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My grandfather built steam trains

It’s both unnerving and remarkable to watch the progressive domino-like disintegration of European economies. Unnerving in the sense of being a passenger in a vehicle that’s in the metaphorical middle of gracefully sailing off the road at a high rate of knots, and remarkable because I happen to love the dynamics of disruption and change – its no fluke that I chose a career in technology.

I’m no economist but for me, as a concept, the European Union is a lot like the other great symbol of European harmonic endeavour, the Concorde, in that the principal justification for its existence was perfectly sensible to industrial revolution thinking forty years ago – bigger, better, faster, more – but which over time has been progressively overtaken (ironically so in Concorde’s case) and made redundant by the markedly different economic forces of globalization and the era of internet enabled communications.

So, we find ourselves in the middle – actually not the middle, probably the opening scene of the first act – of a fundamental re-wiring of the twentieth century world. And the old western economies are possibly only just beginning to accept this new reality and the opportunity it presents after years of a collective passive-aggressive, rabbit-in-headlights way of responding to the threat presented by the new, emerging industrial economies like China.

This morning the UK published its most recent quarterly economic growth results and reported a slowing of growth to 0.2%. Apparently the growth slowdown was on account of the royal wedding giving everyone in the UK an extra day off, knocking productivity and output (a decline which was notably not offset by an increase in sales of sausage rolls, indeed perhaps recession was narrowly averted by sausage rolls?). Whatever. Technically this may well be the case but for me it also somewhat misses the point. The UK really ought not to find itself in such a position in the first place where its economy is left teetering pathetically on the brink of recession because of a wedding, regardless of how fancy an affair it might have been.

I’ve sometimes pondered, admittedly ignorantly and not for very long, about what the future would hold for an economy whose manufacturing export glory days had long since faded and whose booming service based economy was increasingly inwardly focussed upon servicing itself – which I always reckoned was a medium-term recipe for disaster when the ultimate bill falls due for payment.

And so the profound disruption that’s currently playing out in Europe, while painful and excruciatingly uncomfortable for many at the coalface (even our metaphors are out-of-date), is I suspect the long overdue wake-up call the old world needs to force the necessary re-evaluation of its future role in the emerging new world of the 21st century, and of the countless new opportunities that exist in levelling up the value we can create in areas like high tech services and innovation to form a contribution that is defined more by the future than the past.

Unnerving and remarkable, right enough.

(My grandfather, John Doyle, was an engineer at the old Cowlairs railway works in Glasgow, Scotland for the best part of forty years and whose steam locomotives served the world.)

 

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