Global motivational speaker and best-selling author John Sanei talks positivity and building courage and clarity in people’s minds and hearts, in order to prepare for an uncertain future
It’s no secret we are all in a time of uncertainty at the moment, wherever we are in the world. During these times it can be hard to keep positive and see a light at the end of the tunnel. So we decided to talk to Global Motivational Speaker and best-selling author John Sanei who has been sharing his motivational mindset with the world. Sanei combines his passions for psychology, technology and innovation to bring about a unique outlook of the world, thinking about the future in a unique “possibilist” way. Sanei’s most recent book Future Now comes at a time when the world needs it most. It delves into how we can enter a positive mode of thinking even though we may be living through something that in many ways is not positive, to bring about our own authenticity and therefore move forward and ultimately achieve success. Here we discuss with Sanei the outlook of the world during and after COVID-19, and how we can guide our minds through dark times to achieve a brighter outlook for the future.
In a time we are all facing uncertainty, what is your outlook on the near future and what do you think the “new normal” will be in terms of mindset?
I think this is a billion-dollar question. I have tried to not come up with any clear definitions of what the “new normal” looks like yet, as I think we still have a bit of a way to go when it comes to understanding the repercussions of this economic close-down and the Domino effects of bankruptcies and the closing of legacy businesses. But remember, as far as mindsets are concerned, certain people are thriving in this new marketplace –finding new solutions and being adaptive. Some people love this – we call those people “wartime CEOs” – the ones who are stepping up during this time. On the flip side, there are also “peacetime CEOs” – they are the people who have no idea what to do in times like these, they are much better at maintaining businesses than starting new ones. So the “new normal” across the board will be affecting people in very different ways, but the mindset that should prevail is being adaptable and flexible. To do this, you need to be able to be curious about your subject and try and bring about that resolution or solution through your adaptive, flexible, curiosity. I call these people “possibilists” and that’s what I suggest people become – look for possibilities, give a minimal amount of attention to negativity and look for solutions and scenarios where you can add impact. It’s about utilising your curiosity so that you can add more value to the world.
Can you explain to us what a futurist is and why you deem yourself to be one?
I have never actually called myself a futurist – other people call me that. If you read my books or social media you never see the term “futurist” because I think far too many people have jumped on the bandwagon of being one. Also, the word futurist can be understood in many different ways. I think many people expect futurists to predict the future. And I guess some can – and I can’t – and it’s not really where my skill set lies. Where my skillset lies is to build courage and clarity in people’s minds and hearts, in order to prepare for an uncertain future. Ray Kurzweil; one of the founders of Singularity University, has written many books and he is excellent at predicting the future – in fact, in one of his books, he as an 86 per cent success rate of predicting the future. So he is what I would describe him as a futurist. But because I’m a faculty member at Singularity University, people deem me to be a futurist too, but I think that word carries too much expectation. I consider myself more to be a foresight strategist. In other words; how do you adapt a foresight that allows you to apply a strategy? Something that allows you to thrive no matter what the future looks like. That always comes down to your inherent, unique and authentic skillset and how you can use that skillset with as much impact, while the marketplace is changing around you.
What was it that shaped up the direction you took in life?
If I talk about where I am right now, which is a combination of human psychology, neuroscience, futurism and business strategy. That combination has always been in me as a human being. I never put them together because I didn’t think the world was ready for them all, I didn’t even think it was something the world needed. But from a very young age, I was always an early adopter, the one who knew what was coming next and was always seeing the latest brands, whether it was in shoes, fashion or restaurants etc. And that early adoption made me quite successful. In my twenties I had several businesses, I was doing well and then at 31 I became bankrupt. I was depressed for a few years after that and the magic about depression is that you don’t even know you’re depressed. Because it comes in such a slow way that suddenly you aren’t able to create anymore and you’re stuck in a victim mindset. So I had to snap myself out of that after a couple of years, and I managed to do that. My personality has always been to dive deep into a subject as much as I can so that I can understand it better, and I realized that I had gone so deep into neuroscience and psychology that I was able to start teaching it. So I started to combine these four aspects and it has really started to change the direction of my life. I do believe that everyone has his/ her own genius and I have tapped into mine.
You have a passion for psychology and technology, how do they connect in your world and how have they helped you throughout your journey?
