What’s Next?

“What’s next?”

That’s a question I find myself asking increasingly frequently these days. A question that is more often than not left to evaporate into the void without a hint of an answer lurking anywhere.

Haven’t felt this aimless since… Never.

That’s right: I’ve never felt this aimless.

I used to have these feelings of hopelessness and aimlessness, but nothing that lasted this long. I always had a plan. A plan to do something. Anything.

And these plans were for the next year or two, sometimes five. Ten even.

Dreams I had: be a millionaire at age thirty; be married (happily) with kids; live in a cottage in the countryside; play soccer professionally; qualify for Boston (the marathon). Dreams that used to excite me. Dreams that made each day easier to pass.

Back in primary school, I longed to grow up. I wanted to earn a wage; to make money; to have the freedom to spend freely. I wanted to have sex. I wanted to be taken seriously; to be respected. How I wished to be 26!

26… 26! That’s two f*cking years ago, friend.

Why I am not an entrepreneur

The thing about entrepreneurship is that you probably want to live in the world of the people who you want to buy your products or services. How else would you be able to determine what your customers want or need? Or might want or need?

And I think that’s where I fall short. I live too far in my own world.

What is more, I enjoy anti-capitalist sentiment. Or, at least, I enjoy reading about it. And agreeing with much of it.

I can imagine, though, that without capitalism much of what we enjoy today would have remained as science-fiction: the internet; cars; air-conditioners. All the things I love.

I cannot imagine a world where instead of the internet I’m actually outside staring into the forest (or maybe I can). Where instead of cars I actually walk or run (or maybe I can). Where instead of air-conditioners I’m actually thinking about moving to a cooler locale (or maybe I can). (And on this last point, the funny thing about air-conditioners is that they help to cool a world that could well have been warmed by their very use – global warming, anyone? And if you’ve ever walked past a grassy, tree-shaded oasis after coming from a conrete-ised area, you’d probably notice how much modern buildings are like ovens!)

I’m cursed with a mind that always goes in multiple directions at once, living in a universe where there’s no black or white, just grey and ambiguity, where everything (or just about everything) is given the benefit of the doubt. I’m not God, so who am I to judge?

My favourite phrase in my Econs class was “it depends”, which I answered with gusto every time my teacher shot me a question. I became so well-known for it every time she needed someone to provide both sides of an argument she’d call for me. I thought maybe it was a Buddhist phase I was going through, but I never grew out of that mentality.

It is (too) often said that when it comes to choosing property (whether for business or personal use), the three most important things to look for are: location; location; location. Repeated thrice because it’s just that important. In a similar vein, when it comes to answers to questions of just about any kind, it’s always going to be: context; context; context. What works in one situation may not work in others.

What’s 1+1? In the context of mathematics we might say “2”. In the context of humour we might say “11”. In the context of business and marriage, we might say “3” (or more – “synergy” in the former between good business partners, and babies in the latter).

It depends.

How does one become an entrepreneur through such a mentality? No focus. No strong beliefs. No do or die (just do – for as long as it takes – and then, eventually, die).

Local Adaptation

I could have sworn that I wrote this before, but I can’t seem to find it anywhere! The following is a passage from the book Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure by Tim Harford, which had at that time (and still does) a great impact on me because of the scope of my work.

Any large organisation faces a basic dilemma between centralisation and decentralisation […] Decisions taken at the centre can be more coordinated, limit wasteful duplication, and may be able to lower average costs because they can spread fixed resources (anything from a marketing department to an aircraft carrier) across a bigger base. But decisions taken at the fringes of an organisation are quick and the local information will probably be much better, even if the big picture is not clear. [Most] people overestimated the value of centralised knowledge, and tended to overlook “knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place”.

Allow me to elaborate a little on what I mean when I say this passage above had “a great impact on me because of the scope of my work”. I work at a Canadian company, and it does sadden me sometimes when I see how much resources Corporate HQ gets as compared to our Singapore office, and how much if not all of what we do here can be done over there as well (do the words “redundant” come to mind??)

But this passage has somewhat put things in perspective. Being physically located in Asia, I suppose it can be argued that we’ll have a closer, more Asian perspective. Certainly, being in the same timezone means we’ll be more agile in responding to our Asian colleague’s needs, and when there are fundamental regional reporting differences it’s a no-brainer: being Asia-focused, we’ll be the only ones willing and able to support (Corp’s certainly able, but not always willing).

I suppose there’s also a key message here: perhaps in order to differentiate ourselves from Corp, we should be focusing on our strengths in our “knowledge of the particular circumstances of time and place”?