Here’s a question for you: what links Virgin, Microsoft, Burger King, Disney and IBM? Sadly, they’re not all companies I own shares in, otherwise I’d have retired to the beach by now. The answer is that they’re all businesses started during recessions — showing it truly is possible to turn a crisis into an opportunity.
That’s a classic entrepreneur mindset — but to be fair, great politicians think like that too. Just look at Robert Kennedy’s famous speech to students in apartheid-era South Africa: “Like it or not we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they’re also more open to creative energy than any other time in history.”
Whichever way you look at it, we’re certainly living through an interesting period today. And I don’t just mean Jeremy Corbyn’s unlikely emergence as a hero of the grime music scene.
This is one of those moments when the world is in flux, and traditional assumptions are being turned on their head — creating uncertainty, but also opportunities.
Take the way technology is destroying old jobs, and creating new ones. If you’re an accountant, administrator or paralegal, the sad news is that Oxford University researchers think there’s more than an 80 per cent chance that jobs like yours will be replaced by software. In total, according to the Bank of England, 15 million jobs in the UK will be lost to technology in the coming years.
If that’s not scary enough, think about globalisation, which has already contributed to the decline of manufacturing in the UK — and will continue to have an impact as economies like China and India become ever more advanced.
No wonder Pulitzer Prize-winning author Thomas L Friedman calls this the “Age of Accelerations”, because technology change and globalisation are not only happening right now, but the pace of change is actually speeding up.
Incredibly, we’re almost at the end of the election campaign, and it’s as if none of this is happening. There’s been no discussion of these structural changes reshaping the world — and no vision about how Britain might flourish in this new age, with everyone given the best chance to benefit from these shifts, rather than lose out.
That’s a shame, because amid all the turbulence, there are also vast possibilities. New technologies may cause disruption, but can also be harnessed to transform our health system, generate economic growth and improve lives. It’s the same with global competition — we can either see it as a threat, or rise to the challenge.
There are so many ways we might make the most of this potential. To take just one, we could be fixing our outdated system of adult training, in which workers whose jobs are replaced by software and machines are expected to borrow money and go into debt to learn new skills. In Scandinavia, the state not only pays for your training, but pays you a decent salary while you’re learning. That’s what a welfare system in the digital age should look like.
Watching the main political parties stumble through this campaign, I’m reminded of what Clayton Williams said when asked why he’d made such a mess of his attempt to be elected governor of Texas. “I shot myself in the foot,” he admitted. “Then I reloaded and really blew the sucker off.”
Our political leaders will be guilty of doing the same if Britain misses out on the many opportunities ahead, and we find ourselves in a crisis instead. Let’s hope that won’t happen — or else the next few years are going to be even more painful than this election campaign has been.
Choose Love to show our true spirit
It’s always an exciting moment at my company Second Home when a new team moves into our space just off Brick Lane, and this week was no exception. The newcomers are Help Refugees — a charity started by Dani Lawrence, Lliana Bird, Josie Naughton and other socially minded Londoners.
It all began when Dani and co launched a Twitter campaign to raise £1,000 to buy supplies for refugees, and things snowballed from there.
With help from high-profile supporters like the musician Paloma Faith, Help Refugees quickly became the top provider of assistance to camps in Calais and Dunkirk.
Today it’s funding projects across Europe and gets support to refugees more quickly and cheaply than big aid agencies.
Suitably enough, the charity’s motto is “Choose Love”. In the aftermath of the tragic events in London Bridge, I can’t think of two words that better sum up the spirit of our city.