Your unique and authentic self is what will be celebrated in the world when we live in a world of surplus. In other words, there is a surplus of amazingly clever people who do the same thing. The world used to need a surplus of the same – accountants lawyers, doctors etc. – but as we move into a multi-adaptive world, we start to realise that what makes the most sense is uniqueness and authenticity, because people want to hear something fresh and surprising. We are always looking for uniqueness and I think because of the Internet we can build our own resonance that highlights our authenticity. So this combination has been fantastic for me and I’m adding surprising, unique stories to the world, that people have never thought about before and I think that’s kind of what makes me successful.
Tell us about your recent and upcoming books?
“FOREsight” was my third book. It comprised of 20 essays that I wrote around the concept of connecting the brain and heart. For me brain and heart coherence is of utmost importance because when these two things are speaking the same language, your decision- making is calm. The essays alternate from talking about the future, then talking about our emotional state. You will see that I like to make it snappy and short so it’s easy to read and clear on what the messages are.
I was busy with my fourth book “Evolution of Value” when COVID-19 happened and now the subject of that book has kind of become irrelevant. I was breaking down the ten different values that we will need to prioritise in the future, but now everything has changed. So I started writing a trilogy of books; “Future Now,” “Future How” and “Future Next.” I think these are the most relevant to the situation we are in now.
What in your opinion are the business models of the future? And how do you define the trends of the future?
The trends of the future are actually based on human needs. So if you can track human needs, you can then start to determine what the trends could look like. But also remember that in different parts of the world humans prioritise different aspects. There are three types of consumers and they make decisions in very different ways. The first comes from a place of value. They look for as much value as possible. These are generally the poorer people around the world. The second type of consumers is all about reward and recognition. They are found in emerging markets and their marketing is very different from other consumers. They have only started making money in the last generation or so and they want to be able to show the world that they are healthy. The third type are the mature awareness consumers who are underpinned by guilt-free consumption and they are not looking for reward and recognition, they are much more about asking if their decision has a harmful effect on the planet. Each one of these sections has different trends. You can see this with fashion brands for example who are closing stores in the mature awareness markets and opening stores in the booming markets like Saudi Arabia for example because they have just started to make money. These brands are doing so well in countries like China, South Africa and the Middle East. This is because the consumers in this market are prioritising showing their wealth because they are an emerging market. So it just depends. All trends follow these need states.
Going back to the first part of the question, the business model that we’ve all become used to is supply and demand. But now, we are starting to see so many new business models and the models of the past are becoming too expensive. New business models include the “Crowd Economy”, with companies like Uber and Airbnb. They use the ‘crowd’ to build their business and they are a platform that connects those two. Then you have the “Free date Economy” and those are companies that give you something for free, but they pick up your data. Facebook and Google are two examples of this. Then you have the “Curate, Match and Facilitate” business model, with companies like Spotify. They curate music and match it to your taste using machine learning and facilitate it to you for a cost. Then you have the “Transformation Economy” which is transforming things like a simple cup of coffee into a total experience because we are changing the way we perceive things. There are about 5 or 6 business models that are changing right now and people need to understand them going forward for businesses to succeed in the future.
Looking forward, what advice would you give to businesses that are struggling?
People need to understand that COVID-19 will have magnified any issue you had personally or in your business beforehand as well as highlighting bad business models. If you are struggling, what you need to realise is that this is a wonderful opportunity to redesign your business with a decentralized ideology. In other words, can you get rid of legacy costs? This could be done through continuing to work from home etc. Try to step out of the construct of your business and see what is truly needed and take the opportunity to get over feeling sad. The truth is if your business was struggling before, things are going to be worse with COVID-19 so it’s a really good time to redesign.
We saw a lot of companies that used a lot of “disruption” practices, which backfired on them, let us talk about how do we define our strategies on “how disruptive we should be”?
Innovation and disruption mean two very different things. Innovation means doing what you did yesterday just better and making incremental changes. Disruption means making your current business model obsolete to create a new one. So it’s not about your business, it’s about understanding your consumer better. How much better can you pre-empt what your customer wants before they know it? Utilizing machine learning and data will do this because those are the tools of the future. So you need to ask how can your business become more personalized to your consumer? How can it become more seamless to your consumer? And how can your business build more trust with your consumer? The choice is not what we are after – it’s really just about the suggestion. That’s what consumers are looking for.
What are the messages of positivity that you are sharing in this time of crisis?
