The Future Belongs to the Listeners, the Learners, and the Lithe

Published on
February 3, 2017

by: Karthik Sundaram

The Future Belongs to the Listeners, the Learners, and the Lithe

Listening is active. At its most basic level, it’s about focus, paying attention.

Simon Sinek

Anush and I were at a prospect pitch meeting in Kuala Lumpur. It had not been easy to get this meeting, and we were putting our best foot forward, displaying our platform (hardware and software), and building on our story of how the platform can be a Lego block for the prospect’s challenging needs in one of the most difficult markets east of India. At every pitch, the client stalled us by stating their existing vendor has provided a near-equal solution (which we know wasn’t the exact scenario), and kept throwing curves at us. While I was trying to convince them that our product was easily better than their existing solution, and could work in synergy, and so on, Anush remained quiet. At one point, he simply said, “Why don’t you give us a dozen of your most challenging sites, and we can solve the three core challenges you seem to have,” and went on to outline them. Needless to say, the prospect’s jaw dropped, and we are now in further discussions. What had happened? My partner had listened to some unsaid unease from our prospect, and had clearly crystalized them into three core issues. Even as we debate AI and Automation taking over jobs, there are some core human strengths that will define those who will succeed in the future. Bots and automation can only perform structured processes, but the human has an infinite capacity to make sense by listening . Listening is the process of shutting off our front-end conscious state, and allow the subconscious to register the presence. This allows us to start being truly in the moment, and absorb signals, sentiments, and senses that inhuman artifacts cannot. It allows us to draw on our past, challenge the present, and paint the future.  

The beautiful thing about learning is nobody can take it away from you.

B.B. King

For her 70th birthday, I bought my mother an iPad, and it was (not surprisingly) received with reserved interest (and accusative suggestions that I was splurging money). In the first year, she downloaded all her favorite music and movies, and topped out the storage. We taught her how to back-up files. In the next two years, email was installed, she learnt FaceTime, Skype, and many other tools. The last two years, she has been teaching her grandchildren high school and college level math through some online collaboration tool she discovered, tracks my sister and I on our flights across the US and the world, and maintains a much-loved Facebook community with all her past students from school. Vijji and Jayati realize the importance of being a life-long learner, and are building a powerful platform to help enterprises help their employees discover those technologies that would be of use in the coming days, and learn these technologies from multiple sources in the digital world. The future belongs to not those who shy away from robotics and AI and automation, but to those who jump in, unlearn what they have learned, and relearn new tools of the future. This learning cannot be taken away from them, rather, it leads them to be more influential and successful for the future. Learning is the act of observing, absorbing, and mastering unpredictability. It helps us kill fear, and gain a love for the unknown. In that, lies success.  

A mind is like a parachute. It doesn’t work if it is not open.

Frank Zappa

Ask any soldier, and she’ll tell you that a parachute is not designed to work well on the ground. It is the most powerful when the open canopy overcomes buffets of winds, billowing out or contracting according to the situation, and helping her land safely on the ground. Zappa drew a powerful analogy to the mind: it is most powerful when put in a challenging situation, and is observing, absorbing, and mastering the unpredictability around it. Listening and Learning allows us to be come Lithe: the biggest reason why Silicon Valley reveres entrepreneurs. These fearless people are constantly listening, learning, and pivoting around opportunities. They are not risky people, rather, they mitigate risk by learning to be lithe. Stories abound of the Blockbusters, Sun Networks, and many other monoliths that failed to embrace change. Uber didn’t see success in the first two projects, Facebook was a dating site before it pivoted, How are you Listening, Learning and becoming Lithe for the future? As my uber-Facebook junkie friend, Dilip Keshu always ends, how are you set up for Onward, Forward?

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