By Fiona Wakelin
John Sanei is a futures strategist who combines human behaviour and future studies to create keynotes, masterclasses and books that help people, businesses and brands build the courage and clarity they need to forge the future they want. Join us as we speak to John about where we are going and how to get there – how we can mourn courageously, disintegrate positively and create an abundant, optimistic future for ourselves.
As a future strategist who thrives on the possibilities that disruption brings with it, what is your take on 2022?
The transformation that we’re in has very clear, demarcated processes that it goes through, and all transformations have three processes: sad, strange and adventure. Depending on where you are in your life, where you are in your business, you could be feeling either more sad or more strange. But if you are an early adopter, if you are focused on the future, you would find yourself in ‘strange’. And I think that 2022 and even 2023, I would imagine, would become even stranger.
The reason that I think the theme is around strangeness, around the wilderness, is that two things are happening at the very same time. Brand new meta-universes, decentralised organisations, blockchains, fluid gender identities – all this newness is happening. We’re also seeing a collapse of things that we once implicitly trusted. Everything that we trust is just not there, available to us anymore.
So it’s a strange year, and what we have to do is we have to firstly become very clear on letting go of identities, of education, of understandings – the ways of adding value to the world – let go of those so that we can start adapting and adopting strange new things so that they become the new way that we start engaging and adding value to the world.
When we are comfortable with the strange, do we get into adventure? Do we start enjoying ‘strange’?
Strange is only strange if we don’t apply ourselves to adapting to that strangeness. Some people might never reach adventure because they are upset that they don’t understand enough about things like cryptocurrency and Web 3.0. Adventure is only available to people that are able to adapt, adopt and think about newness as something that they want to be engaging with rather than avoiding.
For those who have struggled with loss during the pandemic, what advice do you have for the coming year?
We’ve all had some type of loss. We can’t take away the pain that’s been caused. The first thing we have to do is realise we’re all in this, and that’s OK, and that this is very much part of the sad aspect. My career got taken out. I went from traveling all around the world to having no gigs, and so that was a recalibration of my career, of my finances and having to build myself up again and now starting to get going, only two years later. In my new book, Who Do We Become?, I write about the need for us to mourn courageously in order for us to disintegrate positively. I think it’s a wonderful tool when you become conscious about it, and are not stuck in the victim mindset around the loss.
There are two things that we need to mourn: past memories and future memories. Both of them were wiped out because our projections of where we were going got taken away from us and the past got taken away from us. If you’re dragging old trauma with you or very upset that your future isn’t what it used to be, you don’t have the energetic and emotional space to actually engage with new information because you’re tired or frustrated or anxious or whatever the case may be. All the anger you see in the world is just unprocessed grief. And so we have to become courageous in our grieving and become okay with it.
How do we create an abundant, optimistic future?
Every successful person I have ever met has two belief systems. Firstly, that the future will be better than the past. And secondly, that they have the power to make it so. And if you don’t start with that, you aren’t able to see the future with optimistic eyes. Now what creates pessimism and what creates optimism? It’s patterning from the past memories that we carry that we project into our future. And so what we have to do is to unearth and recalibrate emotional trauma that we’ve been carrying that has created patterns of scarcity, patterns of broken relationships, patterns of addictions. Mental fitness is important, but emotional awareness and fitness is the key because that’s the thing that’s triggering you into the mental state.
What do you think the pain points are for business in the medium term?
Most businesses are trying to develop new strategies based on old structures. The world we come from is a world of economics that’s focused on economies of scale and efficiency, as a priority. Why? Because when you’re doing what you did last year more efficiently, you can create economies of scale and bring about more profitability. That is valid in a world of linear innovation and complicated processes.
What’s a complicated process? A complicated process is a process that has patterns that repeat themselves. So in the last 200 years, the industrial revolution has created these patterns and they have repeated themselves. Perfect – for the old world. The world we’re moving into, the rules are different. We’re not in a complicated world anymore. Now we’re moving into a complex world and a world of complexity has got patterns that don’t repeat themselves.
