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Caring as a Strategy

I recently went to a shop near my house to buy a pen. The shopkeeper seemed unusually gloomy. I tried to start a conversation, but I could sense he was not interested. This has been my consistent experience for quite some time. People seem disinterested in their tasks. When I go to the bank, my banker appears unhappy. At the hospital, the doctor's attendant and the doctor themselves seem unhappy or distracted. The customer care agent is too busy to provide service. The manager doesn’t enjoy managing. The private job holder doesn’t appreciate working for a private organization. The public servant doesn’t consider himself a servant to the people he is supposed to serve. From the CEO to the customer care agent, from high officials to down the rank, everybody is counting the hours when their shift will end. It seems everybody hates their job. There is a malaise of discontent eating into our society, a pandemic of apathy and disinterest.

Care has become an increasingly rare commodity. When an absence of care becomes your dominant experience, it creates a depressing world. Since energy permeates, encountering a constant lack of care can be contagious, promoting widespread carelessness. Apathy becomes the norm. Everything loses its charm. 

Living in such a world without care for life and work is depressing and counterproductive. It not only reduces our happiness but also equally affects our quality of work. Our performance suffers and our ability to live fully is compromised. We don’t engage with the world or engage in a half-hearted manner. 

The opposite of apathy and not caring is caring deeply. Living an engaged life. Taking a deep interest in everything living and paying more attention than necessary. It is a life of active engagement. Caring is what Jack Kerouac talked about when he wrote: Yes, but what do you want out of life? You see, the people for me are the mad ones, mad to live, mad to save, who burn burn burn like fabulous Roman candles streaking across the sky…”

And in a world that often feels overwhelmed by apathy and disillusionment, the simple act of caring can be a powerful strategy. It can become an enduring competitive advantage. If you are the one who cares the most in every instance, you win. 

When we approach our lives and interactions with genuine care and interest, we open ourselves up to a world of possibilities – a world where fulfillment, connection, and purpose become tangible realities.

At its core, caring is a mindset, a conscious decision to engage fully with the people, tasks, and experiences that fill our days. It is a rejection of the allure of disinterest and detachment, a choice to embrace the richness of life with open arms. When we care, we invest a part of ourselves in the present moment, allowing us to find depth and meaning in even the most mundane of activities.

Care can make a world of difference in our interactions with our work and other people. At the end of a tiring day, when you meet someone who cares, it is a different experience. After a frustrating experience with a service, when you call a customer care number and meet someone who cares about their job on the other end of the line, your world changes. When you come across a product that was created by someone who took his job to the heart, it reaches your heart. When you meet a founder or an artist who cares about their work, you immediately feel it. When we meet people who truly care about their work, they make the world come alive. 

In pure business terms, lack of care is a devastating inefficiency in our world today. It is the ultimate inefficiency. It degrades everything it touches. In that context, having a caring mindset is an immediate differentiator. It puts whoever cares into a different league. Care attracts. 

A Caring Mindset As A Strategy 

In his immensely fascinating short book On Caring, Milton Mayeroff writes: 

“In the context of a man's life, caring has a way of ordering his other values and activities around it. When this ordering is comprehensive, because of the inclusiveness of his carings, there is a basic stability in his life; he is "in place" in the world, instead of being out of place, or merely drifting or endlessly seeking his place. Through caring for certain others, by serving them through caring, a man lives the meaning of his own life. In the sense in which a man can ever be said to be at home in the world, he is at home not through dominating, or explaining,* or appreciating, but through caring and being cared for.”

The upsides of living a life of intense caring are manifold. For one, it gives a sense of engagement and purpose, countering the boredom and dissatisfaction that so often plague our modern lives. As Mayeroff pointed out above, it offers a sense of stability. You know your reason for being. You are not longing for some unseen or unknown platonic career or love and waffling through life’s choices and you are no longer drifting and looking hesitant. You know where you are and what you want and it adds certainty to our being. One of the things that attract us to the people who care is their sense of direction and certainty. They know what they are doing because they care about what they are doing. 

When we care about what we're doing, it expands. We inject our endeavors with energy and enthusiasm, transforming even the most tedious tasks into opportunities for growth and expansion. When we put care into our work, it reaches to the person on the receiving end. They can feel the care you have put into your work. Care elevates our work to a different realm. 

With people, caring cultivates a deeper sense of connection – both with ourselves and with those around us. When we approach our relationships with genuine care and interest, we create an environment of mutual understanding and respect. We become more attuned to the needs and perspectives of others, supporting stronger bonds and meaningful interactions.

In almost every situation of our life, a caring mindset can be a powerful strategy. When we genuinely care about our work and the people we work with, we tend to be more productive, engaged, and invested in the success of our organization. 

