Six lessons to navigate our chaotic world

It has been a wild and disorienting ride, and it looks like we will be strapped to it for years to come. How do we cope and thrive in this increasingly chaotic world? Here are some answers:
Humans are drawn to stories. But don’t latch on to them. Be critical. The first step to this is to accept your biases (Shutterstock) PREMIUM
Humans are drawn to stories. But don’t latch on to them. Be critical. The first step to this is to accept your biases (Shutterstock)
Updated on Jan 18, 2022 09:06 PM IST
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ByRavi Venkatesan

One of the scariest roller-coaster rides is The Maverick in Ohio, United States. It is a narrow ribbon of steel, twisting away toward the sky then dropping vertiginously towards the ground. It is three minutes of absolute terror.

It is an apt metaphor for our times. We have moved into a VUCA — volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous — world, with extreme climate events, an uncertain economic environment, fear of job loss and irrelevance, a political climate that snatches away friends and gives empty hate in return, and now a pandemic.

It has been a wild and disorienting ride, and it looks like we will be strapped to it for years to come. How do we cope and thrive in this increasingly chaotic world?

Start by strengthening your immediate circle. Motivational speaker Jim Rohn says, “You are an average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Who are your five? If you have dreamers and strivers, you will not be afraid to think up an ambitious project and work weekends to get it done. If you have travellers and adventurers, you may have hiking shoes and camping gear. If you have OTT enthusiasts, you will have stretchable pants and dark eyes.

I became a CEO in my early 30s. Needless to say, I was inexperienced. Luckily, the company’s board of directors was terrific — wise and generous. They helped me make a success of that enterprise. That’s where the second piece of advice comes from: Develop a personal board of directors.

At every company I have worked since then or at every venture I have led, I put in great effort to assemble an excellent board. It paid off every single time. It struck me that I could do the same in real life too. So that’s what I have now — a personal board of directors, who are young and old, work in different fields, hold varied views and live across four continents. I consult them on all significant decisions though I may act contrary to their advice. Invest time in your personal board. Engage with them genuinely and connect with them even when you don’t need anything from them. Don’t worry too much about making it worth their while. What they will be giving you may be invaluable, and the best repayment may be sincere gratitude and paying it forward. Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google, calls social media an “amplifier for idiots”. He should know. Therefore, my third piece of advice is: Be careful where you get your information. Do you trust WhatsApp forwards without a thought? I don’t think so, since you got so far down into this article! But perhaps you read the first article that pops up on your internet search and trust it. Did you look at the header of the website before deciding to read it? If yes, great. If no, don’t settle, not when it comes to being informed.

Pay for good content. Find people who are balanced and thoughtful in their views, and learn to listen. Avoid the shrill voices; they are siren songs, compelling but dangerous.

Another compelling trick we fall for is storytelling. Historian Yuval Harari says that humans are fundamentally drawn to stories, and don’t care too much about facts, equations and logic. It is our strength — helping us inspire people into forming nations even — and our weakness — leaving us vulnerable to charismatic leaders who sell us fake narratives. So, here’s the fourth piece of advice: Don’t lazily latch on to riveting stories, develop critical thinking.

The first step to this is to accept your biases. Do you think the climate crisis can’t be real since your life hasn’t changed very much? If you can’t see ice caps melting, maybe it is a grand conspiracy to sell the idea of global warming and thus drive up the prices of biofuel? Read reliable information sources and you may recognise your WYSIATI (what you see is all there is) bias. It is a cognitive bias our mind functions with, according to Nobel Laureate, Daniel Kahneman, where the mind believes that the information it has is all the truth.

Kahneman’s book Thinking Fast, Thinking Slow is an excellent one worth reading carefully. You could also use Carl Sagan’s The Baloney Decision Kit that gives 20 tricks that critical thinkers should always keep an eye out for. In the early noughties, a new show called The Weakest Link became wildly popular. It put people in teams of nine and they were asked general knowledge questions. For the team to score, each one of them in the team of nine had to give the correct answer. After every round, the team gets to vote out the weakest person or the weakest link. It was tough but life is tougher. You don’t get to vote out your weakest link because it is usually a part of you, a character flaw that you haven’t faced up to.

Therefore, as my fifth piece of advice, I present to you the balloon test. Imagine yourself as a balloon that can soar into the skies and see great things, but there are ropes tying you down. Now ask yourself, what are these ropes? You can figure these out yourself or ask friends or colleagues you trust. Once you have figured out your ropes, start cutting them one by one. It is ultimately towards strengthening your character.

Finally, my sixth piece of advice is to practise gratitude and an attitude of abundance. As you wake up every morning and before your eyes open, try to count some of your blessings. Be especially grateful for the many nasty things that could have happened but didn’t. Try these, and thank you for reading.

Ravi Venkatesan is a business leader and social entrepreneur. This is excerpted from his new book, What the

Heck do I do with My Life? How to Flourish in Turbulent Times

The views expressed are personal

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Monday, May 23, 2022