What we should be doing is creating agile economies of learning organisations that are all about experimentation and robustness, which is a totally different type of business.
They should start building parallel businesses based on new constructs of how businesses need to evolve in this new world. And most businesses don’t know how to do that. They don’t know who to hire for it, and so they still do what they always did, hoping for a new outcome. And that’s not going to be available to them.
How do you think business leaders can make those around them feel more important?
By doing the good work, in private. I read something a while back, it said anybody that has brought any amount of exceptional work to the world has spent an inordinate amount of time alone doing the work. And so the way to make people around you feel important is to be fascinated with their stories, to be fascinated with their journeys and to be empathetic to how they have arrived at where they are. You cannot do this if you are self-involved, you cannot do this when you are still suffering from your own nonsense.
Please tell us about your new book, Who Do We Become?
It comes out in March. It is the process of breaking down the transformation into sad, strange and adventure, and sharing my experiences inside the space of sadness, which is a very private journey that I’ve been through around feeling lonely, and I think the epidemic of loneliness is really something that’s quite vast out there.
The second part of the book is all about the strangeness that’s coming. Getting us to understand how technology will change our society over the coming years, to become more transparent, to become more fit, and to become more feminine.
The book is really about asking who we become through this transformation. And are we willing to go through the three stages and become conscious about them?
How do we move from pleasure to happiness?
The idea of pleasure is dopamine. The idea of happiness is serotonin. These are very different nuances inside our heads. And the idea of pleasure is that we need outside influence to give us pleasure, whereas happiness is an internal job. We mistake pleasure for happiness. And so we seek out pleasure through shopping, social media, drugs, sex, alcohol, whereas actually happiness comes from a sense of peace and a sense of contentment.
What are you actually trying to do when you are seeking pleasure is fill a hole, where’s that hole being created? From a lack of self-worth. And that’s been created from holding on to traumatic memories to prove to yourself that you are not enough. So when that starts getting healed, you naturally move into a state of peace, contentment and seeking happiness.
Another nuance that I speak about is, are you running away from the darkness or are you running towards the light? From the outside, we are all goal orientated, action orientated, wanting to achieve our intentions. But one is motivated by anxiousness and one is motivated by excitement, and you can’t kick back. Are you moving towards it? Are you running away? Are you seeking pleasure or are you content with happiness? And this becomes a very nuanced internal discussion that you need to have with yourself and become quite clear which one you’re working on, which one you’re feeding.
What is your ‘why’? What brings you happiness?
Having the opportunity and the privilege and the honor to work on my own internal processes with some incredible teachers. And that brings me deep levels of joy because the world outside us is a reflection point and a projection point and an echo of our internal dialogues. And the more work we can do on ourselves, the more peace and contentment we can bring to the world because we are less into projecting negativity; projecting lower vibrational thoughts and ideas.
The way I’m really accessing my genius, where I’m really having a peak human experience is healing internal processes in order to be able to teach them, in order to be able to use them as an example to try and help other people be alleviated of their patterning. So my ‘why’ is really becoming more me.
What was your most profound ‘aha!’ moment?
I was 40 years old. I got divorced and I realised that I’d been a child for 40 years. I didn’t even know, and when I turned 40 for the very first time, as the saying goes, your soul “comes a-knockin’’ and asks you who you are and what you’re doing here. And it only happens at 40. Not before. I only started writing books and doing talks once I got divorced. And so that release of energy put me into a state of responsibility for who I was as a man. And stepping into that has created a very successful career and path for me now.
How do you relax?
I walk two hours a day, one hour in the morning, one hour in the afternoons. I listen to music, lectures, and podcasts. Walking keeps me active but, most importantly, it puts my brain into an alpha state which makes me relax to listen to information. I love relaxing into listening to lectures that uplift me and get me to understand the world differently.
If you could invite five people to dinner, past or present, who would they be? And what would you have for dessert?
Jesus, Einstein, Mandela, Mother Teresa and Helen Keller. We would have crème brûlée for dessert. But who would be even eating dessert when you have those people around?
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