I’ve written a whole book on it! The book “Future Now” is about how to become comfortable with the unknown. And that’s what a positive mindset is. A positive mindset is not looking for a guaranteed outcome; it is being OK with any outcome because you have become anti-fragile. In other words, when you’re fragile; if you fall you break. Anti-fragile says when you fall, you get stronger. So every time I get challenged, I’m happy with the challenge and this is intelligent positivity. What that does is it allows you to ask ‘what is my genius?’ What is best for me?’ and then you need to dive deep into that subject, figure out what you can bring to the world that nobody else does and do that unique thing. So then no matter what happens, your uniqueness and curiosity will always find a solution.
As an optimist, how do you foresee the “new world”?
I’m more of a “Possibilist”. That means that I can see the darkness, but I’m looking for the possibilities. I absolutely foresee a new world and yes, there is going to be a ‘bad world’ for sure because we always have that duality of the good and bad. But I do also see a great new world ahead. We need to take responsibility for ourselves. You are responsible for creating your bubble of seamlessness and clarity and if you’re not prepared to do that, then you won’t be having a great time.
How do we keep a calm state of mind when things around us are stressful?
The truth is when you’re expecting something to happen and it doesn’t happen you become upset. When you’re making logical decisions you need an outcome. But if you’re following curiosity, the outcome is not what you’re looking for; you’re looking for your curiosity. So whatever happens, you’re happy because you followed your curiosity and delved deeper into who you are. So if you are feeling stressed, it’s because you’re expecting something that hasn’t happened. What you need to do is become more fluid and the way you do that is by unclicking your logical mind and become more heart-led, more curious and more enthusiastic about why you’re here on earth and then, nothing can stress you out.
What is the motto that you live your life by?
The question you need to keep asking yourself is “Is this what makes me most excited?” And “can I do something without expecting the outcome and can I do it with maximum enthusiasm?” Keep asking yourself these questions and if you do that you’ll lead yourself towards your genius and when you find that, you start to live a totally different life.
Have you ever failed and how do you deal with failure?
I’ve written about my failures a lot. One of them was when I went bankrupt at 31 and I was depressed for a couple of years. Then I got divorced when I turned 40 and that shattered my reality in such a massive way. Then coming out of that shattering, I started writing books and speaking publicly and this is where my career is right now. The best thing you can do when you go through failures is to try and see that failure as a learning curve as soon as possible. We all go through failures but what’s important is to move away from being the victim and be thankful that it happened so you can move forward properly.
How do you carry on when you feel like life is getting you down?
Firstly, all human beings have ups and downs so that’s OK. Trauma sits in our bodies or minds for a very long time and then when we have a lot of time on our hands (like now with COVID-19), this trauma can now surface. Trauma is a thing that is in all of us and if we don’t deal with that it can stay with us for life. What we have to do is work on fixing those traumas so they don’t linger in our memories. When you do get down you need to first ask yourself ‘where is this coming from?’ and figure out what has triggered you to get to that feeling of down. Every trigger point is based on a memory that you haven’t healed. So give yourself space to stew in that emotion, but don’t stay like that longer than you need to. If you can’t get out of that emotion there is something you need to resolve from your past. Then you can move back into your flow state. It’s impossible for us not to go through these times, and you have to give yourself time to go through those emotions but not for too long. If you are going longer than half a day or a day with these thoughts then I recommend seeking professional help and working to x those triggers as quickly as possible.
Dubai is your residence city, why did you choose it and what do you foresee for this city of life post-COVID-19?
I chose to live in Dubai for a couple of reasons. The first is leadership. I love the way the leadership in Dubai is focused on the future and the energy of the way they believe anything is possible. I’m a big fan of the vision our leader has. The second reason is that most cities in the world are stuck in that mindset of “that’s just how it’s always been done.” And Dubai doesn’t have that. Dubai has a clean slate that it’s building the future on and it’s not stuck in any old ways of thinking. The third reason is that it’s a hub. I can easily access all the cities around the world which gives me a great opportunity to travel and see as much of the world as I can and have access to my clients around the world. I also love the people in Dubai. Everyone has great energy.
Post COVID-19 – I foresee it to be something amazing. I think Dubai will have renewed energy and a new way of thinking about the future. We will understand that as residents we need to make the most of the situation. I also believe that the leadership of Dubai will come up with new ways of enhancing the city and creating new ideas. Until we are through this situation there is so much up in the air, but I am a possibilist and I know that the Dubai leadership will come up with something amazing. I am very positive about the world we can create and I want to do as much as I can in my power to empower people to take responsibility and be part of creating a better world for themselves and everybody else.