15 May 2020 00:19 IST

A good toss to lose

There are ways to convert the creative destruction wrought by Covid into a winning proposition

I was chatting with my dear friend Manu Joseph and interviewing him for our new TalentEase portal (http://lifeskills.talentease.com/). He was sharing his insights and lessons learned, so that the children and young adults we work with, could benefit. One of the things he talked about is how life often throws us “a good toss to lose”. In cricket terms, it refers to a scenario where the team loses the toss, is upset about it, but then goes on to win the match. Covid has thrown ‘a losing toss’ to students, professionals, employees all across the world. It’s mostly bad news — university admissions are in limbo; placement offers seem to be in suspended animation and several employees, both old and new, have been let go. Is there any way for us to convert the toss that was lost into a match that we win?

Look ahead

In times like this, the biggest temptation is to look at the past and obsess about the lost opportunity. There is a tendency to take an extreme view “everything is lost”, “that’s the end of me”. Nothing can be further than the truth. While there’s no denying the reality of the tough hand we’re dealt — it’s how we play it, that matters. We must avoid regret; we must avoid negative thoughts and ask ourselves — what’s the future we can shape from here? A focus on the future is constructive. A focus on the future challenges us to think rather than agonise. It also gives us perspective. As the old Persian adage goes: ‘This too shall pass.’

It’s often in hindsight that we may see that perhaps these times created decisive moments for us that’s set us on our own unique and meaningful path.

I remember after finishing my MBA, making it to the final round of TAS (Tata Administrative Service) interviews. When I was not selected, I thought it was the end of the world. I was not used to losing and was kicking myself hard. Just then the Managing Director of one of the Tata companies who was on the interview panel, asked to speak with me and, apparently impressed, offered me a job at his company on the spot. Looking back, I see that as a decisive moment that took me down a path filled with challenging, rewarding and fulfilling experiences and assignments. On the personal front, this path, and no other, led to my meeting and marrying my wife. I wouldn’t trade that for anything. I lost the toss but won the match!

Look at what I can control

“If only…” is a poor series of questions to ask. This just pushes us into a spiral of self-pity. It is better to ask constructive questions. Questions “So now what…” and “How about…” and “Why not…” focus on variables we can control. There are other university options, there are other times admission could resume, there are other companies that we could market our talents and skills to.

For example, when we’re locked down, what we can control is how we spend our time. Can we use the time to learn new skills, equip ourselves for a new job or career, upgrade our skill stacks? Harvard has rolled out plenty of resources and made them free to access at https://online-learning.harvard.edu/catalog/free. As business management students, that’s a great place to continue building our skills and knowledge. Several other learning sites have done the same.

Can we connect and network? Reach out to mentors. Have a learning conversation with an expert. Write a paper. Create a business plan. Run a research project. The list is only limited by our imagination and will.

Look afresh

Maybe Covid has given us the opportunity we would never have given ourselves — to look afresh at our plans, our careers, our decisions. Is there something we could change or should change? Is there a personal pivot we can make?

Companies are forced to look at things afresh. Their very survival depends on it, especially those whose entire business models were built on face-to-face service or purchases. But Covid has forced a ‘creative destruction’ process — old marketing strategies and plans have been shelved and new ones are brainstormed. New products are being fashioned on the fly; new services being crafted to address the needs of the times.

Japanese agency Whatever created 'Work From Home Jammies', formal on video, but loose and comfy outside the video-frame! Tunisian taxi start-up IntoGo has temporarily become a delivery service, charging $4/hour to deliver groceries and other products to customers. In India, Saral Designs have modified their sanitary pad making machines to produce surgical masks.

In the movie Trouble with the Curve, legendary baseball scout Gus (played by Clint Eastwood in his angry-old-man style) is now past his prime and losing his sight. On what could be his final scouting trip, his daughter Mickey (played very well by Amy Adams) with whom he has had an absentee-parent relationship, accompanies him because she’s concerned for his health. She’s a high-performance attorney on the verge of becoming the first woman Partner at her firm. But that Partner promotion is now in jeopardy, because she’s chosen to take time off and spend time with her father. She is at first distraught when she loses the Partnership, but then discovers her talent for being a great baseball talent scout like her father. She’d chosen law as a way of proving herself to her Dad, but now listens to her passion for baseball. The lost promotion becomes an opportunity of discovery and a path to a more fulfilling career. A lost toss, but a match she won!

Covid could be giving us, as John Gardner would put it: “a series of great opportunities brilliantly disguised as insoluble problems.” Let’s be sure to reach out and grab those opportunities with both hands. The toss may be done, but the match is still to be played.

Dedication: I’d like to dedicate this article with gratitude to Parimala Rao, Editorial Consultant at Business Line who, after a 30-year innings at The Hindu Group, begins her ‘second life’ today. She has shepherded mine and my fellow columnists and contributors’ articles with a rare combination of professionalism and warmth. Her feedback and support have meant a lot. Thank you, Pari!

Note: TalentEase has rolled out our online portal with resources on life skills and values and here’s a special code to all my reader-friends of Business Line on Campus. Access the Paid Explorer Membership worth ₹1400/year for FREE using this coupon code – TEFREE. Sign up at http://lifeskills.talentease.com/

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