Jack Ma was in Nairobi last week and the internet went boom! Full disclosure, I am one of the few people who had no idea who Jack Ma was before all the fuss preceding his Kenyan visit.

I had a chance to finally research his story and listen to his talk in Nairobi. Evidently, the man has lived an interesting life and his story is indeed one for the books. To encounter so many obstacles and face so much rejection and still rise to such heights of wealth is quite remarkable. His life is truly an inspiration.

So are his words. I listened to the advise he gave the eager crowd at the University of Nairobi and I found myself nodding. The man makes a lot of sense on top of all the cents he has made as the founder and executive chairman of the Alibaba Group — that internet behemoth of a marketplace.

“A good teacher should want his students to be better than them,” he said as the audience furiously scribbled and tweeted away.

Keep on learning. You don’t have to be the best but you have to know who is better than you are then learn from them,” I nodded to this. 

I asked my wife ‘do you want your husband to be rich or to be respected? She said she wanted me to be respected.’,” what a wife!

If you want to be successful you should have a high EQ (emotional intelligence). A person with high EQ knows how to work with people, he understands people. A lot of people get money quickly and lose it quickly because they only have high IQ but low EQ.

“People with high EQ are street smart. You also need a high LQ (Love Quotient?), that is how to care for others.” Can I get an Amen!

Good advise, old advise

I am glad Jack Ma came to Nairobi and spoke to the broad spectrum of entrepreneurs in the country. Many of the values he espouses are admirable and should be emulated by all people, whether in the marketplace or any other place:

Failure is never final and should never be fatal.

How we treat people is more important than how much money we make.

Failure should be seen as an argument in a case rather than the final verdict, a bump on the road rather than the end of the road.

Truth be told, though, nothing Jack Ma said last week was new under the sun. All you need to do is pick up a book on basic life skills. Stephen Covey (of 7 Habits) could have easily taught you the same thing.

However, one may argue that Stephen Covey never went through the things that Ma went through, and most of what he teaches is taught rather than caught. Jack Ma, on the other hand, has seen the darkest side of this life and emerged victorious.

The power of a rags-to-riches story

Jack Ma is different and (apparently) more worth listening to because Jack Ma is speaking from hard and harsh experience. Jack Ma is able to empathize while many other peddlers of similar truths can only sympathize.

Which brings me to another observation I have made: There are a lot of people who have gone through worse failures and faced more rejections that Jack Ma ever did. The internet is full of them.

So Jack Ma was rejected in over 30 jobs that he applied for. But what about this woman, Rosie Percy, who got rejected 200 times? Harvard rejected Jack Ma 10 times. Well, Harvard rejects people all the time, the number of times you get rejected doesn’t change the fact that you probably don’t meet the threshold.

The examples could go on. But my point is, the only difference between Jack Ma and many people with similar (or worse) pasts is how Ma’s story turned out. He is currently the richest man in Asia and the 14th richest man in the world, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. Recent sources place his net worth at about $43.2 billion.

That’s the big difference. The rest is detail. Or is it? Which brings me to the landing strip of my blog-post today. I will put it in the form of a question: Why are you listening to Jack Ma and not any other person with similar advise? Is it because you believe that doing what he did and taking his advise will somehow get you to where he is? Are you listening to him because you believe his wealth validates him and makes him worth listening to? To be more succinct, what and where is your hope in taking Ma’s advise?

Why do we pay more attention to advise from successful people?

The hard fact of life is that we can tick all the right boxes and memorize all the right entrepreneurship tips and still end up broke as a joke. The only difference between where Jack Ma turned out and where many other broke people with a similar past are is luck. That’s it. Pure luck. The wealth is purely incidental.

Does this then mean we should not listen to his advise? Absolutely not! The man has some great life lessons. We would all be better off learning from him and applying many of the things he says to our own lives. However, the bigger question remains: Why pay attention if that is no guarantee that I will end up at least a millionaire if not a billionaire like Jack Ma? Why take the risk if its all a game of chance?

Sadly, that is a question even Jack Ma cannot sufficiently answer. We all need to embrace something that Jack Ma seems to have embraced in his poor years, that life under the sun is about making others better. Ma lived for that. He just happened to get wealthy in the process, but material wealth was never the primary reason he lived the way he did.

How we make money and why we want to make money is infinitely more important than how much money we make.

So, if the reason you are listening to and following Ma’s advise is because you want to end up where he did materially, then you have already missed his point. You should probably pay closer attention to what Ma said when he recounted his conversation with his wife:

“I asked my wife ‘do you want your husband to be rich or to be respected? She said she wanted me to be respected.'”

The wealth is detail, and is neither here nor there.

“Why don’t people ask us about our hope? The answer is probably that we look as if we hope in the same things they do. Our lives don’t look like they are on the Calvary road, stripped down for sacrificial love, serving others with the sweet assurance that we don’t need to be rewarded in this life.”

― John Piper, Don’t Waste Your Life