I’ve just hit a pivotal benchmark – my birthday. The jubilance and festivity from previous years has been replaced with a deeply personal gratitude for life and a reverence for the perspective and gifts it’s brought. Not brightly packaged designer gifts, but something of far greater value – an understanding that it took just six months for habits, patterns and dreams to be utterly shattered, and that it took perseverance and fortitude to adjust and reshape to an uncertain future. I’m acutely conscious of not wasting this privilege but to make every moment count towards something greater than me. 

 

Talking about Trauma and Loss

 

It would be facile and irreverent to dismiss the gravity of the coronavirus 2019 pandemic as something necessary to help us evolve as a species. It is important to grieve what has been lost and to find meaning and hope in how life has changed. There is no one-size-fits-all formula to dealing with the traumatic implications of this virus. Healing occurs in phases where one is moving in and out of different emotions. Corona fatigue is real. There is a collective exhaustion and even I have days where trying to find the upside brings me down. What I can say is that time is not the solution to resolving prolonged grief. Digesting and reframing how we perceive grief can provide the solution.

 

A birthday, or re-birth, is a time to re-new ourselves and take stock and while there has been severe economic hemorrhaging and families have been devastated by loss, there have also been overwhelming positives with collective benefit:

 

  • We’ve united in the fight against a common enemy
  • We’ve retained what works for us and discarded what’s no longer needed
  • We’ve questioning traditional patterns of work flow
  • We’ve reignited our curiosity for the world around us and focused our energy on learning new things
  • We’ve fast-tracked our goals and maybe realised others were superficial and inconsequential
  • We’ve strengthened our relationships, with each other, with our communities, with ourselves

 

From an economic and business perspective:

 

  • There is an evolution of retail growth in logistics and warehousing
  • We are slowly embracing working from home and the capacity to be digital nomads
  • We are developing online education and learning platforms
  • We are realising that there’s a direct link between business and the environment
  • We’re re-imagining future scenarios which are inclusive and collaborative.

 

A new vision for Africa

 

As a continent deeply divided in some regions with warring factions, displacement and resource monopoly, Africa demonstrated solidarity, wisdom and discipline in the application of health regulations at the height of the crisis, according to The Africa Report.

 

  • African countries stood together. As early as February 2020, when the first coronavirus case in Africa was reported,  African Union States met to devise a continent-wide strategy, including financial support and stimulus measures. Strong decisions were made, including debt relief and galvanising the financial sector. The African Task Force for Coronavirus, made up of the World Health Organisation, Africa CDS and The African Union Development Agency, came up with a strategic plan.

 

  • Regional integration was fast-tracked through the African Continental Free Trade Area to prevent shortages of rationalising local production. Through this agreement alone studies show AfCFTA could boost regional income by 7%, $450 billion and lift 30 million people out of extreme poverty by 2035.

 

  • Tariff and border controls were removed, highlighting the need to expand road networks as sea and air links closed

 

A new vision for education

According to UNESCO several countries introduced remote learning. But with 90% of students without computers and 82% without internet access the dire need for technological connection. To support these programmes, the AfDB and the AU are releasing an African Education Fund of nearly $300m. It aims to stimulate investment in Africa’s human capital, mainly in technical and vocational education and training.

A new report by the American School Superintendents Association, entitled ‘An American Imperative: A new Vision for public Schools’ has taken this forced change and proposed a long-overdue restructure of the education system. It’s “future-focused, rigorous, energetic and culturally vibrant learning that empowers learners, families and communities”. It focuses on a three-pronged approach:

 

  1. Culture

This proposed systemic redesign will rely on a relationships-based culture that is:

  • Whole-learner focused: The entire system must attend to the social, emotional, cognitive, mental health, and trauma-based needs of all learners.
  • No learner marginalized: All children, families, and staff must be embraced, valued equally and served with equity—regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, gender, socio economic circumstance, or disability.
  • Future-driven: Schools must anticipate changes in the career, social, economic and technological landscapes to inform ongoing decisions

2. Social, emotional and cognitive growth

Learning must entirely reorient around the students. To meet learners’ social, emotional and cognitive needs, instruction must follow a growth model continuum, where data analytics, planning and evidence of progress operate in a feedback loop that allows educators to personalize learning.

3) Resources

Teams of school, state and federal leaders must determine how to provide resources to meet every student’s ‘whole learner’ like technologies to accelerate learning, aligned community resources, high quality early learning and culturally responsive.

