I wish there was a mechanism where one can sift the information avalanche thrown at us in such a way that only what’s relevant finds its way to an individual’s gadgets. Maybe there is such an app or platform built to that and I just need to find it. I think an indicator that something is calling for our attention is when it appears in several WhatsApp groups that we are in and on our social media handles. That’s what led me to read the article by Prakash Iyer titled – The Bridge on the River Choluteca.
The story is about a 484 – meter – long bridge over river Choluteca in Honduras, Central America. A region notorious for storms and hurricanes. In 1996 a Japanese firm was contracted to build a bridge that could withstand the powerful forces of mother nature. The bridge was completed successfully and was a design and engineering masterpiece. It was opened in 1998 and the users of the bridge drove over it with a feeling of awe and pride. In October of 98 mother nature struck again. It was the ultimate test for the bridge and it didn’t disappoint. If there was ever an honors degree given by the university of nature’s forces then this bridge was at the top of that list.
But then an unprecedented and unexpected problem arose. Mother nature threw a curve ball at human thinking. The river that was being crossed changed course and now flowed beside the bridge. The roads to and from the bridge were swept away too. Now we had a bridge from nowhere and to nowhere. In addition, the bridge had no purpose as there was no river beneath for people to cross. All the reasons for building it were washed away literally. It now stood solo like an abandoned child in the middle of nowhere.
This happened 22 years ago but there are many lessons we can learn from this happening. Corona virus is the modern-day hurricane that has swept away the roads and bridges to our plans, goals, dreams and strategies. We have built solid careers and businesses over the years that we knew would stand the test of time and take care of us till our retirement. We have done so through blood and tears as we flood evening classes in our institutions of higher learning, take up online courses and go hard at ensuring we get the next promotion or deal. We have been at this high adrenaline lifestyle of self-development that we have lost our identity and maybe our families too in the process. We say we are working hard for our kids but we don’t know how (or where for some) those kids are doing. I’m convinced that our kids are one of the biggest beneficiaries of this pandemic. It gave them their parents back.
This story of the Choluteca bridge is a classic visual aid to our current reality. Many of us are stressed because qualifications that we toiled for so long seem to be of no use now. Even more stressful is that the future looks like it will be demanding brand new skills, abilities and mindsets. Requirements for success have totally shifted. Infact it’s more like they have been replaced totally. Now that is royally scaring.
Our default setting has been to build things that will last. Our education system hasn’t helped in cementing this mindset. In my view that should only apply to physical structures like that bridge, roads and other infrastructure. Humans have to overhaul their mindsets totally from building careers and businesses that last forever and replace that with building to adapt. Though they might also go hand in hand.
The more we adapt the longer we survive. The longevity and success of human endeavor will be determined by how well we adapt to the changing needs of our world. And that’s where the work comes in. We are now required to make such a huge mind shift. The thought of that alone is daunting. The African proverb can and should be applied here folks. “you go fast when you go alone. You go further when you go with others.” We can’t possibly get through this overwhelming global crisis alone. Having and adapting to key relations may be the determinant of success or not. A good place to start is accepting our reality. We long for the past so much that many of us have wasted precious time day (and even night) dreaming.
Admitting that my business has no future in its current form was a start for me. That’s was a heavy (and sounds fatal) thing to say. But I had to do that so as to encourage future progress. Since I verbalized those words my paralyzing fear is thawing away slowly. My optimism for the future is increasing slowly despite the vagueness of it. I’m seeking new learnings that will make it easier for me to adapt to the new world order. It now seems more advisable to acquire new relevant skills and thought patterns for us to adapt successfully than acquiring new degrees and diplomas. That’s because the reason for getting the extra degree or diploma may have disappeared by the time we graduate. As opportunities shift so do the problems. Flexibility is key.
The rules of the game have changed. Actually, even the game itself has changed. It’s been replaced by a new game that we are all learning. Prakash says that, “the challenge for us is that we focus on creating the best solution for a given problem. We forget that the problem itself might change. The need could vanish and the market could change. We focus on the bridge and ignore the possibility that the river could change course.”
Built to last may have been a popular mantra but built to adapt may be the way forward. Time to take deep stock my good people. This corona has been the biggest mirror so far. We have to take a long hard look at our selves and reorder both our private and public worlds. Focus on the bridge but check out the river too.