When we care, we no longer treat a task as a mere task. It becomes something more than a task. We approach every challenge with a sense of ownership and responsibility, viewing obstacles not as burdens but as opportunities for growth. 

Organizations that have a culture of high care are more willing to serve their stakeholders better and deliver more than what is expected. When you care about something more than everyone else, it can become a formidable strategic advantage for you. Great organizations care about the problem they are solving to a fault. Stripe CEO Patrick Collison talks about this in his interview with Dwarkesh Patel: 

“Yes, I do think that one can have organizational and cultural moats. Maybe this contradicts what I was just saying, or it's consistent with it in the sense that it's a kind of cultural explanation. In as much as we have a moat, it's because we have a very good understanding of our domain. We have a set of people who actually care about solving the problems, who are continually paranoid at the prospect that we might be forgetting something important. So we are trying to figure out what the important thing that could supplant Stripe's approaches is, and make sure that we build that first. [....] And to your question: "In as much as Stripe has a moat, what is it?" Others can judge to what degree it's actually manifested and rooted in practice. I think it is, but I'm a biased observer. I think it would be that people at Stripe really care about solving the problems that we say we are trying to solve.”

In most domains, doing great work takes a great amount of effort and unless you truly care about your work, you will not put in that insane amount of effort. Caring is not only necessary for doing good work, without an intense caring mindset you wouldn’t be able to go far in the most important domains. 

In contrast, when we approach our work with disinterest or apathy, we risk creating dissonance and subpar performance. We send a subtle message that we are not serious and sincere about our work. We indicate that our customers or stakeholders are not important or worthy of our attention. Over time, this can erode the foundations of even the strongest organization. 

Moreover, a lack of care not only creates a disconnect with the outside world but also creates a disconnect with our inner world. When we are disinterested, our work suffers, our enjoyment suffers. An organization where people are disinterested and people don’t care about their work will have a dead culture and that organization won’t last long.  

Cultivating a Caring Mindset

While the benefits of caring are clear, cultivating this mindset can be a challenge in our distraction-filled world. Caring is about intention and paying attention. It requires a conscious effort to slow down, to be present, and to engage fully with the people and experiences around us.

One effective strategy is training ourselves to stay focused on the here and now. This can involve simple exercises like taking deep breaths, savoring the moment, and consciously redirecting our attention to what matters. 

Another powerful tool is to cultivate a sense of gratitude and appreciation for the work, people, and opportunities in our lives. 

When we approach our experiences with a sense of thankfulness, we are more likely to engage with them fully, recognizing their inherent value. 

Another effective tool is to find something you can devote yourself to. Finding something that is larger than you. That excites you. That makes you come alive. As Mayeroff writes in On Caring: 

“Devotion is essential to caring, just as it is an integral part of friendship. I commit myself to the other and to a largely unforeseeable future. Devotion is not an element that may or may not be present, as if I might be said to care and also to be devoted. When devotion breaks down, caring breaks down. Again, devotion does not simply measure the extent of my caring, but it is through devotion that caring for this other acquires substance and its own particular character; caring develops in the process of overcoming obstacles and difficulties.”

We can only truly care for something when we deem that something is worthy of our sincere care. 

Ultimately, caring is a choice, a decision to invest ourselves fully in the present moment, to approach our work and lives with genuine interest and engagement. It means we view our life and work as a sacred gift. We don’t view our work and responsibilities as a burden to complain about. It is a mindset that requires effort and commitment, but one that can put our lives on a more meaningful plain. 

As I mentioned at the onset of this essay, we live in a world today that often feels disinterested. There is a growing discontent everywhere. We no longer view life and its contents from a perspective of gift. We increasingly view our work and trials of living as something imposed on us. Everyone is kind of living in quiet desperation. 

This not only distorts our reality but is also a dangerous disadvantage if you want to build something worthwhile. We can’t build something worthwhile when we live in quiet desperation when we can’t care less. 

Contrary to that, caring can be a powerful antidote, a strategy for creating meaning and doing work that will last. When we choose to care, we open ourselves up to a world of possibilities, where every interaction, and every task holds the potential for growth. Our labor produces beauty and touches hearts. 

Mohammad Ruhul Kader is a Dhaka-based entrepreneur and writer. He founded Future Startup, a digital publication covering the startup and technology scene in Dhaka with an ambition to transform Bangladesh through entrepreneurship and innovation. He writes about internet business, strategy, technology, and society. He is the author of Rethinking Failure. His writings have been published in almost all major national dailies in Bangladesh including DT, FE, etc. Prior to FS, he worked for a local conglomerate where he helped start a social enterprise. Ruhul is a 2022 winner of Emergent Ventures, a fellowship and grant program from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. He can be reached at ruhul@futurestartup.com

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