#10Q: Don’t settle for ‘normal’; ask ‘what could be’

Author and futurist John Sanei talks about his new book FutureNEXT, which is a guidebook to reimagine a new socio-economic system post-Covid.

Futurist and strategist John Sanei has written a book with economist Dr Iraj Abedian, called FutureNEXT, in which they ask the critical Covid questions about the world we can expect to inhabit over the next few years in the shadow of this pandemic. Sanei told Retailing Africa that when lockdown hit, his clients were calling him into strategy sessions on how “to go back to normal”. He was advising his clients not to ask for “normal”, “but what could be”. With the book, he wanted to bring about a toolset, a guidebook of sorts, to reimagine a new economic system.

1. What is the book’s core message?

To open up a conversation about the possibility of a new socio-economic system that has the ability to be open and more transparent. We don’t have all the answers, but we want to be part and parcel of the new renaissance, to build a new world. We have to realise that for the very first time in humanity’s history, we have the power as the people, more than ever before.

2. The single biggest change the pandemic will bring?

It is giving us an opportunity to pause and question everything: from the whole idea of working and not seeing our family; the elusive challenge of chasing more; the fact that more humans are on pharmaceuticals and anti-depressants – but this is supposed to be a successful society? All of a sudden, the things that were important, are no longer important. It has been very hard, but we need to look at this as a gift to get off the overheated, over-bloated, dirty, stinky industrial revolution train.

3. How will our post-pandemic society move forward?

We are moving from a masculine world to a feminine world. From brawn to intelligence to intuition… It is a very different way to make decisions. Many will resist – they are being challenged – and that resistance comes from a place of deep insecurity. It is almost as if they are running software that is old.

4. How long will the pandemic and global lockdowns last?

I don’t think we should be looking for an end. Why would people want to go back to ‘normal’? It wasn’t great, it was just familiar. I think we should be happy with evolving. This is the beginning.

5. What is your message for business leaders right now?

It is not an easy place to be. It is going to be hard. Your old success is not your new success. Innovation is doing what you were doing yesterday. Disruption is making your current business model obsolete to create a new one. As business leaders you are not supposed to have all the answers. You need to hire new people with new capabilities. All business leaders are trained in the old ways of doing business. Young people are well versed in the new ways. Power structures are being questioned and efficiency has to be replaced by economies of learning. It is a massive shift in the way we do things. That will be hard for men in positions of leadership who were successful in the past in doing things a certain way, instead of hiring new people to rethink and redesign their future.

6. How do we prepare for a world so changed?

The thing is, stop trying to have certainty. We are addicted to certainty. We are uncomfortable with not knowing.

7. Why should people read this book?

We have gone to extensive lengths to bring about as many practical tools to rethink our future. We are all stuck in this transition of the old world and new world. We are all taking considerable strain. What has happened now, is that no one knows what the outcome will be. Our brains are struggling with a lack of anchors into the future. You can’t plan for the future. You can only be prepared for what might come. That is what our book is trying to do, is give you solace in a new way of thinking about the future. When nothing is certain, anything is possible. Relish in that. We live in an exciting time. Don’t take it for granted.

8. Do you have a life philosophy?

Follow your highest excitement everyday with as little expectation. It puts you in a state of creativity, innovation and excitement. During the week we are told to be logical, and do the things we have to do, not the things that make us happy and excited.

9. How do you inspire others?

The basic principle of inspiration is this: I myself see a higher potential of myself and I continuously strive to that higher potential; so when I engage with people, I see their potential, because I’ve believed in my potential. People are stuck in what was, not what could be.

10. What is your superpower?

To make complex things simple: Simplexity.


*FutureNEXT will be launched on November 19, 2020, in Cape Town, in a hybrid offline and online event. For more: our interview with Dr Iraj Abedian and Sanei in our TRENDING column.


– Receive the Retailing Africa newsletter every Monday and Thursday • Subscribe here