Looking back over the first quarter of the 21st century, one gets an uncanny feeling. The past 20-odd years have been a patchwork of unexpected crises and often extreme threats, including the economic shock of the Lehman Brothers collapse, the financial destabilization of democratic capitalism, the pandemic, and the energy crisis in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Did we survive, collectively or individually? One way or another, yes. Will such events happen again? Most probably yes. Did these events change our world? More or less, yes. Did they change our world for the better? Well, this is the point when public dialogue about turning points and breakthroughs starts heating up.
It is within human nature to identify some kind of beneficial ground in every predicament; to find a positive grip for the next step ahead. The Victorian “despair not; strive for better things” motto is the first step to a collective adrenaline flow, to probe opportunities, to create new structures and implement innovative procedures. In most cases, there is a roadmap of human reactions linked to a turning point situation.
Let us move this exercise from the greater social context into the territory of market affairs. In all the crises mentioned above, all the involved stakeholders in a given business environment started by shedding light on the issue so that they could define priorities and available reactions. In several cases (e.g. the pandemic), coordinators needed to exercise visionary skills, assess extreme scenarios, and plan accordingly. During the lockdown period, brands had to break ground. They had not only to maintain business continuity and efficiency but also to adapt to rapid changes regarding consumer preferences. Most brands stood up to the challenge of linking their essence, image and communication patterns—if not ethics—to a situation of lifestyle in depression. The business shifts we made at the time are today unfolding ample potential for greater productivity. Obviously, we owe this to the unprecedented digital transformation on a personal and societal level. Moreover, during the financial crises and the pandemic, people and organizations trained themselves first to unlearn old habits and then to learn the new tricks of the trade. Many entrepreneurs took advantage of the implosion of everyday life and turned it into a creative explosion of (even daring) innovation and hence potential for growth.
Are all breakthroughs clear paths of glorified evolution, prosperity, freedom, and welfare for all? Are all breakthroughs democratic at heart and in practice? More often than not, today, innovation is linked to digital applications of all sorts, covering almost every single aspect of daily activities, both personal and business.
Unfortunately, the social divide between those who have and those who have not is growing wider, and not only in terms of wealth. Financial stress hits societies across borders, but we now have one more layer of disadvantage. The spotlight now is on those who are less, or not at all, wired. Digital equality—or to put it in reverse thinking: the rights of the digitally poor—is here to stay.
Breakthroughs will probably be the new normal in our lives as we look ahead toward the unexpected. Let us make sure that no one is left behind.