Lady Gaga helped organize the “One World: Together At Home” global broadcast and digital special. … [+]
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Now is not the time to focus on entrepreneurial innovation. During a global pandemic, now is the time to focus on scientific policy, government leadership, effective communication, and good citizenship. Hucksters trying to price-gouge during a crisis have been rightly banned and shunned. Denialists who encourage people to go about their lives as though nothing has changed have been marginalized. This crisis is a massive global effort. It will take all the energy we and our leaders can muster to get through it. No one will be untouched. Nothing will be unscathed.
Like a devastating forest fire threatening to burn down many houses, we need to do all we can do to remove fuel from the oncoming flames. And when the flames pass, maybe in weeks, maybe in months, we need to work to clean up and put policies in place that will make sure nothing on this scale ever happens again.
When the crisis passes, as crises always do, it will be those with an entrepreneurial mindset who will help rebuild society in a better light. The human spirit is irrepressible. Every crisis presents an opportunity for innovation.
Already, green shoots and leaves are beginning to appear. In Seattle, the first clinical trial for a vaccine began only 60 days after the virus was identified in China. Amazon is hiring 100,000 new workers. Restaurants are moving quickly to add delivery options. Rules are being eased to spur innovation for testing.
With my kids at home from their jobs and college, I have had the chance to go over my experience since being their age, to remind them that crises always seem permanent when you’re in them, but they pass and create opportunities. Here’s a quick list of crises I’ve experienced since I graduated from college in 1982, and a notable innovation or two that resulted from the disruption. At the time, each crisis seemed like the end of the world, but you could make a powerful argument that we ended up stronger every time.
The Reagan Recession (1982)—I graduated from college with an English degree amid 10.8% unemployment and 18% inflation. With no jobs on the horizon, a friend and I started a publishing company and wrote a book that became a bestseller and set me on a life of entrepreneurialism. The Reagan administration met the crisis with significant government borrowing which led to “trickle-down” economics the “go-go 80s” the era of Yuppies and “Greed is good.”
Black Monday, 19th October 1987. (Photo by Georges De Keerle/Getty Images)
Black Monday (1987)—The stock market faced its largest single-day drop ever. I was working at CNN at the time. Our viewership spiked, becoming one of the events that turned CNN from being derided as The Chicken Noodle Network with a questionable future to a must-have staple of every cable system.
George H.W. Bush Recession (1991)—George H.W. Bush oversaw a triumphant military operation, but took his eye off the economic ball and “it’s the economy, stupid” won the day and the Presidency for Bill Clinton. The era of neoliberalism began, with the adoption of NAFTA, the reduction of welfare, and the increase in immigration. Cheap labor making American-designed and sold goods became the order of the day and led to the longest economic expansion in American history up to that time.
The Dotcom Bust (2000)—After Clinton’s expansion, easy money and lax financial rules helped launch a virtual gold rush that led to the dotcom boom and eventual bust. Lots of companies we know today, like Google and Yahoo, were part of the boom, but lots more, like Excite.com, Webvan, and Enron were part of the bust.
September 11th (2001)—The aftermath of the worst attack ever on American soil led to a huge increase in military spending and a government bailout of the airline industry. The TSA and other elements of the American surveillance society were launched as a result of the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. Government intrusion that was unthinkable before became an everyday occurrence and America’s longest war ever, in Afghanistan, began. Despite these downsides, Al Quaeda was vanquished and foreign-planned terrorism diminished as a threat.
The Great Recession (2008-9)—After Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan presciently warned of “irrational exuberance” during another period of overheating that came about from relaxed financial rules, the housing market crashed and the economy along with it. Lots of familiar brands like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter weathered this era and went on to grow in what turned out to be an economic expansion that lasted even longer than the Clinton era.
Each crash and recovery had its own set of unique circumstances. This pandemic is global and is so far-reaching that literally the ability to work together has been compromised for the time being. But history proves that innovation, herd-wide behavioral changes, and new scientific methods can conquer challenges. There will be much suffering along the way, but there’s a long body of human progress that shows that success in this effort is inevitable.
Who will the winners be? Certainly, the value of good science and early detection is more important than ever. Maybe our society will be less encouraging of our best minds heading to Wall Street for short term gains that will prove ephemeral in a crisis. The value of teaching, caregiving, and scientific innovation has shown itself to be invaluable and enduring.
Each crisis creates its winners and sweeps away its marginal enterprises. The 2020 coronavirus crisis will be no different. Boastfulness, bluster, and denialism seem pointless in the face of this persistent silent foe. Acceptance of harsh reality and determination in the face of the challenge is more important than ever. We will get through this, as we always do. Make no mistake. Things will be different. But there will be a new generation of entrepreneurs to take on the changes with hope and optimism.