The corona crisis is hitting lots of people very hard and the ensuing economic problems will be lasting, according to many. Others go even further and claim that the 1930s are on their way back again.

I am convinced that this is a misconception. Misguided thinking is part of what is causing this projected misery. We tend to live in the moment and no longer see the broader connections because we are bombarded with news that only deals with current affairs. As a result, the highs and lows seem larger than they really are. On top of that, the comfortable confirmation bias is contributing to groupthink and tunnel vision.

Nietzsche once said: there are no facts, only interpretations. Unfortunately, scientific knowledge does not always manage to sidestep that interpretation either. According to the American physicist and philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn, scientists do not perceive reality in an unbiased way. Scientists’ outlook on reality stems from a framework full of preconceptions. Facts can only be established within a paradigm. The paradigm itself does not have the status of a fact, but rather that of a world view.

Five to twelve

I’m constantly astounded that so many speakers claim it’s five minutes to midnight. In other words, if we don’t act now, we’re all going to perish. With the notion of five to twelve, I’ve always wondered what time it was during the Cuba crisis in 1962 when the world was on the brink of nuclear war. Two to twelve perhaps? Fortunately, the doom and gloom mentality is ultimately positive, because it forces us to come up with creative solutions. Problems are only problems if they are experienced as problems.

Predicting the future

Some futurists are able to describe in detail what will happen in e.g. 2028, 2030, and 2035. These often concern technologies that are in the R&D phase at the moment and their future is still highly uncertain. But being able to predict the future is very difficult. The Chinese philosopher Lao-Tse said 2700 years ago: Those who have knowledge, don’t predict. Those who predict, don’t have knowledge.

History therefore also reveals a long list of inaccurate predictions. Oil will run out by 1985 (from 1973). We must switch to alcohol because soon there will be a shortage of oil (from 1907). In twenty years’ time, we will all be driving on the highway in autonomous cars (from 1955). Leading analysts predicted in 1973 was that the (Wankel-) rotary engine would reach a market share of 20-60 % by1980. It turned out to be a factor between 100 and 300 lower. The energy supplier NUON indicated in 2007 (in the Dutch Volkskrant newspaper, 25 July) that within five years high-efficiency gas boilers would be replaced by boilers using a fuel cell. The mistake oft made in predicting the future is that the future does not happen to us, but that we make it ourselves. For example, see Tesla’s own success story.

How do we go about it then?

It is undeniable that new technologies have a major impact on us and society. 5G and (soon) 6G, 3D and 4D printing, nanotechnology, data science, photonics, artificial intelligence, electrification of transportation, the blockchain, internet of things, and virtual reality are a few examples. In terms of mobility, these technologies interact with various societal challenges, such as the pursuit of zero traffic fatalities, zero emissions, and zero congestion. As well as the provision of affordable energy free of any geopolitical risks. These societal challenges are bound to remain over the coming decades and are worth investing in. On a corporate level, these societal challenges should be reflected in their mission and vision. The direct consequence of this is that these enterprises can attract the very best people – because sustainability is commonly equated with innovation. And virtually everyone wants to work for an innovative company.

The focus on sustainability will be around for some time to come. At least until the social challenges outlined above have been resolved. History teaches us that practically all problems are ultimately tackled by technological progress. Take note of where investments are being made, because often it is not the best technology that is successful, but the technology that attracts the most investment.

Money in abundance

Traditional economists regard the soaring demand for oil or other raw materials as the determining factor for rising prices. The ‘Austrian School’, a movement within economic science, has a completely different view on trends in the price of raw materials. Conversely, it sees the increase in the flow in the amount of capital due to the expansion of credit, as the crucial factor determining rising prices. For the proponents of the ‘Austrian School’, one thing is certain: the more monetary units in circulation, the lower their intrinsic value. This expansion of credit availability is also reflected in the enormous amounts invested in new technologies and companies. Short-term profits are not at all relevant here. Good ideas are worth a lot of money. Even in crisis situations.

7 tips on how to come out of the corona crisis stronger

  • Remember that the “truth” is different for everyone.
  • Avoid groupthink and tunnel vision.
  • Remember that spontaneous good ideas can be worth a lot of money.
  • Look at the bigger picture instead of living too much in the moment.
  • Wherever possible, join the megatrends that have a profound impact on a micro-level.
  • Remember that the future doesn’t just happen to us, because we still have to make it happen ourselves.
  • Every problem holds an opportunity. These can easily be exploited by asking yourself what advantages there are to a problem. After a little practice, this becomes automatic.

Never waste a good crisis!

Over deze column

In a weekly column, alternately written by Hans Helsloot, Eveline van Zeeland, Jan Wouters, Katleen Gabriels, Mary Fiers, Peter de Kock, Tessie Hartjes and Auke Hoekstra, Innovation Origins tries to find out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally supplemented with guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions for the problems of our time. So tomorrow will be good. Here are all the previous IO articles in this series.

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About the author

Author profile picture Jan Wouters is an independent entrepeneur, at Wautomotive.nl. In the year that the car celebrates its 250th anniversary, he writes for Innovation Origins about the history of innovation.