In 1970 Edwin Starr said “War, huh. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing; listen to me”. However, there is one exception. History does show us that at times of war we do see a significant acceleration in technological advancement.
In the 2nd World War we saw the rapid development of radar technology, which in turn led to the development of the microwave oven when Percy L Spencer stood too close to the equipment and a chocolate bar in his pocket melted. Nuclear power evolved from the development of the atomic bomb. We saw the development of the jet engine and rocket technology. Codebreakers at Bletchley Park built the first modern computers. While many of these ideas had existed before the war, the urgent military need accelerated the development and adoption of these ideas and created a post war world very different to anything that had gone before.
At times of war priorities change, the risk of doing nothing is greater than the risk of trying something; caution is not an option. While this leads to a great many catastrophic failures it also leads to a lot of innovation.
Covid 19 places us is a similar situation. Doing what we have already done is not an option – we need to try new things. For example, we are seeing companies who have resisted homeworking for years introduce it for their whole workforce in just a few days. IT barriers that traditionally take months or years to overcome are disappearing overnight. Traditional change processes are being abandoned in favour of speed. This presents a lot of risks and no doubt we will make a lot of mistakes over the coming weeks. However, we will also get a lot of things right. As analysts we need to learn from both of these. It is more important than ever that we track and understand the changes we make. Where things fail, we need to understand why and what we could do differently. When we rush an idea through, we are bound to make a few mistakes. That doesn’t mean it is a bad idea. We will also introduce ideas with the potential not just to address our current issues tactically but to transform the way we work in the future.
Hopefully, in the not too distant future, the threat will have passed and our world will return to normal. But the normal of the future won’t be the same as the normal of the past, many things will have changed. We need to take the opportunity to learn now, to ensure that the changes we can influence are changes for the better.
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Author: Ian Robertson
Date: 25th March 2020