Peculiar times indeed
The title of this blog is part homage to Francis Wheen's book Strange Days Indeed: The Golden Age of Paranoia (Fourth Estate, 2010) in which he provides an analysis of the 1970s a decade that many compare to the current one.
As we know, there are many events occurring that may potentially impact upon our future and cause economic and social problems. In particular, Sunday's general election in Greece will continue to cause economic problems.
Indeed, Robert Zoellick the outgoing head of the World Bank, will warn the G20 summit in Mexico of his concerns about the potential for Greece to create panic throughout the Eurozone that could lead to a 'Lehman-style global crisis', tells us much about our current anguish.
Wheen suggests that the 1970s created a pervasive sense of fear that led many people to believe that events happening were part of a crisis that would lead to the collapse of society and the economy in this country.
Some believed that there was a danger that a worker-led revolution could lead to communism in Britain. In retrospect we may know better but it is a fact that Prime Minister Harold Wilson believed he was being targeted by the security services.
It is suggested that a number of key individuals with vaguely and explicit right-wing sympathies were so concerned with Britain's apparent decline meant that a dramatic intervention was required; a military coup.
Regular acts of terrorism (especially here in Birmingham), and rampant inflation caused by crisis in the Middle East that led to, almost literally, overnight increase in the price of oil, certainly fed such fears.
And Britain economic status was definitely challenged. So much so that it was forced to seek a bailout by the International Monetary Fund in 1976.
What cannot be argued is that the 1970s was a decade of great change. We experienced a significant shift in our standards of living that was accompanied by social strife as seen in the disputes that occurred with increased frequency.
Over thirty years on from the end of the 1970s many wonder how similar our current economic problems are and whether we should see the same patterns as Wheen believes existed in the 1970s.
The answer is that whilst the current economic crisis may be resonant with the 1970s, the reasons are entirely different and, I suggest, the solutions will also be very different.
As well as the oil crisis, there were undoubtedly reforms required in worker efficiency. Much was achieved in the 1980s through the acceptance of the need to change to improve quality as demonstrated by the strides made by manufacturing.
The current crisis is one of capital; some would argue it is an existential crisis of capitalism. There are serious imbalances in the world economy and, as we know, large differentials in the productive capability and competiveness of nations.
This applies in Britain. As we all know, much of our manufacturing capability was lost by the simple fact that it was cheaper to produce abroad. Some major brands went bankrupt and their names have been consigned to history.
Others brands have survived but were subject to what my fellow blogger David Bailey explained with respect to Saab; 'lift and shift'. This is where the manufacturing plant is purchased and moved elsewhere where labour costs are much lower.
The Birmingham-based car producer Rover could be seen as example though after it went bankrupt.
Recent announcements concerning the future of other global names suggest that increasing uncertainty is now the norm. No company, it seems is immune from the rapid and unpredictable change that is characteristic of the current climate.
The decline of Nokia is a case in point. This was a global brand that until very recently enjoyed dominance as the world's largest mobile phone manufacturer being supplanted by Samsung.
It has lost a phenomenal number of jobs, some 40,000 since September 2010 when its current chief executive Stephen Elop joined and has announced that another 10,000 to go in its handset division.
Nokia's shares have fallen to less than €2 mean that the company is now worth less than it was in 1996. It is highly likely that only a rescue by Microsoft will ensure that it survives; albeit that it would no longer be independent.
Whilst there is absolutely no connection whatsoever in Nokia's decline and the fate of the euro, it is possible to suggest that rejuvenation in both will only occur through the ability to create innovation.
In the case of Nokia it has fallen behind its competitors in its ability to produce phones that have the latest technology and look stylish. Apple and Samsung's sales results have seriously undermined Nokia.
Nokia desperately needs to make customers aware that its products are as good as they once were. For this reason being acquired by Microsoft may be the only way to salvation because it offers a way for it to make Windows software more widely available on smartphones.
If the takeover should occur, and if it doesn't Nokia may cease to exist, there is a huge question mark over whether this strategy will succeed. What Nokia does show is that, to use a now trite cliché, is that the only certainty is now uncertainty.
As to Greece, there will be continued consequences in the dream of creating a united Europe. The concern that some parts, especially those in the south, were always going to be unable to compete has been turned out to be true.
But does it mean that the dream is now over? Economic uncertainty and the poverty that comes with decline only feeds people's insecurity and will create the sort of conditions that seduces them into believing that radical solutions are the best way out of crisis. The second-world war surely showed us the stupidity of that error.
Consultation of less-than recent texts shows us that there were management thinkers who provided guidance in shaping organisations of the future.
One such thinker was Rosabeth Moss Kanter who started her academic career as a sociologist. Her seminal text, When Giants Learn to Dance, which was published in 1990 provided insights and advice that is as relevant today as back then.
It foretold of a world when the giant corporations would find it much harder to cope if they were not prepared to change. She was particularly vehement in her belief every organisation must become more entrepreneurial.
In order to do this, she argued back in 1990, it is necessary, indeed essential, to move from being bureaucratic, which she believed was 'preservation-seeking', to become one that encourages a culture in which opportunities are actively pursued.
Doing this she advised, is applicable to the big in order to cope with the continued emergence of small dynamic entrepreneurs.
In order to assist in learning how to 'dance' to a very different (radical) corporate tune, she suggested that there are four Fs:
1. Being Focused on what customers want
2. The ability to do whatever is needed to get to market Fast
3. Creating a culture that is Friendly
4. Engendering an organisation that is Flexible
What is worth remembering about the 1970s is that there was a mood that anything became possible.
The recent BBC TV series Punk Britannia explained the influences that produced a musical revolution that stimulate a tidal wave of new ideas in fashion and creative design.
I happily accept that those of my parent's generation typically thought punk and subsequent new wave music was a threat to our society. But as we know, sometimes it takes radical events to change the established order; the winds of creative destruction.
From this revolution there also emerged a sense that it was possible to be creative and that if you had an innovative idea it was possible to succeed. Many of those I knew were able to get a grant to go to art school to pursue a 'formal' training. Many simply just got on with it.
As fellow blogger, Beverley Nielsen, in her most recent contribution describes with respect to the Birmingham Made Me Design Expo that runs in The Mailbox until 22nd June, there is a wonderful variety of products that have been produced by designers in local organisations.
Many of these designers will be students who were part of the 1970s revolution. And, of course, many became the staff in local schools, colleges and universities who provide students with the inspiration and guidance to continue the revolution.
It is to them that we should place our hopes for the future. As every organisation will know, having staff committed to a culture of innovation and creativeness is definitely one way to try and ensure success.
The current times are indeed peculiar; and worrying. However, similar to the 1970s, if we can actively support a culture in which there is energy and entrepreneurial dynamism that underpins creative industries, we will probably be OK.
It most certainly won't be easy, but we've been through bad time before and, like then, there will be better times ahead. What will be intriguing is the way that future generations will make sense of the events we are currently living through.