The New Vision for Wellness
The Global Wellness Institute, has called COVID-19 a wake-up call to focus on wellness. Never before in history has health undergone such seismic shifts. Wellbeing is the active pursuit of activities, choices and lifestyles that lead to a state of holistic health. It is multi-faceted, encompassing physical, mental, emotional, social, environmental, and spiritual dimensions. We are not whole or truly well when any of these foundations of life are missing or deficient; each dimension strengthens or weakens another. 

Relying on Resilience

A year after the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important to grieve what has been lost, and it is also important to find meaning and hope in how life has changed. No words can suffice to assuage the grief that humanity is facing at the moment because grief reactions are often all-consuming, excruciatingly painful, and highly impairing. So as I transition into the next year of my life I carry with me not only accelerated change, but also insight into the new vision that we must embrace and adopt to make it out of this, mentally, physically and psychologically. If anything, we should have a clearer vision of what we as a human race needs now, than before the pandemic hit.

Before you look at this headline and say, uhem, ‘nonsense!’, hear me out.

I was super-successful in my 20’s. Held up as a poster-child for success I could barely keep up with the restaurants, retail stores, vending machines, the expensive cars and flashy lifestyle. I had everything I ever thought I wanted and more. Why was I so successful so young? Because I was the child of a single mother where money was always a challenge and I promised myself I would never be poor. In fact I was terrified of being poor and this gave me the drive to be ‘successful’.

 

Then things hit the skids. At the age of 30 I was bankrupt and virtually overnight living in a friend’s spare room. It was a harsh lesson to learn, but it forced me to rethink my relationship with success and money. Followed by a divorce a decade later, I was forced into a deeper turmoil and self-analysis. I realised I’d been a boy my entire life. To coin a common phrase I was at this point, by definition, a proper failure.

 

Here’s what I learnt. If you’re anxious about not achieving something, you achieve nothing. Let me explain. In my drive for success I was actually running away from the darkness (fear, anxiety, poverty), instead of running toward the light (creativity, excitement and joy). I was actually manifesting my internal emotional state! I wouldn’t have had a bankruptcy if I wasn’t so fearful about being poor.

 

That’s when the fun really started. I realised I didn’t like the word failure. In fact, I reject it. I believe semantics are strongly linked to psychology and how you perceive yourself. I switched the word ‘failure’ to iteration, revelation and expansion. Iteration, being the repetition of a process or utterance; revelation, an enlightenment  which brings about wisdom through healed pain; and expansion, a sense of growing into a better space. The process of not succeeding is an ongoing one, but the trick is to shift yourself into knowling this is a forever game, and so you can only learn.



Re-defining Masculinity

 

For my bankruptcy to be followed fairly swiftly by a divorce was harrowing. It is such a shameful process to admit a relationship is not working. Society creates a stigma around it, so when you get to the point that you actually pull the plug, the sense of ‘failure’ is enormous. This was the catalyst for a two year period of grief and greater self awareness. I had been a boy for 40 years of my life, and that didn’t dawn on me until my mother took my ex-wife’s side instead of mine.

 

I come from a Middle Eastern culture, similar to Greek, Italian or Jewish cultures, for example, where the mom over-mothers the boy. The boy grows up with calm entitlement because he’s a boy. These hard  times shattered the perspective I had of myself and how I was actually growing into a man. It set me on a course of discovering parts of myself and finding a definition, without a role-model, of what the modern man looks like.

 

 Women are more powerful than ever before. Stereotypes of masculinity are changing where the immature man is no longer being rewarded. Take a look at Donald Trump, for example, a classic example of being stuck in ‘mommy-boy’ mode. The discussion I had to have with myself is what am I imparting or sharing with other men. We’re expected to have all the answers but there are discussions around masculinity which are not happening, and it calls for adaption in these changing times. The world is moving away from the trusted ideas of power, economics and money. Everything has to be reinvented. All this turmoil needs to be positively integrated.



The Economics of Post-traumatic Growth

 

This process is what is called post-traumatic growth, the re-growth that comes from acknowledging, facing and truly overcoming challenges. It’s an energising space to be in. There’s a positive disintegration, where the aspects of yourself you no longer require for your new journey are released. It will reveal new things about yourself and allow you to expand into the authentic being you were meant to be. You simply cannot disintegrate into the thing you didn’t positively achieve.

 

To move forward I do know that curiosity is key. Consume your mind and your time with something outside of your usual framework. Reframing your life in a way that releases repeated thoughts without effect and replaces them with new activity will serve as an anxiety outlet.  In fact the best way to deal with the anxiety around definition of failure is to consciously move from a beginner mindset (victim, saviour, angry person) to a mature mindset (creater, coach, challenger). 

