Donald Trump’s victory in the US Presidential election and the UK’s referendum result to leave the European Union are the first iterations in a new model of government. I would not have chosen either result. But, at least in the USA, a significant number of the population have chosen a message and, they hope, a model of government that is different to that which has existed in the last 20 to 30 years.
Neither result is a good start. At this year’s Innovation Leadership Summit Trainline CTO Mark Holt was bold to admit that every first attempt “sucks a bit, the second attempt is a bit less sucky,” and so we go on until we get the right result.
Donald Trump, Brexit, The Conservatives, Jeremy Corbyn, Labour, Boris Johnson and David Davis, none of this fills you with hope or is where you and I would start from in re-booting democracy for a globalised world. But let’s look at this as iteration number one, it sucks more than a bit and Trump’s victory more than Brexit signals that there are concerns in the way that globalisation is developing and we in the business innovation community are central to the development of globalisation.
Trump and the Vote Leave campaigns did a great job of using simple language to get to a result. Here in the UK the Remain campaign’s biggest failure was to come across with the view we all have – the EU is far from perfect (Common Agricultural Policy anyone!) but the alternative is far worse. Using simple messages is powerful and important, but as we are living through in the UK, it fails to grasp complexity until after the fact. And this is the problem, globalisation gives us affordable flights to sunny destinations, clothing has never been cheaper, compute power from (usually US businesses) enables startups to rip apart old firms. But those opportunities are not one way, a cheap flight to a holiday destination is also a cheap flight to employment, cut price sports clothing cannot be made in the mill towns of our former industrial heartland and digital startups are eroding already perilous margins of old businesses struggling to come to terms with debt and legacy.
All of us play part in this challenge, as business leaders, but also as consumers. Every Amazon purchase has an impact in your local community, but we cannot stand still and we cannot simply blame online retailers for providing better services or startups for creating sharing economy platforms that improve daily lives. There has been an abject failure by many to discuss the impact and role of globalisation everyone plays.
Trump, Michael Gove and Nigel Farage all blame the political elite for this failure, and yes they elite carry more than their fare share of the blame, but so too do many in our society. Old pillars of society have been eroded and failed to respond. When an employer turns against you, who do you turn to? A leading CIO recently shared with me an experience they are going through, they had done their job – one that was incredibly challenging and involved doing some very unpleasant tasks – and now the rug is pulled out from underneath them. This happens to executives and all the way through the strata of the workforce and there is no one to turn to. Trade Unions, industry bodies and societies are not up to speed and are not preparing their members for the challenges they face.
So for the second time this year we learn that many in our global society don’t feel connected and perhaps don’t understand the impact they themselves are having on their communities.
Trump and Brexit suck as the first iterations of a new model for globalisation. The next few years are going to be difficult, massive mistakes will be made and damage will be done, and those already suffering are likely to suffer the most from the mistakes coming. But the message is coming through that things suck and we need to work on a better version. A retreat inside national borders is not realistic, so many businesses are too large and I’m of a vintage to recall how it was the EU that prevented Microsoft being anti-competitive, a feat no single government can hope to realise. Taking back control is not about UK taxation being given to a Franco-Japanese car manufacturer to offset duty prices either.
The power of globalisation to communicate, to travel, to develop and share is incredible. The voting patterns of 2016 show that power is not being used to its full effect and that a new version is required.