Business Advice: The power of innovation and the need for change

Mike Beesley, co-founder of TIMESTWO Investments, on why innovators are so important right now.

In their book Radical Uncertainty, former Governor of the Bank of England Mervyn King and leading economist John Kay argue that the difference between risk and uncertainty is a much greater one than we currently thought.

As 2021 begins and the full impact of the pandemic on the recruitment industry is set to hit, this is something we are increasingly appreciating.

King and Kay present a formidable case for the fact that we are hemmed in only by our own perceptions of a ‘knowable’ future, that estimations on probability and risk can give us false understanding of our power to make predictions – and, therefore, decisions. 

So, instead of guessing to fill gaps in our knowledge we need to work together as an industry to develop strategies that allow us to be resilient to unpredictable events – which means admitting that none of us knows what the future actually holds.

Yes, we must take care of each other, regain markets and get things moving again by managing those things that we can control. But, if we are to recover from this in a way that will make a genuinely robust future society and economy, it’s much bigger, braver thinking that we must foster and cultivate from this moment on.

Normal is gone. There is now and there is new – and this crisis shows that we’re kidding ourselves if we think it was ever any different”

History shows us this to be true, and it is upon this kind of logic that entrepreneurs – and most of the best recruitment leaders I’ve met – tend to thrive.

For example, in the mid-1800s whales had been driven to the edge of extinction. Numbers bounced back after the invention of the drill, which allowed humans to find cleaner, cheaper oil than the blubber being used to power most households and workplaces.

It was the death of a young man’s father in an air disaster in 1934 that created the drive for him to doggedly pursue the idea of an indestructible recording device that became known as the ‘Black Box’. This has gone on to save lives of countless flyers by providing critical data as to why planes crash and allow engineers to fix these problems.

And not even Steve Jobs could have originally predicted that music would be the catalyst for the creation of handheld computers, which ultimately catapulted technology that has allowed us all to work from home in the way we are currently. But it was indeed the advent of the iPod – “music in your pocket” – that arguably kickstarted the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Yet this kind of unpredictability and understanding of innovation is still not effectively built in to how we manage our lives and society at large.

On 9 August 2007, the French bank BNP Paribas announced it was suspending transactions in three of its funds. Within days the global financial crisis was well underway, with the Lehman Brothers failure peaking at the height of the crash in 2008.

This latter-day ‘Great Recession’ was, in my lifetime and many others, the most difficult period of being in business – compared in real terms to the 20th century’s Great Depression. Now, as this pandemic is showing us, we are not learning our lessons quick enough – if at all.

Nearly a year ago, the phrase the ‘new normal’ was being bandied about like it meant something. It doesn’t. Normal is gone. There is now and there is new – and this crisis shows that we’re kidding ourselves if we think it was ever any different.

I believe this is why innovators and entrepreneurs are so important to us right now. They can show us how humanity can move forward to embrace this unpredictability, finding opportunity and benefits for all. Something I hope will become the ‘new normal’ for real as we navigate this together. 

Mike Beesley is co-founder of TIMESTWO Investments. He is also a serial entrepreneur and investor

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