 

The shift in this mindset will herald you into the era of entrepreneurship, quite simply the age of:

 

  1. Solving problems
  2. With no loss of enthusiasm
  3. Knowing our reward is greater than the problem.

 

Entrepreneurship is not for the faint hearted. But it’s integral for us all to adopt a more entrepreneurial spirit to make these shifts in our definition of success and failure and to understand that life is a continuum of growth.

You may not know it, but everything, and I mean everything is being automated. As we speak a revolution of consumerism is turning and a generation of apathetic consumers, making price-driven purchase decisions, is passing. Automation is on the rise across all industries. Machine learning and engineering developments are rendering many aspects of professions obsolete. 

 

Automation will take care of every basic standard of career and business. This means that whatever you do there’s a level of efficiency, recognition and pattern repetition that can be commoditised, whether you’re a lawyer, doctor, writer or speaker. Value in our world used to come from doing rudimentary things like reading and writing contracts or taking temperatures or setting bones. Now machines can do this all … and better.

 

The Passion Economy

 

Jeremy Rifkin, a global economist who advises China, Germany and the European Union on the Third Industrial Revolution speaks in his book, ‘The Zero Marginal Cost Society’ how every time something is digitized, it’s repeated for almost free. The whole world is moving in this direction – in other words, eventually everything will virtually be  free – think communication and photos as an example. According to Rifkin, energy and transportation are next which I’m still struggling to get my mind around. Though this doesn’t seem possible, remember, that at some point we couldn’t imagine how communication and photos would ever become almost free too! 

 

Now picture this world in which everything is essentially free, how do we determine value and on what do we place value? Well, the only thing that isn’t commoditisable and automatable, as yet, is emotional and social connection. As far as I’m concerned, the societal shift towards creative passions could not come fast enough. 

 

It’s called The Passion Economy – it’s about finding and developing something you really love and profiting from it. This passion economy places a premium on softer skills such as personality and creativity. The way the passion economy empowers the individual will change our pre-existing notions of careers, putting an end to the conventional path to university, internship or climbing the corporate ladder.

 

By developing new products or services that are cheaper, simpler and more convenient, workers in the Passion Economy can tap into large segments of the economy which they could not previously access or afford or were sated with traditional offerings. In this way, the Passion Economy business has the potential to disrupt the structure of big businesses.

 

Passion Economy as a Disruptor

 

A theory developed by Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen in the 1990’s, ‘Disruption’, as it’s coined, has been widely referenced but largely misunderstood. Contrary to popular belief, disruptive innovations are not breakthrough innovations that make good products better. Instead, they are innovations that either enter at the bottom of the market and serve a lower-profit segment, or that target consumers who previously could not access or afford a product or service. This process is enabled by technological change and business model innovations. Because disruptive innovations tend to be seen initially as inferior to existing solutions, they’re often underrated by market entrants who tend to focus on serving large existing markets with greater profitability. 

 

Engineer, physician and entrepreneur Peter Diamandis expands on this, referring to the 6D’s: Digitized, Deceptive, Disruptive, Dematerialized, Demonetized, Democratized – in short, “A chain reaction of technological progression, a road map of rapid development that always leads to enormous upheaval and opportunity.”

 

What is required of us is to hone genuine interests rather than learning skills that we believe look good in the eyes of our employers or parents or spouses. It will move power out of big institutions and into the hands of individuals, placing emphasis on entrepreneurship, creativity, speciality and accountability.

 

The Passion Economy is not just about being your own boss, it’s about offering unique content and engaging communities. Technology plays the role of the enabler not the intermediary. You can now share your passion on a paying platform. More than just another social media platform, these portals are more personalised towards creators’ needs. In fact, the more we hear how social media is playing with our minds and wasting our time, the more advantageous it becomes to use these platforms.

 

New tools make it easier than ever for prospective workers to earn an income by tapping into passions and unique skills. Examples include writers on Substack, publishing their own subscription newsletters, professional video game streamers on Twitch and Caffeine, video course creators on Teachable and Podia, and online teachers on K-12 learning platforms Outschool and Juni Learning.

 

So what if you don’t have any hobbies and you don’t know what your passion is … and you hate your job?

 

That’s why the new renaissance is all about accessing our genius and our passion and sharing it with the world because everything else will be for free, automated and digitized. I have a simple piece of advice for you. Seek curiosity, not passion. Curiosity is the gateway to your passion. Passion doesn’t just arrive because you’re looking for it, you’ve got to follow the golden thread of curiosity and in that process realise that you alone are uniquely curious about things that no one else is curious about. If the combination and range of curiosities come together, you will develop passion and you hold the potential to offer this as a service. 

