Our introduction to Raj Raghunathan was through the pages of If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? He poses an interesting thought experiment there.
“Imagine that a Genie appears in front of you and grants you three wishes. Before making your wishes, assume that the Genie is all-knowing and all-powerful. So don’t limit yourself in any way; imagine that the Genie has the power to grant you any wish you make. What three wishes would you make?”
He urges readers to pause, take time to think about it, and write down their answers.
“Most people have little trouble in answering the Genie Question, and their wish list usually reads something like this:
Wish #1: A great deal of money—enough to cover any and all expenses
Wish #2: Stupendous success and its accoutrements: fame, power, and respect
Wish #3: Great/fulfilling relationships, especially with family and friends
This is a question he has administered to hundreds of people over the years and the researcher in Raghunathan points out how surprised he is that “happiness is missing from their wish list. Most psychologists, and even many economists, think that happiness is our main goal in life… And yet, hardly anyone asks the Genie for happiness. Why?
“One reason, you may think, is that people ask for those things that lead to happiness: strong relationships, money, status, and so on. But why not ask for happiness directly? After all, if you wished to travel from New York to New Delhi, why get a ticket to a place (e.g., London) that happens to fall on the way? Why not head to New Delhi directly? And so it is with the Genie too. Why ask the Genie for the means to happiness when you could ask for happiness itself?”
Whatever is the matter with people? Is it that happiness doesn’t matter in the larger scheme of things? On researching the theme, Raghunathan discovered a paradox. That the pursuit of happiness matters significantly and is high up on the list. But when people he was researching were asked to make choices—such as pick food they eat that offer them joy or choose jobs that they would much rather do—turns out, people are willing to sacrifice their current happiness in the pursuit of other goals. Most interesting, isn’t it?
Preventing the next pandemic
Bill Gates first spoke about the imminent outbreak of a disease that can kill millions of people back in 2015 at a TED conference in Vancouver. That was when the Ebola virus had raised its head in West Africa and he warned that “Of all the things that could kill 10 million people or more, by far the most likely is an epidemic.” We got hit by Covid-19 two years ago.
That is why when his most recent post hit our inboxes, we read it closely. What is he thinking about now?
“I believe we can eliminate the threat of pandemics completely if we approach infectious diseases like we approach fires.” How? That is the theme of his most recent TED talk and learnings from the current outbreak hold the pointers.
“Despite what you see in movies, there is no group of experts standing by to prevent this disaster. So we have to create a new team. I believe we should create what I call the GERM team. GERM stands for Global Epidemic Response and Mobilization. This group is full-time. Their only priority is pandemic prevention. It's made up of a diverse set of specialists with a lot of different realms of expertise: epidemiologists, data scientists, logistics experts. And it's not just scientific and medical knowledge. They also have to have communication and diplomacy skills. The cost of this team is significant. It's over a billion a year to support the 3,000 people who would be on this team. And its mission is to stop outbreaks before they become pandemics. The work would be coordinated by the WHO. They'd be present in many locations around the world, stationed in public health agencies. They'd work closely with the national teams, depending on the income level. They'd have more in the lower-income countries. You know, for example, we could have GERM members, say, an epidemiologist, working out of the Africa CDC office in Abuja. And a very important thing is that like firefighters, a GERM team would do drills. When you want to have quick response, when you want to make sure you have all the pieces there and you can move very quickly, practice is key. That's how you make sure everyone knows what to do…
“Viruses spread exponentially. And so if you get in there when the infection rate is fairly small, you can actually stop the spread. You know, in this epidemic, if we'd been able to stop it within 100 days, we would have saved over 98% of the lives.”
- We can make Covid-19 the last pandemic (Bill Gates on TED)
- Talking about the last pandemic (Gates Notes)
A start-up is a romance
What drives entrepreneurs outside their comfort zones? This is a question we think about every once a while. Because oftentimes when listening to founders at work on an idea, clueless about what tomorrow holds, while their passion is palpable, we know they know that they could have been someplace else. Such as at a secure place with all the attendant opulence and perks. Why give up on all of that?
A post on LinkedIn by Manasji Ganguli, who is now at work on his second start-up, answers the question.
“Not long back, on all overnight flights I would review designs, draft replies to emails, straighten out my presentations, did my expense logging. And nowadays I would be shrouded by luxury and comfort and watch movies. I racked my brains. What did I remember about my meetings in Atlanta? The after-meeting dinner spread of brisket and wine was great but the meeting was bland and had nothing that stimulated my thoughts.
“And that's when I got my epiphany. I didn’t want this—no more. I needed to be in the economy seat—tired to the bone, scared shitless but never short of inspiration and drive.
“I had to pitch to 119 investors to get my 1st investment dollar in my last start-up. I used to spend 100 days around the world, always flying economy, showing people our innovation… A start-up is a romance. It starts from a rational urge to creatively solve a problem at hand and then comes the irrational part of leaving the safe harbours in pursuit of the solution.”
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Team Founding Fuel