Will these 20’s roar?

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A time for change and innovation

A century ago, the world had only just emerged from the greatest conflict it had ever known, World War One.  With 20 million dead it’s hard for us to get our heads around the scale of that trauma (although the war memorials in even tiny villages are a constant reminder).  Having lived through that though, the world was then hit by a devastating pandemic – Spanish Flu – estimated to have seen off a further 20 to 50 million.  Staggering really.

What is perhaps even more amazing though is what happened next.  You’d think that people would generally be pretty reluctant to cross their front doors after all that but instead the world raced forward into the ‘Roaring Twenties’, a period of almost unparalleled economic, cultural and social optimism, adventure and prosperity.  Much of that was focussed of course on the United States where the economy grew by a whopping 42%.

So, what drove all of that growth? – it didn’t just happen by people doing more of the same old stuff.  Instead, there was a thirst for change and innovation. A whole collection of new technologies appeared in a short period of time.  Automobiles weren’t new but coupled with Henry Ford’s concept of mass production, owning a car became a possibility for a much wider market.  All those cars then needed roads to run on, so construction boomed too.  Aviation took off (sorry).  Electricity happened – probably not quite as straight forwardly as that I admit, but if you take that innovation alone, add mass production, throw in some new consumer goods (like the hoover), add a distribution network (roads and air, as well as rail) you have the makings of a pretty, mighty economic boom.  And did I mention indoor plumbing?  Oh, and cheeseburgers. They both kicked off in the 1920’s too.  A decade that really shaped the world we live in today.

What will be our change?

It may be too early to call the end of this pandemic, possibly far too early, but the big question for us now is how fast and how significantly we recover from it economically.  Are there parallels and lessons to be learned from this period a century ago – can we expect the 2020’s to be another decade of roaring economic progress?

Perhaps the biggest lesson is that we won’t have a roaring recovery if we simply return to all the old ways of doing things.  There are plenty of things that look set to change and as before technology will be the driver, whether that’s in electric, self- driving cars, AI or robotics.   The pandemic and other factors like climate change will be the catalyst, accelerating the adoption of these new technologies.   And marketers, always the early adopters, will be in the vanguard; just one small example, as lockdowns ease and cities fill up expect to see much more targeted, interactive digital out-of-home advertising …

In our daily lives we will continue to seek out new, innovative approaches and solutions – those may be technology-based (where would we have been these last 18 months without Slack, Zoom, Teams?) or may be a new process or way of working (again, how would we have survived this pandemic without flexible working?).   Change is inevitable so we should create the change we want.

Henry Ford famously said, “History is bunk”.  (Actually, it seems he said, “history is more or less bunk.”)  He then went on: “It is tradition. We don’t want tradition.  We want to live in the present and the only history that is worth a tinker’s damn is the history we make today.”  He may have been wrong about only making black cars, but he was right about the need to look forwards and make change happen.