 

We come from a world of surplus society where everyone has been trained by universities to be the same and now that’s caused a surplus of very smart people all educated in similar ways. Confidence requires us to know that we don’t want to be part of a society of excess but to be part of a passionate economy. This is where Artificial Intelligence (AI) is waiting in the wings. Your job is easier and less demanding because of intelligent automation. Because in this new world, AI technologies are based on human-machine cooperation, not human displacement. Now you have time to do something meaningful rather than just sit in front of the computer for eight hours straight! Keeping that in mind, try answering these questions: 

  • Are you willing to let go of the herd mentality and carve your own niche?
  • Are you prepared to spend an hour a day being curious, following the golden thread of your passion, so that over time you become knowledgeable and then an expert?
  • Are you open to an informal education, i.e. pursuing the things that ignite your excitement and interest?

 

What if sustainability is the first priority?

If you can imagine that then it will result in a world where we work together with AI to make our lives less complicated, where we work at something we like not just because we have to pay the rent. In this world, the concepts of leisure and work would be reframed.

Past philosophers and economists have predicted human displacement for a long time, but it didn’t affect the labour market the way it was expected to. The expectation was that there would be too much free time because of machines or automation. But now all economic interactions are looking for limitless growth and sustainability.

Hopefully, the next generations are more open to new systems that are not just capitalism or socialism, but which help to build on sustainability and inclusion, where the legislation promotes equality and AI is designed in such a way that it truly benefits and works in communion with humankind.

Have you heard about the mildly seductive and extremely elusive ‘I’ll be happy’ game? I used to play it all the time. “I’ll be happy when I lose 10 kilograms.”, “I’ll be happy when I find a lifetime partner.”, “I’ll be happy when the millions come rolling in.” There’s an inherent social belief that if only something happens then happiness will inevitably and fluidly follow. 

 

It is not so.

 

The state of global psychological misery runs counter to the message that greater digital connectivity, faster access to goods and services and instantaneous gratification is the pathway to universal happiness. This is what The Hacking of the American Mind author, Dr. Robert Lustig, terms the dopamine effect.

 

The Dopamine Effect

 

Part of the issue is that in the modern age, pleasure and happiness have become confused. Pleasure is all about the phenomenon of reward. This can be achieved through things like impulsive shopping, sex, or outright substance abuse. Happiness, on the other hand, is a state of general contentment that requires little in the way of a trigger.

 

The neurotransmitters in our brains control our pleasure/happiness responses. While the dopamine hit feels good in the moment, it’s suppressing the serotonin in our brains, the chemical responsible for feeling calm and satisfied. This means that over-indulging in these pleasures is actually making us unhappier in the long run! According to Lustig, too much dopamine or a rush makes your receptors go down to protect themselves, so you need a bigger hit until finally you take a huge hit with no dopamine reward. This is known as tolerance. When the neuron dies from “a bludgeoning rather than a tickle”, as he puts it, it’s called addiction.

 

Sounds confusing right? Right! It is. Added to this convolution is that your pleasure versus happiness reactions are being carefully manipulated by strategies of big business exploiting pleasure inclinations for the purpose of addiction to their product through digital advertising and clickbait. Daily, we are being sold pleasure disguised as happiness – think Happy Meals, Happy Hour and smiling emojis. The constant approval and attention seeking on social media can leave us vulnerable when the responses are not what we hoped. Over time our brains become conditioned to hoping that each click will lead to bigger and better hits or that the response will flatter our ego more.

 

“When I win the Lottery …”

 

Manipulation of your pleasure is also intertwined with a skewed perception of what happiness actually is. A ground-breaking study awkwardly entitled: “Lottery Winners and Accident Victims: Is Happiness Relative?” tried to determine how both these groups and a control group varied in their levels of happiness. But what they found was starkly in contrast to the expected outcome. The victims rated themselves above average in happiness, even though accidents had rendered them either paraplegic of quadriplegic. The lottery winners were no happier than the controls, in any statistically meaningful sense. Simple pleasures like talking to friends or walking the dog had, in fact, left them less satisfied than before. 

 

A more comprehensive recent Swedish study showed similar results, but with a general increase in long-term contentment among lottery winners.

 

While the initial study was deemed crude, they both have an irresistible take away: Money doesn’t buy you happiness! So, then what does?

