At the beginning of 2020 Covid-19 crept into our lives and we totally underestimated how much it would impact our everyday lives and the repercussions it would have on our world economy. The negative consequences of this crisis will most likely affect us for the foreseeable future but we can use this time of crisis as an opportunity for creativity and innovation.
If we were to look simply at the positive effect of the crisis we would already see that there has been an abundance of innovation emerging globally, innovators are already rapidly adjusting and finding solutions. In Italy a small engineering company rapidly began to use 3D printers to create parts for ventilators. Beermakers and distilleries around the world have changed their production from distilling to hand sanitizers. Shoemakers in Portugal have changed from producing garden clogs to medical sliders. In the UK Dyson began to develop a device in response to the British government calling on firms to support the national effort in the production of ventilators. Companies all over the world have had to adapt to minimise impact on their businesses.
Personally, one of the main positives that has come out of the pandemic has been the changes to the way we work. Apart from being swamped by zoom calls, I for one hope adapting to remote working will be a change that is continued into the future. It is evident that companies have now realised staff can be as productive working from home as in the office, also the ability to exercise regularly and not having to commute has had a positive impact on mental health. Businesses have had to adapt to give their employees more control and to trust them to manage their own schedules. I believe organisations should continue to embrace this change and continue to experiment with new ways of working when this crisis is over.
Historically speaking, humans have always had to react and innovate during more challenging times. Darwin explained in his theory of evolution that it is not always the strongest species that survives; but also the most willing to adapt.
We can credit the Black Death pandemic for giving us one of the world’s most important physical laws, the law of gravity. In 1655, Cambridge University was shut down due to the plague and Sir Isaac Newton had to return home to his manor. While Newton was at home in ‘lockdown’ he saw the apple fall from the tree which ultimately led to the discovery and understanding of gravity which is now one of the key laws of physics.
During the late 19th Century, basketball was invented to keep athletes moving inside during a particularly cold winter. Even the first basketball was developed during the recession of 1894. Basketball has now become a multi-million enterprise and an intrinsic part of American Culture, originating as a means to protect athletes from injury.
Through my research on this topic and looking at other economist work, there is evidence that during the long depression of the 1870s and during the great depression of the 1930s there were vast amounts of innovative activity. Historians have documented that the important innovations such as the incandescent light, the steam turbine and the transformer were invented during the Long Depression. The Economic Historian Alexander Field believes the 1930s to be the ‘most technologically progressive’ decade of the 20th Century.
Consistently throughout the Covid-19 pandemic the UK lockdown attitude has been compared to the British Second World War blitz mentality, I think especially as it has fallen on the 75th anniversary of V.E day. Although the Second World War was on a vast scale far more destructive to every aspect of our human existence, there were some incredible innovations that arose from that time.
One of the biggest technological advances during the Second World War was the creation of an early computer. The first version of the machine was Alan Tuning’s Colossus, designed for the British Military in 1943. The machine was the key to breaking the enigma code used by Germany towards the later years of the War.
Following this, from 1943-1945 two scientists, Eckery and Mauchly, based at the University of Pennsylvania created the first general purpose programmable electronic computer; the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer). The computer is now something we fundamentally rely on and the majority of people across the globe use in both their personal and work lives.
Although Penicillin was discovered in 1928 by Alexander Fleming, it wasn’t until 1939 that a team of medical researchers finally realised its potential as an antibiotic. Before 1943 mass production of penicillin antibiotics had not even commenced, the US war production board then came up with a plan for the distribution of the antibiotic to the allied troops in Europe.
This had a huge impact on the difference in number of deaths and amputations among allied forces, saving approximately
12%-15% of lives.
It is evident that throughout history we have proven an impressive ability to adapt and create during a time of crisis. When we look back on the current pandemic, there is no doubt that we will have new innovations in health and medical devices and hopefully an improved healthcare system. We have also already proven a more willingness to collaborate and to rapidly modify our work force and the way in which we work.
Right now I feel it is a time while we are all locked down to distract ourselves by engaging in real creativity – we can use this time for our own potential. Like Newton, we too have more time to think, reflect and better ourselves, therefore we should seize this opportunity with both hands. I hope we will remember that this time has been a moment for growth and adaptation.