Chris Read: Finding optimism by embracing the unknown

Chris Read joins RP from his Ugandan bolthole, this time writing on the topic of optimism, embracing the next wave of technology and rogue Congolese microwaves

As we are now midway through ‘Lockdown 2.0’, many will be angered and frustrated, wishing an end one way or another.

Others have readjusted to their more comfortable home working arrangements. Whichever it is, a bounce has appeared.

Optimism abounds with a bounce in the economy as it continues to get back on its feet. Optimism, with the news of a vaccine lifts the spirits.  I do hope I am in an early cohort of recipients.

There’s even optimism associated with the certainty that Brexit negotiations are nearing their end, although many still fear the longer term consequences.  The fact that both Trump and Cummings are exiting high office has brought a further spring to some people’s step.

The US President Elect Joe Biden offers a chance to reset, taking the temperature out of a number of tricky global negotiations if nothing else. Clearly we don’t really want to see President Trump being dragged from the White House as this would be rather unseemly and embarrassing.

Come fly with me

So, optimism is in the air. The day before Lockdown #2 started I was able to take to the air myself. The objective: to escape the climbing Covid death toll in the UK and go somewhere in the world where the death rate has been tiny, and the rate of infection is well under control.

I caught a flight to Entebbe in Uganda. It just so happens, I have a house in Uganda in the far south west of the country, close to the Rwanda and DRC border. It’s a place where the mountain gorillas live on the steep sloped rain forests of the Virunga mountain range and Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. 

My internet connections back to the office have been somewhat sporadic to say the least. I do have an internet connection driven by the local mobile telecoms provider. Up in the mountains where I stay, the signal has been rubbish. My neighbours put it down to the weather – it’s the rainy season. Others blame signal scrambling by rogue Congolese microwaves! In any event, I have been able to file this article, so all is fine.

Hope for the future is always plentiful here in Uganda. The people aspire to great things. The children aspire to become nurses, doctors, and teachers. The adults have hopes for their families and futures. Despite the hardships of life, the absence of running water, electricity, schooling and the basic things in life, there is always hope here. Hope is a state of mind that there is always something better and that the destination travelled will lead to happiness and fulfilment. If there was no hope, it would be a pretty miserable existence after all. 

A curious anomaly surrounds this hope. There is a sense that if you improve on how you do things today, things will be better tomorrow. There is of course comfort in what we understand. The trouble is it does not create a new thing or step changes. It improves on what went before but still maintains the past as the foundation from which we build.

‘Healthy dose of the unknown’

Optimism and hope for the future should be accompanied with a healthy dose of the unknown. In the case of the community here in this part of Uganda, I’ve been working to introduce software and computing, despite intermittent internet provision. With some computer labs installed in schools, the children are learning a life away from growing crops in the fields. A new generation is growing up with computer skills, confident to craft their own digital lives.

Optimism for our own future, in turn, should be accompanied by embracing the unknown. The march of the Fourth Industrial Revolution to automate industrial and business practices with machine learning, delivering automation without the need for human intervention, takes us into new territory.  

Embracing the next wave of technology and welcoming change may well be key to finding a new sense of purpose in an optimistic post-Covid-19 world.

Chris Read is group CEO of Dunstan Thomas