 

By example and ironically one of the authors of this foundation research on happiness was 34-year old Dr. Philip Brickman, socially awkward but with a brilliant wit and a widely acclaimed body of work on the subject of happiness. Married with three daughters, he was by all accounts, successful. Yet at the age of 38 he flung himself off the Tower Plaza’s 26th floor. The father of these studies on happiness was, it would seem, unable to find his own. The why is unanswerable, but the context can be extrapolated. His marriage had started to unravel. He was feeling insecure in a new job which required a skills set he lacked. His self-esteem was low and his anxiety high. The answer, oddly,  could lie in his addiction to the work that preoccupied his time, that happiness has little to do with cognitive processes. Rather it has to do with matters of the heart: how we cope with adversity; how we care for others; how we form commitments, subdue inner conflict and wring meaning and happiness from this brief life.

He was also a perfectionist and what he did achieve he never considered good enough. He expected the same exacting standards from others. More than anyone, perhaps he understood that the pursuit of power, things and even happiness was futile. The more we achieve the more we require to sustain our new levels of satisfaction, making gratification fleeting. Happiness is something which always looms ahead.

Pleasure and Happiness are not equal

 

It would seem understanding the difference between pleasure, or reward and happiness or contentment is the first step on the road to true happiness. 

 

In his book, Lustig says, “Pleasure is the feeling of ‘this feels good. I want more’. Happiness is the feeling of ‘this feels good I don’t want or need any more’.




  • Pleasure is short-lived, lasting only about an hour after that bar of chocolate. Happiness lasts from weeks to years.
  • Pleasure is exciting and activates a fight-or-flight system, ramping up your heart-rate. Happiness causes your heart-rate to slow down.
  • Pleasure can be achieved with different substances, such as sugar, alcohol, heroin, caffeine. Happiness cannot.
  • Pleasure is ‘yours and yours alone’. Conversely your contentment or lack thereof often impacts on people directly and can impact society at large.
  • Pleasure is associated with the act of taking, like winning money at a casino or shopping for clothes. Happiness is many times generated through giving, whether donating time or to charity.
  • Pleasure in the extreme can lead to addiction. Yet there’s no such thing as being too happy.

 

How to Find True Happiness

 

So how do we stop trying to find happiness in the very things that are sabotaging us from achieving it? Well, dopamine and serotonin don’t have to be mutually exclusive. Instead, Dr. Lustig suggests focusing on the four C’s:



  1. Connect – anything short of face-to-face is not a connection. Email is not a connection nor is FaceTime :). The literal face is important because when you’re interacting with someone in person your neurons adopt the emotion of that person. This generates the phenomenon we call empathy, which is necessary to produce serotonin.
  2. Contribute – Contributing to something outside yourself, which is for non-personal gain, for the benefit of children, family, friends and the world at large helps to produce serotonin. Making Money, alone, is not contributing. But you can derive happiness from work if your boss sees how the work is doing good for you and others. Serotonin can be boosted by helping a charity or by walking the dog.
  3. Cope – This is about self-care with sleep taking centre stage. Sleep deprivation increases cortisol and causes depression which is why your sleep needs priority. Multi-tasking is what Dr. Lustig calls the enemy of mindfulness, “only 2.8% of people can actually multitask. Everyone is uni-tasking, meaning moving from one task to another and in the process they increase their cortisol and their depression.” Exercise is recommended as a big part of coping as it reduces cortisol levels.
  4. Cook – this is probably the most unexpected, but is considered an essential part of any happiness focused lifestyle. Dr. Lustig says “There are three items in food that have to do with pleasure versus happiness. Number one is tryptophan, which is the precursor to serotonin. It’s the rarest amino acid in the diet. You find it in eggs, poultry and a little fish. Number 2 is omega-3 fatty acids which are anti-inflammatory and finally, Number 3 is fructose, which depletes serotonin, ups your dopamine and causes metabolic syndrome.” So that means cutting out processed foods.

 

What do we live for, if not for happiness?

How does one permanently increase the dosage of one’s happiness? According to Brickman, commitments were on the road to salvation to an otherwise futile existence. They may not always give pleasure, they may even oppose and conflict with freedom or happiness. But that’s the point: he concluded that the more we sacrifice for something, the more value we assign to it. It could be argued that what maintains us is not happiness, but is really unhappiness. If you find happiness elusive this should make you prickle with excitement!

Commitment, however, can also be fragile and transient, less fragile than the dopamine high of getting a paper published or falling in love, but still transient. Relationships end, jobs don’t work out, more papers need to be written. As Brickman’s apparent successes in life and marriage diminished, he began to experience the unfamiliar sensation of failure, in fact, even worse than that, it was despair. He lost his commitment, his direction and his purpose. His academic dopamine hits increased, but provided less and less gratification.

