FF Insights #663: The looming food crisis

June 1, 2022: Politician vs statesman; Staying smart in a smart world; Secret wisdom

Founding Fuel

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In their book, CEO Excellence: The Six Mindsets that Distinguish the Best Leaders from the Rest, McKinsey consultants Carolyn Dewar, Scott Keller and Vikram Malhotra share a powerful story from the life of Mahatma Gandhi to make a larger point about having a greater purpose as our goal. 

They write: “Among the hundreds of people waiting to visit with Mahatma Gandhi were a mother and her young son. When it was their turn, the woman asked Gandhi to speak with her son about eating sugar. Gandhi asked her to come back in two weeks and said he would talk to the boy then. She wondered why he didn’t just speak to her son when he was already there, but she complied with his request. In two weeks they returned, and after waiting for a couple of hours, she was able to approach Gandhi once again. Hearing her repeated request, Gandhi immediately spoke with the boy, who agreed to begin working to eliminate sweets. After thanking Gandhi for his wise and compassionate words, the mother asked him why he wanted them to return instead of offering his advice the first time. Gandhi replied, ‘Upon your visit two weeks ago I, too, was eating sugar.’ He explained that he couldn’t speak of or teach her son to not eat sugar if he himself hadn’t taken that journey.

“This story, and many like it, are reflective of why Gandhi, the man who led India’s nonviolent independence movement against British rule, is revered the world over as one of history’s greatest statesmen, alongside such figures as the Dalai Lama, Golda Meir, Margaret Thatcher, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Simon Bolivar, and Winston Churchill. American nineteenth-century abolitionist and theologian James Freeman Clarke captured the essence of what separates this group from their public leader peers when he said: ‘The difference between a politician and a statesman is that a politician thinks about the next election while the statesman thinks about the next generation.’

“What’s fascinating about Clarke’s juxtaposition for our purposes is that if one looks at what a statesman and a politician do, it’s strikingly similar: communicating, persuading, networking, and so forth. It’s ‘who they are’ that makes a difference. A statesman doesn’t govern by opinion polls. He or she stands on a platform of what they believe to be fundamental truths. They adhere to a set of core values. Their goal is not to get ahead in politics, but to serve a greater purpose.”

What purpose do you seek to serve? 

Have a great day.

The looming food crisis

A recent cover of The Economist warned about The Coming Food Catastrophe with an image of what seemed like wheat. However, when you zoomed in, what you found was a cluster of skulls. The cover accurately reflected the current fears about food inflation and shortage triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

In a column in Project Syndicate, Prof Kaushik Basu explores the question of food shortages in the world, offers a solution, and points to India as an example. 

He writes: “But there is much we can do through collective action to overcome shortages that the market cannot fix. A system of global buffers or an international agreement that countries with a surplus must help others during times of scarcity would go a long way toward solving much of the problem. Just like the introduction of deposit insurance put an end to bank runs, most people would stop hoarding once they had confidence that this system worked, and that in itself would help avert a crisis.

“If this sounds like wishful thinking, consider what happened in India, a country with a history of food shortages and hoarding. Longstanding efforts to establish a national public food distribution system resulted in a major improvement in 1992 and culminated in the 2013 National Food Security Act. With a sophisticated system of minimal food guarantees in place for three decades, the psychology of hoarding at the household level has diminished, which in turn has diminished the need to hoard.”

Dig deeper

Staying smart in a smart world

We have been following the works of German psychologist Gerd Gigerenzer for a few years now. When we heard that he has a new book out, we jumped to check out the reviews to see what it’s all about. It’s from the area he has been focusing on during the past few years—the intersection of Big Tech and decision making. Here are two reviews we found useful. 

In New Scientist, Chen Ly writes: “Digital technology has created an economy that trades on the exchange of personal data, which can be used against our best interests. Companies and political parties can purchase targeted adverts that subtly influence our online shopping choices and, even more nefariously, how we vote. “One might call this turn to an ad-based business model the ‘original sin’ of the internet,” writes Gigerenzer.

“So, what can be done? Gigerenzer says that more transparency from tech firms and advertisers is vital. But technology users also need to change our relationship with it. Rather than treating technology with unflinching awe or suspicion, we must cultivate a healthy dose of scepticism, he says. In an age where we seem to accept the rise of social media addiction, regular privacy breaches and the spread of misinformation as unavoidable downsides of internet use—even when they cause significant harm to society—it is perhaps time we took stock and reconsidered.”

Another review in Spectator elaborates on what we have to do as individuals and as a society. We haven’t been doing much. Ben Lazarus writes: “What scares him is our own passivity. ‘We should be worried about people who aren’t getting smart while technology gets smarter,’ Gigerenzer says. ‘The more sophisticated algorithms become, the more sophisticated people need to become… The algorithms have become better over the last ten years by sheer computational powers, by the video capabilities and other things. On its own, that’s great. But the algorithms have a dangerous double capability: they make our lives easier and more convenient, but they allow us to be surveilled 24/7. We need to have a certain awareness and stop that, otherwise we will end up like China.’”

Dig deeper

Secret wisdom

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Warm regards,

Team Founding Fuel

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Founding Fuel

Founding Fuel aims to create the new playbook of entrepreneurship. Think of us as a hub for entrepreneurs- the go-to place for ideas, insights, practices and wisdom essential to build the enterprise of tomorrow. It is co-founded by veteran journalists Indrajit Gupta and Charles Assisi, along with CS Swaminathan, the former president of Pearson's online learning venture.

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