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That Old Fable Of Ants And Grasshoppers
"Vade ad formicam …" - "Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!"
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It was the middle of 2014 and the Indian economy was celebrating one more summer of contentment and plenty - plentiful jobs, plentiful business opportunities, double digit growths and quantum leaps in salary. The short winter which had come in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008-09 was almost forgotten, expunged from memory like an embarrassing nightmare, because human beings are fairly obstinate creatures and don't learn very easily from short term shocks. Evidentially they need either several, or lengthy years of troubles, before behaviors change. And frankly when the next shiny smart phone is beckoning from online pop-ups and the credit card offers more reward points if you buy NOW, then why wait?
I have often thought that all the necessary lessons on life, we learn either in kindergarten or through the stories and fables we heard from our mothers and grandmothers. Everything else after that seems to be mere education. So in that summer of 2014 when I was feeling particularly frustrated with the lack of application and determination shown by the youngsters around me, one such fable, that of the grasshopper and the ant came to mind most forcibly. You will remember the grasshopper who sang and danced his way through the summer while the diligent ant slaved and stored food for the winter. And when winter came, as it always does, the grasshopper had to go a-begging for food to the ant's doorstep.
"Jobs are abundant, so why plod laboriously at tasks? If I don't like it or they don't like me here I can always jump to another job"
"Poor ratings given to me at the last appraisal? No problem, the competition is ready to hire me at double the salary. Why take the additional effort to prove myself ?"
These seemed to be the prevalent narrative everywhere. Reasons for shifting jobs veered from the usual "for better career opportunities" to "I have now marked a tick against the FMCG/TV/retail experience column in my CV, I know all there is to know about this job and this industry in the six whole months I have been here and am ready for the next tick against the durables/radio/services column".
Six months? I thought to myself. So many people I knew had spent a lifetime honing their skill in one industry, and still believed that they had much more to learn.
And that was the singular tragedy of those booming times. There were bright, intelligent and enthusiastic people entering the workforce everyday. But this talented set of individuals was unfortunately getting seduced by the assorted opportunities around them. And more importantly they erroneously seemed to believe that the tiny capsules of experiences they were rushing about gathering in small doses was tantamount to the genuine understanding and wisdom that would be their passport to the corner office.
Those were the years of hope and optimism, in India's potential and in her growth story. Those were the years when our economy was chugging away pulled by the double barreled power engine of future potential and a vast demographic dividend. However even then in those sanguine moments, my constant exhortation to everyone around had been "Vade ad formicam - Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise!
Was I prescient? Did I anticipate such a dark and gloomy winter? No, I most certainly did not. Covid -19 is an unexpected and devastating gale which is likely to blow away many of our dreams, hopes and livelihoods. But most surely I knew one thing, that by the rites of passage, winter would come sooner or later, surreptitiously or with much banging of the door, with an inevitability which no power in the world could stop. It was not only wise but rather obvious, that to work prudently and to save, would be a far more fruitful strategy than pretend that days which required frugality would never come.
Today any organization which has prepared for these harsh times through the long summers is better positioned to manage - whether through their robust liquidity position, strong balance sheet and ability to manage cash, or just through the sheer work experience of a longstanding team which has withstood challenges together.
Equally individuals who managed their career with one eye focused on personal savings and one eye on gathering serious experience by staying on a project or business long enough to witness and learn from the outcome of their efforts, will show the resilience to weather these harsh times. Their long term assignments would have added unparalleled value, by teaching them a variety of strategies and maneuvers with which to navigate their businesses through choppy waters as compared to those who packed their bags at half time, learning nothing but the ability to write a good resume.
When crisis comes, it doesn't benignly allow you practice sessions at the nets to hone your skills. If you have led your life sensibly and run your organizations judiciously, only then the myriad experiences that you allowed life to teach you will help find the answers to withstand this storm, because winter has come, as it always must; and unfortunately this time it has come for all of us - viciously and suddenly!
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.