As an academic he wrote in his last book, published posthumously, about the following four categories of people. Tragically, Brickman would already have placed himself squarely in the fourth category. 

  • Those who think they’re responsible for both their problems and their problems’ solutions
  • Those who think they’re responsible for neither
  • Those who think they’re responsible for a solution to a problem, but not the problem itself
  • Those who think they’re responsible for the problem but they don’t have a solution

Sobering, and if nothing more a stark reminder that happiness is worth striving for.

So, If you’re going to start anywhere in your quest for happiness, become aware of the technological, reward driven culture which has taken hold over the past 40 years. In order to up serotonin you have to dampen dopamine. That means sometimes disconnecting, which most of us have a very hard time doing. Turn off your phone for an hour a day, preferably while you have dinner with another human being, take time out doing things that ground you like walking the dog, cooking or meditating. Step off the hedonistic treadmill for a while, eliminate your dopamine triggers and just enjoy knowing that you can control your own happiness.

“My barn has burned down, now I see the moon.” is a quote from Mizuta Masahide, a 17th Century Japanese poet and samurai. It could never be more true than for the present time. Over the past 80 to 100 years we as human beings have been experiencing a Saeculum – an evolvement of structures from growth to maturity, entropy and now to destruction. 

Understanding this seasonal context means there’s an onus on leaders to become aware of endings. We are moving away from everything that was familiar and, naturally, with that comes a sense of sadness. Transitioning through this we can enter the phase of the ‘the strange’. Without a sense of duration, path or outcome this can be perceived as either a void or a blank canvas. Finally, we shift our consciousness to adventure. Courage is celebrated and we passage from this winter of destruction into a spring of opportunity. 

What this means is that we have to reinvent ourselves and how we lead. We are challenged to transform from intelligence to intuition. This is heady stuff, but perhaps these questions can assist leaders with creating a self-awareness and a daring self-inventory: 

  • Do you have a support system of people who can keep you grounded? · Do you have an executive coach, mentor or confidant? 
  • What feedback have you received about not walking the talk? 
  • Do you demand privileges? 
  • Do you invite others into the spotlight? 
  • Do you isolate yourself in your decision-making process, and do your decisions reflect what you truly value? 
  • Do you admit to your mistakes? 
  • Are you the same person at home, work or in the spotlight? 
  • Do you tell yourself there are exceptions or different rules for people like you? 

These responses and readjustments will assist in the transition. You will recover and then I suggest the next step is to start reimagining different future scenarios. 

The world we lived in was complicated with repeated patterns which could be solved with mathematics, design with automation, economies of scale and efficiency where paramount. The world we’re entering is a complex one. It has patterns which do not repeat. It is uncertain. Economies of learning and robustness now become fundamental. 

In this world of complexity the only way forward is to be overprepared with constant iteration, welcome to the era of forced entrepreneurship or in this case entrepreneurial leadership. 

Resilience – Advancing Despite Adversity

Entrepreneurial leadership requires an embracing of change and a new way of doing things, but the default button for many leaders has been to hone in on being resilient. What they believe resilience to be is to just fight through it and keep on going; to just make it over the next hurdle. To just keep on talking and making sure communication is on track, they say, and we’ll get through this. 

But I think that’s the worst thing to do and I think it exhausts us to pursue old ideas to solve new and evolving issues. Firstly, resilience is important only if you’re focusing it in the right direction. If you focus it in the wrong direction it becomes pointless. 

So the analogy I use is if you’re in a house and in this house one side is burning and the other side is under renovation, you need to understand that just putting the fire out is not going to get you to where you need to go. Just focusing on the renovations and not putting the fire out will most likely burn the whole house down! 

What do leaders need to do to move forward in these taxing times? 

We need to be able to focus on one or the other, you can’t actually do both. If you do both it’s almost like being schizophrenic because you’re running trying to put this fire out while you’re doing the renovations, and guess what? You’re not doing any one of them well at all. 

Economies of scale versus economies of learning 

So what’s in the spotlight in this new world of business, is the need for new principles and new philosophical ideas because the idea of driving economies of scale in a dynamic, fast changing world is dangerous. You could find yourself in a hyper efficient business facing the wrong direction. 

Today we live in a world that requires economies of learning instead of economies of scale. It’s about how quickly you can unlearn to relearn. It’s about how quickly you pre-empt what your customers want. It’s less about efficiency and more about robustness. It’s about how many partners and collaborating teams you have around you offering as many different services and products within your field. It’ll ensure you’re as adaptable as possible for any sort of disruption. 

