve of superheroes and unicorns. All of us can have powerful origin stories if we look back at our history and try to find those stories that keep on sticking – stories we like to tell others when we want to talk about something meaningful.
These are the stories that motivate us to do something great like change the world – or something small – like repeat the good that happened to us for others. For instance, I know a lady who was nurtured and deeply cared for by an adopted parent since she was 2. She went on to do the same for several hundred children in the world.
Origin stories have the unique ability to motivate and power the raison d’etre for many inspiring individuals journeys and the institutions and movements they go on to create. They also motivate your customers, employees and stakeholders to continue to work with you – as they believe in and support what you believe in – Nick Morgan, an acclaimed speaking coach and best selling author stated ‘In a world where people have a lot of choices, the story may be the deciding factor.
But it’s not necessarily easy to find at first glance back in your memory. It took me ten years of deep soul searching to find my one, based on a single incident that formed the basis of everything I decided to dedicate my life to. And it goes something like this:
I had just had a roller coaster year leading to 2017 – ideating and incubating some phenomenal initiatives for the UAE and beyond with my colleagues in Dubai. I headed off back to Australia for a break with my family for the summer. During that time, I had some quality downtime to really reflect on what I wanted to leave behind in this world – what impact I wanted to make.
Why was I doing what I was? What was the real impact of my work? How could I best use my capabilities to address what the world really needs?
All of a sudden, I had a moment of epiphany. I recalled powerful moments in my life – visiting an orphanage with my mother, seeing kids begging in the streets and feeling powerless, the buses that carried blue collar labourers in the Gulf, and then contrasted to visiting and presenting in towering institutions such as Harvard and then remembering some of the characters I met in my life which really left an inspirational imprint.
Why was it that certain individuals gained success in life and many were left powerless to impact their own fate? Their success or lack thereof (in life)?
All of those all moments came crashing down onto one single moment – it was a powerful night that occurred exactly ten years since July 2017. I had met a man whose seemingly humble background obfuscated how important he was going to be in my life and my own origin story – you can read the full story here.
That story- – about a boy – who made it from the bottom of the social pyramid – to achieve great heights of success in his professional life – but most importantly how he gave back to his community to create an exponential impact on his society – that was my origin story – and that would be my origin story for what I was about to do next.
It seemed like what he accomplished in his life, the life he came from, the empathy he experienced with his community – all resonated with my own experiences – and pulled it together – in a beautiful way – even though I had a very different upbringing and trajectory. It felt like it related to me like no story ever had and pulled together all of those powerful moments into one cohesive reflection of what I wanted to do. In a way, I saw myself as a less glamorous version of that story – and perhaps many of us do. But that story led to a powerful revelation. There are millions of brilliant disadvantaged youth without the same kinds of opportunities afforded to this man.
I asked myself an important question – what if we could nurture and empower exponential leaders like these at scale? How could I harness my distinct talents, capabilities, and networks – particularly around incubating and commercializing propositions – to achieve something very few institutions are doing in the space of talent and leadership development? To help this unprivileged segment?
With this story firmly implanted in my heart, I decided I had found a mission worth living for and that spoke to me like no other – how might we provide an opportunity for the underprivileged and disenfranchised at scale? This would be my calling cry and a common stream that would run through all of the activities I undertake. So I decided to do a number of experiments across the board.
X Leader is the flagship among those experiments – the most strategic and significant and has the potential to achieve my goals for the greatest number of individuals.
It was founded on the premise that individuals exist in all corners of the world – struggling to make it out due to the harshness of necessity. Yet, if given the opportunity – opportunity to gain the credibility, networks and resources we take for granted, they can not only change their own destiny but can have an exponential impact on their communities, society and countries.
Today, having developed the prototype and getting ready to go to undertake some experiments with our pilot, we are just beginning our journey. The journey might take us many years but with a strong origin story that will guide our work – we hope we continue to remain steadfast towards our mission, regardless of how the outcome manifests itself. It may be that X Leader may pivot and evolve with the times and the needs of our core customers – we may find other powerful vehicles that may solve for the same need – but our resolve will remain.
That’s the power of an origin story – it keeps you going even if you might fail a hundred times over.
Dr. Sayd Farook is a Strategy and Foresight Advisor at the Executive Office of the Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai. Dr. Sayd is also an early-stage investor in more than a dozen mission-oriented startups through Falcon Network, an angel investment network he co-founded. He is a guest author on Halalop.
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