Planning for the future, sight unseen: Life Hacks by Charles Assisi

One can worry about all that’s likely to change. But it is often more helpful to focus on what won’t change, and build capabilities to suit.
You can’t tell what turbulence might hit the seas one sails. But some things will work to make any voyage smoother, things such as a focused mind in a healthy body. (Shutterstock) PREMIUM
You can’t tell what turbulence might hit the seas one sails. But some things will work to make any voyage smoother, things such as a focused mind in a healthy body. (Shutterstock)
Updated on Nov 20, 2021 01:03 PM IST
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ByCharles Assisi

How do we imagine our future and attempt to control the outcomes that could affect it, is a question the 15-year-old daughter and I wonder about often. The rate of change has accelerated and coming up with answers appears tougher. But with the benefit of hindsight, I tell her, two questions would appear to be crucial: Where does one intend to live? Whom will one choose to live with?

These are questions we all grapple with when young. But how much it matters in the long-run does not occur then.

For instance, there was time when everyone, even I, assumed I would end up a researcher or an academic, because I had graduated in the biosciences. But to be a researcher of consequence in the domain, I knew I would have to decide soon on where I wished to work and, therefore, live. The choices included Pune, Bengaluru and Hyderabad in India, or another part of the world where there was potential in this domain. While that was being explored, a narrative got my attention.

India was opening its doors to foreign capital, businesses were changing, the stock markets were booming, and I could hear voices speaking passionately about the future. Whatever was all this about? I decided to investigate first-hand, decipher and chronicle, before deciding whether to leave this country for another. Mumbai was where the people that mattered in the domain of emerging businesses lived. My career in business journalism in Mumbai was an outcome of my decision to follow that trail.

How I learnt the craft and practised it, I knew, would determine my quality of life. Accordingly, investments had to be made in relationships and social networks. This is an approach that follows from Game Theory, which explains in much detail the economic downside of not trusting people.

Working to build professional and personal networks took time and effort. It also meant letting go of a few things I had fallen in love with; and investing time learning things that were unfamiliar. Both hurt. Letting go of the biosciences was painful and learning to understand business was tough. But it had to be done. Because I knew if I don’t take the time to answer the questions that were engaging me then, someone or something — a twist of fate, an unplanned occurrence — would determine my future while I dithered.

The kid’s counter argument is that those were kinder times. Much has changed. It is true that the world has become more brutal, more competitive, less certain and less fixed, and the planet she inherits will be very different from the one I did. All models have it that her generation will be witness to a crisis of climate refugees, among other climate-related crises, and deciding where to live (and how) may be challenging. The last time she said that, I pointed her to how Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, thinks about change.

“I very frequently get the question: ‘What’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ And that is a very interesting question; it’s a very common one. I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’ And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two.”

Customers are still going to want low prices, Bezos goes on to say. “They are still going to want fast delivery. And they are still going to want a big selection. So that’s why we are so focused on those three things: it’s just impossible to imagine a customer 10 years from now saying ‘Gosh I love Amazon… but I really wish they would deliver more slowly’.”

While Bezos meant this as a business strategy, I like to extrapolate that question to our personal lives. Staying healthy will never go out of style; and it allows you focus on whatever you choose to eventually do. Staying focused will never go out of style. As more noise chokes the world with data there will be growing demand for those who can sift meaning out of it.

A focused mind in a healthy body can take the right calls on what to do, with whom, and where. All else will fall into place. She has promised to consider thinking of it in this way.

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Sunday, June 26, 2022