2020 was a rough year for the vast majority of American businesses. Restaurants, airlines, hotels, spas, convention centers, and dozens of other types of businesses were hit hard. Families struggled, poverty and food insecurity increased and paychecks either went away completely or decreased. Weekly unemployment claims reached historic lows (with the exception of the Great Depression).
Despite the seemingly endless refrain of bad news, the Dow Jones, S&P500 and Nasdaq all reached new highs in 2020, and price to earnings ratios are still out of sight for many companies in early 2021. Thousands of public companies saw their stock prices double or triple since March 2020, and many of these are still setting all-time highs despite negative, sluggish or just mediocre earnings. Many respected investors (such as Jeremy Grantham) and stock analysts are warning that this can’t last much longer. Even Elon Musk, Founder and CEO of Tesla, has said Tesla’s stock was too high.
With the recent passage of the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, myriad executive orders rolling back some of the atrocities of the previous administration, and a massive infrastructure plan in the works, the future is looking a bit brighter. While Covid-19 is still infecting hundreds of thousands of people around the world every day, and cases are still unacceptably in the United States, vaccine production and distribution have increased dramatically. It is still too soon to declare victory, but we are finally starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel. Recent projections indicate that the vast majority of Americans will be vaccinated by the fall, and life will start to return to normal for many of us by late summer.
These are unprecedented times, not just because of the pandemic, but also because of the confluence of extreme risks to human survival. The United States is facing rapidly accelerating climate change, decaying infrastructure, massive inequality, racial strife, political polarization, growing physical and cyber threats from abroad (multiple government agencies were hacked by Russian operatives earlier this year), as well as accelerating species extinctions and die-offs from “forever chemicals” such as PFA’s, extremely persistent pesticides (such as neonicotinoids) and herbicides (such as glyphosate).
The good news is that more and more people are “waking up”. Even some politicians (usually late to the party) are realizing that climate change, pollution, inequality, and other problems are real and serious threats. They are also realizing that since we ourselves created most of these problems, we can solve them.
As President Biden emphasized in his first address to Congress, solving most of these problems will create new jobs, new business models, and even new industries. Consider the rapid replacement of internal combustion engines with electric engines; it will transform both the energy and transportation industries, create hundreds of thousands of new engineering and service jobs, reduce air pollution, lower atmospheric carbon dioxide and help reverse climate change.
When you look at the big picture, which includes just about every aspect of 21st century industrial practice, the opportunities are far, far greater. Agriculture, ground and air transportation, housing, energy, construction, office space, hotels, spas, restaurants and food service, fashion, packaging, and dozens of other industries and sectors can all benefit from innovation and redesign. These innovations might start out small and be incremental, but over time, with enough people and enough effort, we can actually make our world a better place.
The opportunities are endless. It’s time to start something new. Put your thinking cap on and get to work.
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- Should You Scale Your Business? - July 17, 2019
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- Interview with Cecelia Hamilton - April 8, 2019
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