I was chatting with a friend the other day about the changes we’ve seen over the last few years, and how it doesn’t feel like we’ll go back to the status quo ante.

One of the things we both noticed is that the demand for “simple, clear communication” is at an all time high, and that many leaders seem to want to fill that demand. It’s equally clear that the systems we all depend on are visibly more complex - we’re seeing all sorts of second-order effects from pretty much everything. Global pandemic -> fewer driving tests -> shortage of HGV drivers -> shortage of goods in shops.

Manufacturing, supply chains, logistics.

The last 200 years - but especially the era since the 1980s - has brought incredible improvements in manufacturing, which in turn has brought down costs for most consumer goods. The most expensive physical purchases most house holds make other than their home (car, TV, white goods) have all either stayed flat (compared to inflation) or declined in price. Cars cost baasically the same as they did in 1990 - though the quality is much higher. TVs cost a fraction of what they cost in 1990.

This improvement has come through technological advancements - but mostly through logistics. Most of these items are no longer “manufactured” in the way we imagine - factory halls, with workers and robots creating items from raw steel, polymers, etc. Instead, they’re assembled from specialist suppliers who offer the best price/quality trade-off. Those specialist suppliers, in turn, have their own supply chains; the combination of global markets, sophisticated logistics and instant information sharing has created supply chains bringing the best, cheapest products together in just-in-time operations which require minimal capital investment in stocks, allow businesses to focus on core competences, and deliver products with great efficiency.

Those advances in logistics allow other businesses to operate more efficiently too - retailers hold far less stock than they used to. A building site near me is bringing bricks - low value, heigh weight - from Belgium (presumably because the price is still better than buying from the UK). My independent corner shop has goods from Poland, Turkey, India, the Phillipines, and South America.


The second trend is the change in finance since the Reagan/Thatcher years. Most middle class people now have a pension pot which they invest at their own risk, and - in very broad terms - interest rates have lagged behind inflation. The stock and bond markets have been financialized to the point they barely reflect the real economy, and there’s a lot of money looking for a return.

This has provided finance for start-ups, funded whole new industries, and helped to achieve those efficiencies I described earlier.

But this capital is also desperately looking for safe, guaranteed income streams, and many of the institutions that allow our society to function can provide exactly that. Once you’ve signed up a customer, if you’re a utility, a telco, a transport company, an insurance company - that customer represents a fairly certain future revenue stream. All the low-hanging fruit has been picked though - but there’s more money than ever looking for a return thanks to the monetary easing since 2008.

And once an organisation becomes a financial asset, it has a legal duty to optimize shareholder value. And that means doing nothing that isn’t legally required. The era of deregulation means that this becomes an ever-lower bar.


Lots of points of view on Brexit, but it’s hard to argue that it imposed barriers on collaboration between UK organisations and those in the European Union. While the barriers are (mostly) not about tariffs, they are about paperwork, which introduces friction. In a process where we’re optimizing the last few pennies out of the bill of materials for a washing machine, that friction can matter…


So, what have we seen? Mostly, the big systems in the U