Some of the most interesting discussions come up when you are faced with a trade-off, especially when it is between two areas or ideas that have an almost equal value to you.
Currently I am spending about two weeks in Rome as part of an international conference called International Presidents Meeting (or IPM for short) that AIESEC organizes to connect all the presidents of the global organization and set the global strategic plan as well as host legislation to manage the governance of AIESEC.
In this global, strategic forum a lot of trade-offs come up. One of the ones that came up for discussion during a lunch-break was the trade-off – caused by these global meetings – between acting sustainably (one of AIESEC’s core values) and between connecting people face to face from different cultures in order to create understanding of the value of diversity and intercultural connections (another one of our values). We have for example a conference having more than 700 participants that brings together the management of local and international level of AIESEC from all over the world. The carbon footprint of such a conference is of course very high (from flights, etc.) – so, is it reasonable for us to host such a meeting? Could the same purpose be reached by other means – such as connecting with each other online and hosting virtual meetings?
Personally, right now, I don’t have an answer – but I think the process of asking these questions is valuable and that we should constantly reassess if the activities, meetings and products that we offer are really in line with our values and, if we identify a trade-off, perform a cost-benefit analysis as to what we can expect to achieve and what the cost to our other values are.
Humans are a sort of biological machine, we have energy as input and our output is movement, action, thought and all that. We are not a power source in and of ourselves, rather we have to get our energy from the outside world.
This means, that we don’t have an unlimited amount of energy to expend. In fact, in our lifetime, we only have a limited amount of energy in total to use. To me, the conclusion of this is that we need to choose to place our energy where it counts.
There are infinite and one ways to spend your energy at any given moment – an average Saturday evening you could choose to sleep, go to a party, have sex, read a book or any other activity you have the physical and mental capability to perform. Our choices are sometimes conscious and sometimes not. The big issue for most people however (including myself), is that most of our choices are of the preceding type. We simply live day by day without really reflecting about where we put the majority of our energy in.
This way of living doesn’t mean that we’re wasting our energy – not at all, I think it’s fully possible to live a great life and have a great impact on the world and the people around you even when we aren’t focusing exactly on what we’re doing. However, by realizing that our energy is limited we also realize that all these choices we make have an alternative cost, that is they have a cost in terms of the other opportunities or areas where we could have put our energy. What this means, every day is that we should try to evaluate where we get the most return on the energy we put in – trying to see and be realtistic and honest about what result we can expect for any of the different choices we can make, this can be a good reflection exercise or even something to think about in day to day life.
Let me take a trivial example, I was flying a month or so ago the airport we were going to closed due to adverse weather conditions right before we were about to land. After circling the airport for a while the pilot decided that we would have to land in another airport and wait until the first one opened. We landed and we sat in the plane waiting and waiting. After a couple of hours waiting people started to get frustrated. One guy decided that he was going to take his frustration out on the cabin crew, arguing with them that they should provide free food and snacks (even though this was a low budget airline…) during the wait. This guy could have decided to use this energy and time to connect with the person he was traveling with, or to brainstorm a new idea or challenge he was facing – or even to meet someone new. In this case, I understand the outcome he was hoping for, maybe a free sandwhich, was probably not the maximum return he could get.