NPJ Book Review: The Optimist’s Telescope, Thinking Ahead in a Reckless Age by Bina Venkataraman

The Optimist’s Telescope, Thinking Ahead in a Reckless Age by Bina Venkataraman (2019)

My thoughts: The author approaches her common-sense work by inquiring how we measure what really matters in the future?

A recurring theme in the thought process is the failure of imagination and shortsightedness. Why do we fail in assessing the future implications of today’s actions? A portion of the answer is in the tools and strategies we apply. The author offers her perspective, and in part that strategy is understanding the downstream effects of decisions today, knowing life and work is non-linear and our physical resources are limited, but not our mental resources.

I am reminded of the line in the film Stranger than Fiction, “little did he know.” That is, seminars, workshops, courses and conferences are devised and created around the idea of planning ahead knowing that it’s a never-ending process that needs constant care and feeding.

The author writes, “The future is an idea we have to conjure in our minds, not something that we perceive with our senses. What we want today, by contrast, we can often feel in our guts as a craving.” We must be wary of short- sightedness. What makes sense in the short run can have a negative effect in the long run. The idea of instant gratification can be rather harmful. Living longer than expected with less money at one’s disposal is a small but meaningful example. Personal decisions can have global implications. And in the world of science the global approach is the most savvy as we only have one planet to work with – from space there are no nations, just a rock filled mostly with water and with life on it.

“What can we do today that will benefit tomorrow?” In order to translate that question into a form of action one needs to keep alive one’s memory to prepare for the future. The most positive way to appreciate our challenges in planning is to fully understand that we are most successful when resources are shared.  Strategic and positive use of our resources will in part lead to a more optimistic future. The climate crisis based on scientific data is one example she uses as our communities and nations plan ahead to avert further environmental disasters. Each individual can do things in their life to make a difference.

The author, as others have written, is a good storyteller. She offers insightful examples of the strategies one might apply to our work, organization and our private life. Remaining optimistic means staying focused and acting on our living memory. It’s easy to get side-tracked. The optimistic imagination in planning is essential. There’s more to it than that but the author knowingly gives the reader some food for thought in how to begin to change in reckless age that’s filled with disinformation and misinformation.

Facts can be messy and complicated but absolutely necessary in a positive future. The author’s approach is scientific, humane and optimistic with some imagination.