The lyrics of Billy Joel’s 1989 hit We Didn’t Start the Fire comprise 119 headlines from the preceding 40 years, an average of roughly one epoch-defining event every four months. Imagine if he did a part two: 2020 would need a verse of its own.
Covid turned the world upside down, closing whole economies, redefining the role of government in supporting the private sector and turning the office virtual overnight. Brexit finally happened, and business school professors will be dining out on former US President Donald Trump’s final act of pantomime villainy for years, as a case study in catastrophic leadership. The British government doesn’t exactly come out covered in glory either, as our panel of corporate heavyweights highlight in this issue of Management Today - which is available in print or to download below - when they give Boris Johnson et al a very public performance review.
So where do we go from here? In many respects, 2021 is a chance to reset, to learn from the past 12 months rather than just unimaginatively returning to the way things were done before. The opportunity is arguably greatest in the NHS, with staff casting off its fabled bureaucracy in the throes of the pandemic in order to keep stretched frontline services running. As one NHS management veteran confides: “I’ve been in the NHS for 40 years and I’ve seen more change in the last four months than in the rest of that time put together.” But will the innovations stick? Find out in our feature on the health service in crisis.