New World Same Humans #18

A new wave of creative destruction is sweeping through our economies. Plus, NASA want you to join a simulated mission to Mars.

Welcome to New World Same Humans, a weekly newsletter on trends, technology, and society by David Mattin.

Around the world, people are emerging out of lockdown. Our first job is still to look out for one another. But this week I got to thinking about the task that lies ahead.

It’s a chance to build something new. And the central fact of that task is that you – your ideas, energy, and action – are needed more than ever.

Plus, some virtual water cooler snippets for this week, including David Bowie’s advice on the creative journey.

Let’s go!

What will you build?

Writing amid the darkest days of WWII, the Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter developed an idea that transformed the way we think about social and economic change.

In 1942’s Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, Schumpeter borrowed from Marx to describe the restless, double-edged nature of the free market. Innovation, said Schumpeter, was the progenitor of the two painted faces of capitalism: destroyer of the old, creator of the new. It was innovation above all else that drove market economies through long cycles of evolution, as new technologies acted to vaporise once-iconic businesses – and even entire industries – and put new incumbents in their place.

It’s impossible to look at what’s happening now without remembering Schumpeter’s doctrine of creative destruction. You already know that we’re living through a generational economic shock; latest figures from the US Department of Labor show a rate of job loss unseen since the Great Depression, while across Europe an estimated 40 million are currently furloughed.

It’s a painful moment. And today the key focus is rightly on health, security, and the frontline workers keeping us safe. But as lockdowns start to ease around the world, a new horizon is becoming visible.

Yes, lockdown is highly economically destructive. But there is another side to all of this. Value destruction is opening space for the new. New ideas and businesses; new industries as yet unimagined. As difficult as this crisis is – and we should never forget the human cost of economic disruption – this is a moment that asks us to imagine what is, and what can be, next.

The idea that times of crisis accelerate waves of creative destruction is nothing new. Just look at the businesses born amid the 2008 financial crisis: Uber, WhatsApp, Pinterest and Airbnb, to name a few. As happened back then, new giants will emerge out of the ashes of this moment. Some of them will start life as niche propositions that many people struggle to understand. Back in 2009, it was widely believed that Airbnb would never reach far beyond gap year students and wannabe hippies on the backpacker trail in southeast Asia. ‘Invite a stranger to sleep on your sofa? Absurd!’ We know what happened next.

Now Airbnb, along with the rest of the hospitality industry, faces an uncertain future. Schumpeter’s gale of creative destruction is gusting hard. But amid that a million new experiments are taking root.

Look at the welter of innovation happening in online education and teacher training, some of it hacked together by teachers themselves, and some coming via edtech startups working in partnership with other brands.

Health tech is having a similar moment: Proximie is a new platform that allows one surgeon to remotely guide another through an operation using a mixture of video and AR, meaning self-isolating surgeons can now work from home.

Meanwhile, lockdown has forced a collective confrontation with our unsustainable and unethical consumption habits. Once this is all over, do we really want to go back to the way things were? A new generation of iconic businesses are about to be built as every industry faces a reckoning when it comes to environmental and social damage. Above all else, we desperately need more enlightened ways to live, and thrive, on this planet.

These are just a handful of examples. No one has a crystal ball when it comes to the new businesses or industries that will emerge out of this crisis. But New World Same Humans will be watching the coming wave of innovation, and asking what it means for all of us, every step of the way. As always, the businesses that make an impact will leverage a changing world to serve fundamental, unchanging human needs: convenience, value, status, positive impact, and many others.

So what does all this mean for you?

It bears repeating: right now, the priority for all of us is health, family, and the social fabric. And once the immediate crisis passes, we shouldn’t forget the pain wrought by this round of creative destruction. I know there will be people reading this who have had a painful few months. Not everyone has the privileges that enable a person to readjust, retrain or rebuild. We should support those who are economically displaced.

But for those of us with those privileges, this crisis is a call to step up. That means it can become a moment of personal growth, if you let it. Start by asking yourself: what does this coming wave of creative destruction mean for me, the people I work with, my organisation? What space – what new ways to serve people – is opening, into which I can pour my energy? What needs to be done?

Now, more than at any moment since Schumpeter was writing in the 1940s, we need bold ideas and determined action. They won’t arise from nowhere; it’s left to us – to you – to make it happen. This is a moment to imagine the new, and then build it. To serve others, and make the world incrementally better. First things must be first; we need to beat the virus. Then it’s time to get to work.

Robot drivers wanted

Four quick snippets for the virtual watercooler:

Regular readers know that NWSH is obsessed with human behaviour inside virtual worlds. This week, BBH’s Mara Dettmann posted this great Twitter thread on new forms of behaviour inside social simulation games, from concerts inside Fortnite to Minecraft as an education platform.

Thanks to pandemic-induced spike in demand, automated delivery service Postmates are hiring remote robot drivers like crazy. Their army of drivers work from home, and guide delivery robots through the streets of LA and San Francisco.

NASA are looking for volunteers to undergo a simulated mission to Mars. It will mean eight months locked inside a fake spacecraft.

Doing the rounds this week: the incomparable David Bowie gives his advice on the creative process. Be inspired.

A new day

That’s enough from me. This week remember: to begin is half the work. So, begin!

See you next week,


David Mattin sits on the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Consumption.