Today and Tomorrow Teams 

These are big discussions and I don’t think anybody has the answer but I this is what I advise audiences to do – start with unpacking resilience, as it needs to be framed in the right context. Divide yourself up into today and tomorrow teams. Make sure you have people focused on putting the fire out today while other people are planting the seeds for tomorrow. 

The most famous today and tomorrow team was set up by Steve Jobs. When he returned to Apple there was the Lisa computer. He despised it but realised that he couldn’t create a new computer inside Apple headquarters. What he did was take his top engineers and some new ones to an office away from Apple, festooned it with a pirate

flag, and they created the Macintosh that disrupted the Lisa. So, he created a tomorrow team that focused on disrupting the today team. 

If you’re in a position of leadership or if you have a business or if you’re in a position of management realize that if you’re asking your people or if even you yourself are dousing the flames while doing the renovations you’re not doing anyone any favours. Think about dividing your teams into today and tomorrow. 

New roles for today’s Leaders 

MIT recently released an article suggesting there are four roles todays leaders should fulfil: 

  1. The Conductor – co ordinating the efforts of virtual teams 
  2. The Catalyst – sparking innovation and collaboration for in-person meetings. Bringing out the best in people. 
  3. The Coach – balancing empathy with pushing people out of their comfort zones. 
  4. The Champion – advocating for their team and finding ways to position them for success. 

Plus one more … 

I’d add one more leadership role, and that is the business of You, one that will become more critical as we move into the future. You are a personal brand with skills that can be monetized. You can develop a direct relationship with your customer. You bring your own brand of uniqueness, authenticity and robust expression which should be shared as widely as possible. Ask yourself what your brand stands for, who your market is, what you are selling and how you’re positioning yourself as a thought leader. 

So, having started out as a young entrepreneur and then evolved down different paths this is how I’ve learnt to adjust and respond to this complex world. I invested more, reinvented harder, learnt to be more patient and engage with people with new skill sets. My goal was to prepare on every front while we move through this phase of uncertainty. In this time of crisis and transformation I overcommunicate with the people I collaborate with, moving with deliberation from transactional to transformational styles and shifting from a digital focus to a more virtual one. 

So, now that you can see the moon, what you may realise is that this is the time to be energised. Understanding that this phase is seasonal should bring you the calm to be creative and entrepreneurial. As old structures fall away there’s a unique opportunity for reinvention and with that the journey towards future scenarios becomes one of freedom and excitement.

Throughout the world we’re seeing established and long-standing institutions under scrutiny for unethical practice or for abusing their power of authority. Take Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, for example, speaking out against the long-established British monarchy. That would previously have been thought to be inconceivable. The #MeToo global movement took on people in powerful positions and exposed them as abusers, while individuals are taking on governments, religions and corporates around the world … and the everyday consumer is no exception.  

 

Traditionally, the customer/business interaction was more about value exchange and less about establishing and retaining a long-term relationship. But, for the first time in our recent history, COVID-19 has forced corporates to shift their attention from the bottom line to retaining customers. Without a customer who trusts you, as many companies discovered, you no longer exist. As the world crashed to a halt with the pandemic, leading conglomerates suddenly found themselves competing for spend with a far more digitally savvy, conscious and selective consumer, often with uncertain and restricted resources.

 

The Consumer Shift

 

Governed by solidarity and sharing a common human affliction, the consumer shift has been towards buying into what companies stand for, rather than simply buying from them. Brand, purpose and reputation has taken on new impetus and carried equal weight to safety, security and convenience. 

 

Probably for the first time during the pandemic, customers have felt companies favoured them and their employee well-being above bottom-line profit. Companies that act with empathy and compassion gain more trust and consumers, through networks and digital access, hold more power in dictating the shape of products and services than ever before.

 

The Trust Conundrum

 

But, here’s the conundrum. How do businesses retain the trust of customers who’ve bought into their ethos? One thing which is becoming increasingly clear is that ‘tried’ and ‘trusted’ boardroom tactics no longer hold water with this new type of consumer. The dynamics of experience delivery has been challenged. My advice to clients grappling with this is to ditch the sales pitch and ramp up other ways of cementing trust. Try PR with authentic content that your customer can create a connection with, think ‘thought leadership pieces’ and shared discussion platforms. These are all ways to encourage your customer to reach out to you and seek advice from you.

People in power are often threatened by people with new ideas and the trick is to sell to them without selling. Allow them to react to you when they are relaxed, going through a newspaper, watching an interview, scrolling through LinkedIn, Facebook or Instagram or reading a magazine. When they’re at ease and you’re talking to them about the new wave and the new way the world markets are going, you become more of a voice of reason, a voice of the future and that way you  shift the dynamic of becoming a push salesman to a position of pull.

