By Peter Watts
Brexit reveals a society divided by the power of technology – post-Brexit the UK needs to harness that power to heal the wounds.
30 years ago the world appeared to be defined by three acts of a Conservative Government. The big bang, top rate tax cut to 40%, and Margaret Thatcher championing the European single market.
Was that the seeds of Brexit? No. Take a deeper look and you will see that the really big story of those years has been the relentless march of technology: mobile phones, computers, the internet, social media, big data, and the algorithm.
An "elite" now exists as a global village in cyberspace, inhabited by professional classes in metropolitan cities who spend more time connected to New York than to people down the road. My first road trips were to Wakefield and Derby; for my equivalents today, it is more likely Washington DC or Dubai.
Whilst there have always been divisions in society, geography kept them in check and primarily economic. Brexit lays bare the situation in the UK. The professional classes of the U.S. and UK are no longer “divided by a common language”, but rather from the societies around them. But Brexit isn't just about division it is also about a feeling of powerlessness – for individuals, but also for corporations. In the typewriter era contracts were short and simple. But word processing allowed contracts to explode in length and complexity making it increasingly difficult for organizations to fully understand them. String contracts together in chains, or trade them like assets, and understanding drops further. Many organizations I speak to increasingly feel a lack of "control" in what they are doing - but control hasn't been ceded to Europe or a global elite but to a black-box.
If someone has grabbed control it can somehow be “taken back”. Corporates need to now focus on a few areas. Firstly, to avoid an obsession with the obvious - regulation, trade and tax rates – and to focus on a future of increasing connectedness. Connecting with colleagues, and non-work colleagues, who are down the road from us, as much as with people on the other side of the world.
Secondly, now, more than ever, organizations should be embedding a culture of transparency - from the mail room to the board room.
And finally, businesses shouldn't be relocating from London or pouring money into infrastructure. Bringing business together with talent in the regions to create a virtual workforce far beyond the M25 is more important now than ever.
Rebalancing our focus in a post-Brexit world so that responsibility, connectedness and transparency are genuinely as important as shareholder value has never been more critical. The UK is hardly alone in facing these challenges but our size, stability and strengths give us a real opportunity to show leadership. We can’t slow down change but we can turn it to our advantage.