Some years ago, after finishing a conference I’d given in the Colombian consulate in Miami to celebrate Colombian Independence Day (the 20th of July), I was approached by a character who always comes vividly to mind when I think of imagination, creativity and persistence.

The 55-year-old man was ‘paisa’, from Antioquia, and wore the traditional dress of that region: poncho, wide-brimmed hat and a huge leather satchel known as a ‘carriel’ that drew my attention and that of everyone at the celebration. He became the central personality of the event. The man, bubbling with happiness, greeted me effusively, and smiling and looking me in the eyes said: “Papá Jaime I want to give you a free sample of a wonderful paisa product, home-made with exclusively imported ingredients, which all the Colombians in the United States are homesick for and long to taste.” He opened his gigantic, outlandish carriel and got out a packet of ‘arepas’ or Colombian corn pancakes. The packet’s most outstanding feature was the phone number for orders, and it also carried a phrase in English and Spanish which read: “Delivery free anytime, anyplace”. As he handed over the arepas the man said to me: “Try them. You’ll like them a lot, and I can deliver them to where you live.” I replied that I lived so far away that even if he filled his carriel with arepas, it would cost him more than their value in fuel for the delivery. Smiling and sure of himself he replied: “Jesus, Papá Jaime, do you think that a paisa is going to get stranded amidst all this technology? I fulfil my promises. The most important thing for me is a personalised service for my clients, because it’s thanks to them that I’m able to enjoy the comforts of this country. Give me you phone number and I’ll call you.”

It was so long since I’d eaten an arepa that I left in high spirits, dying to get home and heat them up. I opened the packet and my attention was drawn by the fact that each arepa was separated from the next by a slip of cellophane so that they wouldn’t stick together when frozen. That night we all ate the delicious arepas and the next day the first call I received was from the paisa, asking whether I liked them and did I want to order a few packets.

I started doing the maths, and worked out that I would have to buy a lot of packets to make it worth his while delivering them, so I decided to order enough arepas for two months. The next day he arrived with the arepas and asked if I knew any other Colombians in the area, or if I had any contacts in local supermarkets that might be interested. I gave him a few phone numbers and the addresses of two supermarkets, and he went away very thankful.

Every time I placed an order he told me that he had visited supermarket chains in various cities and they always said the same: that the arepa is not worth marketing in the U.S. and that they weren’t interested in his products. Thousands of times he was told ‘no’.

Years passed and I lost contact with the paisa. One day I went into Publix (a very big supermarket chain in the U.S.) and with great surprise and admiration I saw his arepas on show next to the pizzas and Mexican ‘tacos’. I grabbed a few packets and immediately rang him. He was overjoyed to hear from me and said: “As we say in Antioquia: perseverance achieves what good luck doesn’t”, and he told me that he was distributing the arepas not only in Florida but in other U.S. states as well.

So that your creative capacity may be set free, you must learn to view things not with the mind of an expert who believes they know everything, but with the mind of an apprentice; a mind which is audacious, open, flexible, contemplative and uses all the available tools.

It is important that you find silence, preferably in nature and using the power of meditation, visualisation, observation or profound contemplation. These are the roads that will lead you to develop your maximum creative potential.

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