8th April, 2018

The trickiest mix of all: leading a life of adventure — and routine

The two extremes of existence are routine and adventure. While the latter activity gets all the good PR, too much excitement tends to lead to chaos and an early grave. Many of the most important aspects of life are better carried out as part of a routine: sleep, study, exercise and saving, for example. They may not be thrilling, but they help make all the exhilarating stuff feasible.

Research shows that a good night’s sleep is best obtained by following a specific regimen. Similarly, you are much more likely to keep fit if you take daily exercise rather than indulge in erratic bursts of physical activity. When you want to learn a new subject, it’s better to adopt a habitual time and place to study; if you want to save, the best way to do it is to put aside money regularly and consistently.

However, many entrepreneurs cannot bear repetitive tasks. They seek novelty, which is part of the reason they start companies. Some experts believe many founders suffer from attention deficit disorder — they have a low boredom threshold and are constantly looking for new experiences. In a way, avoiding ennui is a big driver for everyone creating a business because it can give a founder new purpose and engagement.

Of course, routine can bring comfort. At least a degree of certainty and structure keeps anarchy at a distance. All administration depends upon routine and process — from software systems to bank lending to tax returns to billing clients. Thus every enterprise requires a great deal of routine. Order enables efficiency, and allows one to plan ahead.

On a personal level, small rituals bring pleasure. There can be merit in the familiar and reliable, from the first cup of coffee in the morning to the way you organise your kitchen or garden. The predictable may be dull but it can also be reassuring — from familiar songs to obvious punchlines.

After decades, though, the daily grind can feel like a treadmill. We become addicted to our habits, including entirely unnecessary and damaging ones. Breaking them can be difficult. The book The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg, offers useful tips on how to change harmful ones, based on scientific research rather than hearsay.

Over the years I have found keeping boredom at bay a challenge. I am thankful that my work allows me to experience different industries and types of organisations. Disruption is integral to growing companies, which threaten established businesses. I do not envy those who stick to the same profession, same commute, same workplace, same hobbies, in the same home town. Too many years in such a rut would drive me to distraction. I spent a month in Los Angeles to escape the grey monotony of February in London.

Yet in some respects I’m a hypocrite: I’ve written a weekly article on business in various newspapers for 19 years — a long time. I keep going because coming up with a new idea and then putting it into words fires up my creative juices. I hope I have the sense to give up before I get boring.

I cannot understand why anyone would go to the same holiday destination year after year. The whole point of travel is to expand horizons, yet lots of intelligent and well-off travellers visit their usual resorts time and again even though there are more convenient ways of getting to more places than ever before. I suppose they adopt a safety first approach when it comes to vacations: they know what they enjoy, and are afraid to experiment for fear of disappointment.

It is no coincidence that the description “venture capital” contains a key element of the word “adventure”. Of course, both need risk attached if they are to mean anything. When they go wrong there is a cost, which is part of the reason why I enjoy my job — no pain, no gain. The prospect of loss or advantage can set the pulse racing. Playing for high stakes makes work seem more visceral than when neither victory nor failure makes any difference.

To feel alive, some adventure is surely essential; probably rather more of it when you are young and footloose. Inevitably, people as they age have a tendency to settle down — dread phrase — and lose their appetite for bold opportunities. Many become too mindful of the dangers, more’s the pity.