When you create a pull and your customer reaches out to you, then you’re in a position of gaining trust and expediting long term sales or services. This takes longer than usual, but it’s worth it in the long run. Most people don’t want to be sold to, they want to be advised, and they don’t want to be sought out, they want to seek out the people who can help them.

 

Applying the same culture of compassion to the customer and the employee

 

That’s the first step, the second is that the customer has become more digitally savvy, expecting effortless interactions. Customers of all ages have made behavioural changes by harnessing the internet to make their daily lives easier. Not only that but they have a voice which they can use to share their experiences across vast networks.

 

It’s much easier to shop around and a recent KPMG report indicates that 41% of customers say it’s important for customers to be assured that a company’s employees are treated well in their jobs. This means leaders have to recognise they require a similar approach of empathy and understanding towards their customers, clients and their employees.

 

As the reliance on bricks-and-mortar stores reinvents itself by shifting to digital we now herald in the era of dispersive customer interaction. This means customers want an experience tailor-made to their needs. A coffee shop or photocopy shop may be on a dying trajectory but if you focus on bringing coffee to the home office or providing an online photocopy delivery service, you’ll be providing a dispersive flow.

 

With the world, and business, racing towards adaptive business tactics, the consumer has become empowered with networks and devices, demanding a more personalised service.. 

Engage with your consumer in an open and transparent way and this gap between traditional business strategy and consumer expectation will narrow over time.

To declare ownership of an animal, farmers would and still do, sear the rump of livestock with their own unique, poker-hot brand. Over time this age-old technique of branding has evolved to represent the identity of an individual, company or business. When the world recently plunged into murky uncertainty, the distinction between professional identity and whether it should be personal or corporate became increasingly hazy and blurred.

 

The Business of You and Your Genius

 

The concept of genius is one that originally came from the Romans, who for the longest time, had this idea that we all had a pocket of genius located just above us from the minute we were born to the time we died. Our job as human beings is to access this genius. As Mark Twain said: “the two most important days of your life are when you are born and when you find out why!”

 

So, why do we need to find out why? Because we can live a life 10 times better. Imagine where you’re currently sitting; hammering away at the same job, tediously dragging yourself from one task to another, making cursory conversation, until finally you collapse exhausted. We’ve seen so many people suffering from this – exhausted and fatigued. How do we end the day exhausted yet exhilarated? 

 

When you’ve tapped into your creative genius that you were born with and you’re using it, you’ve aligned with your purpose. There is no tedium in that. But with all the noise in this world and all the demands and stresses we’re faced with, how, I hear you say, do we allow ourselves the luxury of harnessing this genius? 

 

Well, here’s my suggestion. Try cast off the logic and access the heart to help gain access to your intuition. Practise this and you have pure, solid gold that will help you connect the dots to your own genius. Also, stop wasting that energy and start saying NO to the things that fail to add meaning or value to your well-being. If it does not feed your genius then it’s not working for you. 

 

Now, let’s take it one step further. For your genius to truly flourish, mix up obsession with still space. Short periods of super focus and intense thinking followed by spurts of quiet and space will allow you to connect to and access your genius better. The idea of accessing your genius is to weave it through the other geniuses in the human race and improve  general well-being, adding to the world and making it a better place to live for all. Which brings us back to why building the Business of You is so important.

 

Sharing Your Genius

 

The simplest and clearest way to market yourself as a personal brand, after you’ve discovered your genius, is by sharing your work and how you relate to it. Many entrepreneurs hesitate to share themselves personally for fear of putting off potential customers. But it’s often the alignment of values and resonance with stories that endear us to brands and influence our buying decisions. 

 

Andrea Leda said: “I don’t share my wounds, but I do share the wisdom of my wounds”. Think about how you relate to friends and family in your life who have personal brands. People feel obligated to like people but are often ambivalent about liking businesses. Studies have shown that when identical messages are shared on personal social media accounts instead of business brand accounts, they are shared an average of 24 times more! 

 

Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose

 

It is entirely up to us to create a real impression of who we actually are, even when pursuing success. This means bringing authenticity to the table. It’s that intangible factor that sets us apart from everyone else, allows us to stand out, to be noticed and to be seen as credible. It takes courage to step into your personal brand and it will undoubtedly create superfans or detractors, or as recently quoted by Grant Cardone – ‘all haters are quitters”. Don’t let that deter you from stepping into your genius and living your life and your brand to its fullest potential.

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