Cards on the table. I really do not like New Year. Christmas and Hanukkah are times of warmth and generosity to be spent with family and friends. Both festivals involve food and presents. What’s not to like? At Hogmanay, on the other hand, there is pressure to stay up late and drink (neither of which I do very well) and reflect with tearful sentimentality on the past year and anticipate with illogical fear the next.
It’s magnified tenfold when it’s the end of one decade and the start of the next.
Over the last few weeks, you will have been treated to lots of in-depth analyses of the last 10 years. I don’t have the skills to compete with these and, besides, navigating through the rear view mirror is a recipe for disaster. Like Ebenezer Scrooge in the recent and excellent BBC adaptation of Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”, I think that it’s much more important to look at what you can do to improve the future, rather than seek redemption for the past (All comparisons between me and Scrooge end there).
The 20th Century produced an amazing list of inventions that changed our lives – the car (both internal combustion engined and electric), the aeroplane, the rocket, the radio, the television, the personal computer, the mobile phone, the internet, antibiotics – the list goes on. Even artificial intelligence as an academic discipline was founded in 1956.
What has this century produced in the way of inventions? Can we really compare VAR, the Greggs Vegan Steak Bake and the internet fridge with the above list? And while there are others which are perhaps a bit more exciting, many literally were just concepts dreamt up in Hanna-Barbera’s The Jetsons cartoon series in the 1960s – flying cars, robotic help, holograms and smart watches – and brought to life now.
Truth be told, the last decade has not been an exciting one for genuinely new ideas that have pushed the frontiers. Sure, it produced lots of “nice to haves”, but many have just been derivative or improvements of others. We may have seen 11 generations of iPhone, but what is the next consumer durable that does not exist now and will have sold by the billion by 2030?
So, will the next decade be one of incremental change or radical realignment? As the proverb goes, necessity is the mother of invention. While perhaps the last 10 years have been disappointing in terms of brand spanking new ideas, what they have generated are some seismic ideological, geo-political, social, medical and environmental changes. Think about it. In 2010, the word “Brexit” had not even been coined. Diversity was seen as a bit of a box-ticking exercise, not a positive force that generated creativity and improvement. Global warming was something that scientists talked about, but not an issue that influenced our everyday lives. And while we thought that antibiotics provided near universal cures to infection, we discovered that antibiotic resistance was in fact one of the biggest threats to global health, food security, and development. Over that period, even veganism, which was seen as the province of a small number of eccentrics, became instead part of the mainstream.
If during the first part of this century we’ve been a bit self-satisfied and concentrated our energies on ephemera, over the next 10 years, we will need to generate new technology, pharmaceuticals, processes and products to deal with these changes. The next decade will not be about building a better mousetrap, but creating genuinely new inventions. While that is something which at first sight (not to mention second and third) may seem daunting, it’s really a genuine opportunity to start a renaissance driven by technology, where we can generate fresh thinking to address these challenges. It’s an area where we are well placed.