Pandemics Stimulate Innovation
The Coronavirus outbreak is one of the most remarkable events in our lives, but it is not the first time that people have had to deal with these seemingly mystical forces. Today, we have been able to stem the tide a little bit with our access to information technology, but for past pandemic victims, some good did come out of tragedy. This month we thought we’d talk about the importance of innovation in dark times.
It wouldn’t be overstating that innovation pulls our economies along, but if you look back over history, in troubled times, innovation gets a boost and has brought about some of the most important changes to modern society. Today, we see the COVID-19 outbreak, killing people, overwhelming our healthcare resources, hurting our economies, stymieing travel, impacting normally-thriving industries, and invading our lives by keeping us pent up inside at a time when a lot of people begin to congregate. It’s a bad situation, but it isn’t the first time that people have had to deal with things like this (and it likely won’t be the last).
The first pandemic on record was the Plague of Athens in 429 BC that took 100,000 lives and changed the way that the people of the Athenian state thought about disease. Our doctors today still take the Hippocratic Oath that was established during those dark years. Situations like this foster an innovative spirit, because in order for our species to continue, we have to constantly adjust our view of what’s possible.
The Black Death or Great Plague was the singular worst pandemic in recorded human history. In a span of 22 years in the mid 14th century, the Black Death killed nearly half of the population of Europe alone. No one even knows how many people died, but it took the world 200 years after it was over to regain the population that was lost in the pandemic.
Innovation followed. The people that were left had to work harder for longer because of a lack of workers. Human labor then became a premium which created the modern work style. Workers were paid more, and overall the working classes gained power. The Black Death resulted in widespread land ownership and a substantial increase in education and literacy. This in-turn led to a new freedom of thought and innovation.
You began to see more complex clocks and a total overhaul from the religion-based health system to a more modern health system. Eye glasses, guns, and hospitals were developed. The dark ages that cast a cloud over Europe for centuries started to open up and in a short period of time you began to see people inventing and innovating so quickly that today we call that period the Renaissance.
Skipping up to contemporary times, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak of the early 2000s appeared, like COVID-19, in China. It quickly spread to Hong Kong and can be thought of as the worst disease outbreak of modern times (before the situation we find ourselves in now). SARS shut down global commerce just at a time when it was in its beginning stages. Some estimates say that it cost the world $40 billion or so.
As people looked for a way to mitigate their exposure to the disease; and, risk making it a worldwide pandemic like we’ve seen with Novel Coronavirus, innovation took over. The Internet, which wasn’t a widely-used tool in China at the time became the answer. eCommerce, a strategy that was just starting to take hold in the United States and Europe exploded in China. SARS accelerated the growth of website and application development for the Internet.
Today, we all depend on Internet-connected applications for collaboration, communication, or just recreation. Without the SARS pandemic, this innovation probably would have taken a few more years to really become the extraordinary valuable tool that we’ve all come to depend on.
Now, we turn briefly to our current situation. We’re still in the throes of it, but we can already see that this pandemic is accelerating innovation and change rapidly. Using information technology, doctors from all over the world can work together to promote solid health practices, exchange research, and hopefully, develop a cure.
That’s just in the health arena.
In the business world, millions of people are now working remotely, using cloud technologies and remote access to continue their company’s operations. Working from home is changing the face of collaboration; and, as a result, you will begin to see new software and improvements to other business software that makes the coordination necessary to have a remote workforce possible.
Video conferencing, a tool that many organizations used sparingly, is now one of the most utilized tools by businesses. This use will improve their ability to incorporate more people and integrations.
Application-run delivery services like Instacart and Amazon are flooded with orders, keeping people out of harm’s way while they get the groceries and toiletries they desperately need. These companies are finding that the faster they are able to innovate on their services, the better received they are and the more people will be apt to use them.
Innovation is a huge part of our society and we should be proud that people have the ingenuity to make necessary improvements to better help businesses, individuals, and society as a whole. For more great content, please read our monthly newsletter and visit our blog.