FF Daily #386: The power of curiosity

June 1, 2021: Ian Leslie on asking questions; A beauty upstart; Oslo and the art of negotiation; It’s Alright Ma

Founding Fuel

[Photo by Masaaki Komori on Unsplash]

Good morning,

When it comes to asking questions, children are relentless and fearless. But as adults, we hold back, grow fearful. This can have disastrous consequences is a point Ian Leslie makes in Curious: The Desire to Know and Why Your Future Depends on It

It happened on the Titanic. “Once its maiden voyage was under way, reports of icebergs came in from nearby ships… but there is no mention of her enquiring of others for updates or more information. What if someone was curious enough to ask for more information from the ships in the area? Afterwards, several planners and shipbuilders involved admitted to having had questions about the ship’s safety that they didn’t raise in front of colleagues, for fear of appearing foolish. Questions weaponise curiosity, turning it into a tool for changing behaviours.”

Then there are people who can see the gaps, place their finger on it, but are unable to articulate it or follow up on it. One of the most famous cases Leslie can think about in contemporary history is from the US administration’s misadventures in Iraq.

“In February 2002, the US Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld held a press conference to discuss the intense pressure that America was exerting on Saddam Hussein’s regime. Rumsfeld was asked whether there was any substantial evidence linking the government of Iraq with the supply of weapons of mass destruction to terrorist groups… ‘There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say there are things that we now know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns—there are things we do not know, we don’t know.’

“At the time, the statement was derided as the product of a confused mind. But despite what most people regard as the failure of Rumsfeld’s project in Iraq, it has since been re-evaluated. The linguist Geoffrey Pullum describes the statement as ‘impeccable syntactically, semantically, logically and rhetorically.’ Rumsfeld was talking about the limits of US intelligence, but he was also suggesting how to think about the gaps in our knowledge… Rumsfeld’s call to consider ‘unknown unknowns’ wasn’t absurd—it was smart. The tragedy is that he didn’t follow his own advice.”

Moral: Ask questions relentlessly. And follow up on it. Relentlessly.

Stay safe. And have a good day!

In this issue

  • A beauty upstart
  • Oslo and the art of negotiation
  • [Song] It’s alright, Ma

A beauty upstart

Aparajita (Opu) Bhattacharya is back with the third instalment of Hustle Fuel, a series where she looks for narratives of people who thrive in an evolving workplace. Those who punch above their weight and earn a seat at the table.

This week, Opu shares with us the narrative of three entrepreneurs. Two of them got talking while studying at Wharton business school around what it may take to launch a high-end beauty brand from scratch in the US. Much brainstorming later, Aavrani was born—and the third co-founder joined the two. What got Opu’s attention: “Aavrani, the first US-based luxury skincare line that draws inspiration from ancient Indian beauty rituals, launched in June 2018,  recorded $1 million+ in revenue in 2019, and anticipates grossing $6 million in sales this year.”

Two of the company’s co-founders are of Indian ancestry and the founding team thought that’s the segment they ought to be looking at. “But as they worked to build up their brand, they discovered there is demand beyond the Indian diaspora. Skincare was becoming a tiny part of a larger conversation around living clean and green. Products rooted in the belief that everything one needs for healthy skin can come from nature, and should be safe for nature, were becoming part of a lifestyle choice.

“The natural skincare category is growing 30% year-over-year (faster than any category in the beauty space) and is becoming a larger part of the $18 billion US skincare market. More women (and men) are searching for the ultimate in skincare cosmetics where quality is paramount and cost is not a barrier.”

There is much else that Opu has to share.

Dig deeper

Oslo and the art of negotiation

There is no letup of political drama in the Middle East. Earlier this month, the Gaza conflict between the state of Israel and Hamas made headlines around the world. 

Now, there is talk that tech millionaire-turned-politician Naftali Bennett is on the cusp of seizing the reins of power from incumbent Prime Minister and proverbial hawk Benjamin Netanhayu. Interestingly, Bennett joined politics in 2006 at a time when Netanyahu was leader of the Opposition and was groomed by him. Today, the tables have turned. Even if Bennett does manage to dislodge Israel’s longest standing prime minister, no one is quite sure how long his new government will last, given the track record of the country’s internecine politics.

That’s why Oslo, a new HBO film directed by acclaimed Broadway director Bartlett Sher, and premiered on Disney+Hotstar, makes for interesting viewing. It attempts to capture the secret back-channel negotiations held for the very first time between the PLO and Israel, and skillfully orchestrated by Mona Juul, a Norwegian foreign ministry official and Tirje Rod-Larsen, a sociologist and Mona’s husband. These talks eventually culminated in the historic 1993 and 1995 Oslo Peace Accords, signed between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin. Shortly after, on November 4, 1995, at the end of a rally to celebrate the Peace Accords, Rabin was assassinated by an extremist Jew. And the peace process got effectively derailed. And the region continues to remain mired in conflict.

In an interview with Variety, Sher argues that the message of the movie is now even more resonant. “Religious, cultural, and political differences will never be bridged if adversaries can’t find a way to have a constructive dialogue.”

When asked what it was like to debut a film at a time when Israel and Hamas are engaged in their bloodiest conflict in nearly a decade, Sher says: 

“I would prefer there were people striving to make solutions. As an artist, it’s really tricky to have a point of view immediately on what’s happening now. My point of view is the one the film expresses, which is (that) there are two ingredients to making peace. One is to actually get in a room and have a call to dialogue and really try to work out problems. And the other is for real leaders to step forward and be willing to make brave efforts for peace. If those two ingredients are there, then you can have progress. I hope this film helps people understand the history better and understand where this situation has grown from. I would never say that the Oslo Accords are the solution to the complex problem we’re now facing. It was only the beginning of a transformation which sadly never materialized.”

Dig deeper

[Song] It’s Alright, Ma (I’m only bleeding)

I’d never really thought about this song before, but something about its intense existential scrutiny distracts me from the anxiety of the pandemic. Instead it forces me to question and do a little more with my life.

Bob Dylan sings “He not busy being born is busy dying,” It’s like Dylan is saying if you are not reinventing yourself or discovering new things or making the most of the moment, you are busy dying. It’s a kick-in-the butt song, an awakening!

- Josy Paul, Chairman & Chief Creative Officer, BBDO India

Still curious?

What’s helping you get through these tough times? Send us the song, poem, quote that is your balm now. And we will share it through this newsletter.

And if you missed previous editions of this newsletter, they’re all archived here.

Bookmark Founding Fuel’s special section on Thriving in Volatile Times. All our stories on how individuals and businesses are responding to the pandemic until now are posted there.

Warm regards,

Team Founding Fuel

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