Source | www.forbes.com | Heather E. McGowan
We have been on a fifty year march to this moment. Understanding how we got here may help us better understand the magnitude of this inflection point.
Zoom Out: Historic Trends Are Illuminating
For a while now, I have been referring to our entry into the post pandemic time period as an inflection point. Perhaps it is the way the pandemic has compressed time, accelerating our transformation to digital, or the way it held us in prolonged uncertainty. I decided to dig deeper and consider what economists, sociologists, and philosophers noted about the past and what it might mean to the changing nature of the future of work. Robert Putnam’s latest book, The Upswing, maps our 100+ year journey only to return to the income inequality and political polarization of the 1920s. Putnam refers to these remarkably congruent curves of economics, politics, society, and culture trends as the “I to We to I” continuum. Putnam contends that we pulled out of this spiral before and this may be the moment when we do again. Putnam approaches this inflection point as a sociologist and political scientist. Others have observed similar arcs, trends or cycles, notably the work of economist and historian Neil Howe in collaboration with the late William Strause in their seminial 1997 book The Fourth Turning: What Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendevous with History. In this book, Strause and Howe, infamous for coining the term “millennial”, offer us a historic view of multiple centuries worth of eighty year cycles each with four distinct “turns”. The most recent cycle began with the “high” phase, starting with the ending of WW2 and ending when Kennedy was shot. The next turn was the “awakening” with the 60s civil rights struggles. The 3rd turn was “unraveling” and division of the 90s (when the book was written). At that point, they predicted a pending “crisis” even identifying 2020 as the end of the unraveling with a major crisis that would lead to a new “high” turn of shared purpose. Prior crisis turns include the American Revolution, the Civil War, WW2 and the Great Depression. Additionally, historians have noted that the bubonic plague unleashed the renaissance while WW1 and the 1918 flu were followed by the roaring twenties. Following the breakthroughs demonstrated by the vaccine development, this pandemic may just unleash a period of unprecedented discovery and scientific advancement, but I think it may be something even more profound.