The Bento Method

A framework for big decisions

Earlier this week I put my nose in a book with a promising title: This Could Be Our Future, A Manifesto for a More Generous World.

The book examines the world we live in today and lays out a road map to a world we are capable of making. At it’s core lies the relation of generosity to our primary self-interest.

In this post I’d like to shine the light on a framework from the book that helps us to adjust our lenses, see self-interest from a different perspective and make better decisions in our own lives.

Enter the Bento World.

The wider impact of our decisions

When we look at the way we as individuals, organisations and society behave, it’s largely based on short-term cycles. We tend to follow our self-interest through the lens of what I want right now.

Yet, the author argues that our self-interest doesn’t stop with us right now. We don’t exist in a vacuum. There are our close people who are affected by our decisions, and whose decisions affect us. Our future self is affected by todays decisions and following generations as well. Think of children and grandchildren.

If we think about the course of our personal lives, anything consequential to us is also tied to others: The state of our life, our career, our businesses, or major relationships.

Every critical decision carries a wider impact than we might see today.

The Bento Canvas

In order to navigate decisions wisely, the author draws a simple canvas. It is based on seeing the full spectrum of our self-interests (our values, needs, and goals) and thinking beyond the present moment. 

Now Me is about what I as an individual want and need right now. It’s our default take on self-interest. The need to be safe and secure, to have a say in our lives, to pursue things we enjoy.

Future Me is the person we hope we're becoming — what all our decisions add up to. The person that took the right risks, made the right choices, and lived up to their values to the end.

Now Us are the people we care most about. Their self-interest is in our self-interest too. We rely on their support with our progress and mental health and they rely on us and on our decisions as well.

Future Us is about the circumstances we create for children and grandchildren. In Germany there was a recent court decision where the judges ruled that the governments poor climate goals threatened young people’s “fundamental rights to a human future”. Future us is not only about sustainability but also about opportunities and knowledge, the world we leave behind for future generations.

The Bento Canvas expands our view of self-interest. In this expanded view, what I want right now is still there, in “Now Me”. But so are other rational perspectives. There’s our future self to think about. The people we care about. And the future that other generations will inherit.

When to use the Canvas

Not all decisions matter. Most decisions, like where to grab a sandwich, don’t matter that much. I really like sandwiches though, especially those crispy ones. But admittedly the consequences of these decisions aren’t that important on the arc of life.

Yet some decisions are critical — they change our lives. Whether it’s who to trust, where to live, or whom to share a life with, these decisions reverberate for years.

The author suggests that the framework is specially useful for “Should I” questions. Moments when the path forward needs a closer look.

Should I ask for a raise, should I reach out, should I quit my job? Here you can find an example for “Should I quit smoking?”.

While the canvas won’t give you a clear-cut answer to your question every time, the matrix provides a more nuanced picture and better reflects the complexities of our life. 

There are many mental models for decision making and they can be so insightful. Shane Perish found those clear words that inspired me: Few things will change your trajectory in life and business as much as learning to make effective decisions.

What I find particularly powerful about the Bento Method is that it shows how our daily lives and the bigger picture intersect. How our daily actions add up to larger achievements and how we impact the people in our lives.

Greetings from Utrecht,