• Graham Hall

Please stop telling me what's going to happen

We're living through unprecedented times.

In fact, we're living through a time of an unprecedented use of the word 'unprecedented'. But it's a descriptor that's wholly justified.


Unprecedented is an old word, in use from around 1760 meaning ' not preceded by a like case; not having the authority of prior example; novel; new; unexampled.' So it's a good word to describe the pandemic we're currently going through.


Sure, we've experienced pandemics in the past; various waves of the Black Death for instance, or the Spanish Flu of 1918. But the current pandemic is different - and therefore unprecedented - for a couple of reasons. First, because of the unprecedented steps by countries around the world to 'lock down and contain' it. And second, because of unprecedented government measures such as 'furloughing' hastily implemented to protect fragile economies.


Economies are now as much in intensive care as the poor individuals fighting for their lives. All of which go to make these genuinely unprecedented times.

So, given that we've never seen anything like this before, can I make a request to all the marketing gurus, social commentators and futurists offering us their advice via Linkedin: Please stop telling me what's going to happen. You have no idea, and, if you think you do, you're not just wrong, you're dangerous.


The corollary of an unprecedented pandemic isn't really a question of whether we'll be working from home in the future or whether we 'need more trust in advertising' as some are suggesting. That's cosmetic bullshit, because unless at least some of your predictions about our collective future include societal melt-down then I'm not really interested. That's not because I think anarchy is inevitable, but because, unless you're willing to accept that the stakes really are that high, then you're about as well informed as a TV chat show host.

During the Black Death, the 'experts' suggested a list of amazing cures that would protect us from the pox. These included leeches, eating crushed emeralds, applying a human excrement paste, taking a urine bath and (my favourite) rubbing yourself with a chicken. I'm sure the experts sounded equally convincing back, but none of them were addressed the underlying problem. They didn't have a clue.


So, let's not jump to conclusions. These are times to be experienced, observed and reflected upon. We need to grasp the bigger picture before we find an answer big enough to solve it. Easy, knee jerk solutions will solve short term problems but will probably ignore the bigger systemic elephant in the room that will come back to crush us. We need to be flexible in our thinking. As the UK Chancellor said as he flung open the doors to the Bank of England, this is no time for ideology.


We need to allow ourselves the space in which genuine insights can be identified. But to do that we need to fight the urge to fill the void of uncertainty. It's frightening when we don't have the answers, but we have to fight back that fear if we're going to find the right answer, rather than just any old answer.


Sadly, precedent suggests we're not very good at that. 

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