Set Your Goals and Enjoy the Journey: Sanjeev Sanyal

How I made it: Famous economist and urbanist Sanjeev Sanyal talks about the journey called life

Set Your Goals and Enjoy the Journey: Sanjeev Sanyal
Set Your Goals and Enjoy the Journey: Sanjeev Sanyal

You can bring about a change only when you question and rethink the existing paradigms

Sanjeev Sanyal, 40, wears many hats. He is the founder and president of the Sustainable Planet Institute. He is an economist, environmentalist, urbanist, a family man, but, most importantly, he's an agent of change. An Oxford Rhodes Scholar, he is a graduate of the Shri Ram College of Commerce and credits his alma mater with much of his success.

He is a strong advocate of 'walking' as a transport system and of organic evolution, rather than rigid master-plans, as the way to build future cities. One of Asia's leading financial economists, Sanyal was Deutsche Bank's Chief Economist for this region till 2008. He played an important role in changing the image of India as an international investment destination and is the author of the book The Indian Renaissance: India's Rise after a Thousand Years of Decline.

In 2007, he was awarded the Eisenhower Fellowship in recognition for his pioneering work on urban systems. He also co-founded GIST in 2003, a research initiative that has revolutionised environmental accounting the world-over. Sanyal gives Deepshikha Punj his take on what he thinks about life.

First step
I am a person who likes to investigate things, especially when we can make the world a better place by challenging old assumptions. I learned many things while at Shri Ram College of Commerce but Oxford was an especially liberating experience. I remember that India had recently opened its economy and the world beckoned, especially for someone like me who does not believe in boxes. I believe that every generation needs to rethink and question the paradigms on which a society, and its economy, is based. I consider this my mission in life. So I spend my time rethinking our cities, the way we measure human progress, even the way we look at Indian history.

Change agent
I spent much of my career as a financial market economist. Somewhere at the beginning of this decade, I travelled through India and clearly sensed the major change that our economy was going through. Financial investors, both international and domestic, did not seem to recognise this. I began to document it and talk about it but people laughed me off.

At a time when the Sensex was at 3200 and Dow Jones (US stock market index) was at 12000, it sounded ridiculous when I said that one day the Sensex would be higher than the Dow. But today, the Sensex is double that of Dow Jones. The world changes but the future is not just a linear extrapolation of the past. At every stage, you have got to question the basis on which things are being done. Not everything is wrong with the world, but it is always worth investigating.

Walk the talk
India will be an urban majority country within a generation but we are not preparing for this. We judge our cities by the size of their flyovers. In fact, "walkability" is the single most important urban design concept for old cities and new. People think that public transport is all about creating heavy metro rails, buses, or Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems.

However, no public transport system can work without walking the last mile. Walking is the cheapest, most socially inclusive and environment-friendly way of getting around. My idea is to invest heavily in this system by creating pedestrian crossings, increasing public security, improving street lighting, redesigning hawking, and creating overpasses. Always remember, road-widening within a city is euphemism for narrowing the footpath – it’s usually a bad idea.

No roadblock
My advice for success is somewhat odd-enjoy the journey and do not fuss too much about the goal. I want to be able to do what I do best and believe that success will follow. A successful individual or society is one that can innovate continuously, but innovation is about dealing with risk and the unknown, so one must deal with the world with an open mind.

For instance, I have been working on rethinking Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as the measure of human progress. There is no particular reason why I should be the one to investigate this issue but I did, and I am still not sure where this path will lead. Every individual has to stop thinking that somebody out there is going to change things for them. They should be passionate about the cause they believe in.

I am currently studying the whole issue of urbanisation, particularly in case of India. I am also writing a book, The History of India's Geography that retells the story from the perspective of cities, trade routes, wildlife, rivers and so on. Does all this make me think I am successful? No. For every mountain you climb there is another one at hand. And the moment you think you have reached the highest mountaintop, the journey is only downward.

Golden rules
It is not difficult to work single mindedly towards one's goal. My advice to future innovators would be to stop having pre-conceived notions about what life, and its goal, should be. It is the experience and the journey that matters as much as the goal. And while one needs goals and must focus on them, one should not get fixated on results. Just do your best and make it count.

Tips for success

Career Counseling
  • Stop having pre-conceived notions about success and failure. Life is about the journey and not the destination.
  • Everyone must have goals in life, but remember to never get fixated on results. Concentrate on doing the best you can.
  • Failure is not the end of the road. The willingness to fail is sometimes more important than the goal itself.
  • Innovation can only be acknowledged when the innovator has the courage to question existing paradigms.

Reproduced From India Today. © 2010. LMIL. All rights reserved.

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