Back to basics: the most innovative way forward

Today’s trends and fads are taking a toll on people’s emotional health, triggering heightened levels of anxiety. Once again, we find ourselves adjusting our behaviour to fit the whirling world around us, without fully understanding the root or relevance of change.

The monotone narrative advocating for hyperflexibility has been so persistent amidst the COVID-19 crisis that I am starting to think it takes better judgement to stop for a moment and consolidate what we are doing right and the important tasks expected of us than to embark on entirely new ventures. Today, appreciating the positive and essential aspects that remain can be even more challenging—requiring greater knowledge and finer-tuned critical thinking skills—than trying to rapidly adapt to supposed changes that nobody can foresee with total certainty. 

As Alejandro Dolina said, “ignorance is much swifter than intelligence”, because it travels like wildfire and is the first to arrive anywhere. That’s the thing. The heat of the moment compels us to run so quickly that we barely have any time to think about what direction we should go in. Personally, in these circumstances, I prefer to take a breather, carefully scan my surroundings, and inexpensively test out my options, in order to clear new paths without putting anything in jeopardy, until the smoke clears. Investing time, in my case to sharpen certain skills, carries with it an opportunity cost that I prefer to measure with care.

I am only certain of one thing: for better and for worse, in the wake of COVID-19 we will still be the same human beings we were before. In such rough waters (whether real or imagined), our best option is to set our sights on a fixed point in the horizon, on those traits and tactics that are worth recovering and nurturing. It is a valid strategy in such volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous times.

Let me give an example from a nice post written by Carlos Magro about school (oh, blessed school) which I read the other day. He spoke of people who are so overly psyched up by the impact of lockdown (the adjective is mine; Carlos doesn’t usually speak that way) that they have declared the end of school as we know it. “The future is now”, they say, which apparently renders the institution completely out-of-date and obsolete. This is a good example of just how radical (or superficial) we can be when imagining what tomorrow will hold and it shows us how easily we allow ourselves to be knocked around by unexpected rocky waters. However, Carlos and I both know that COVID-19 will not force traditional education down to the depths of the sea. As he once said to me, “innovating always means negotiating with tradition”. If this is done well, we will realise that education as we know it bears some traits that remain highly valid and even essential in today’s world. Thus, in lieu of drowning them out, we need to bring them to the surface to strengthen, improve and consolidate them. One such trait refers to schools’ bricks-and-mortar locations and the mental constructs surrounding them.

What is being said of education is no isolated incident. Every day I read about the whirlwind of changes that, according to “experts”, are thrusting themselves upon us in every sector. To be frank, the post-COVID-19 forecasts bore me, so much so that I do not even bother reading them anymore. We have all got to get out now, and fast. The threatening narrative of disruptive innovation is out to play, and the turns of phrase insisting that “nothing will be as it was” or “none of this will matter” are inducing hyperactivity. Sadly, no one is safe.

On top of this uncertainty, there is the business factor. As I said to Julen, post-pandemic organisations are going to look an awful lot more like their pre-pandemic counterparts than big-name consultancy firms such as McKinsey have predicted. Why such overzealous predictions? Well, they are in the business of helping people change, so amping up their forecasts is in their best interest. I’m not saying it is a hoax, but they are blowing things out of proportion. That is why we have to take their predictions and recommendations for what they are: conflicts of interest. It is their unfailing duty to market a greater need for change than truly required. And, as expected, they will fail to prescribe any type of systematic change that calls into question their own capitalist-bred corporate identity.

I believe these predictions and strategies are too full of white noise. Such high levels of cognitive distraction shift our gaze away from what really matters. An increasing amount of discipline is needed to get back on track, to distinguish between what is truly important and what is simply parenthetic, and to take a step back and gain perspective. Such “essentialist” thought seems exceedingly powerful and beautiful to me. The ability to wade through such superficial currents and to dive deeper into the foundations of our being, to understand and fortify them, are, today, more relevant skills than ever.

I am not suggesting we avoid change altogether or become complacent. I am just saying that it may be in our best interest to remain calm, if only a little. Some will have to move more than others, but quality observation means staying still. Getting back to basics may require change, but that is not often the case. Rather, it almost always involves removing frilly adornments until we are back to the bare essentials. We also need to reflect on the swift pace we are keeping and what this means for our lives. It may be wiser to take certain areas of life more slowly, to leave the freeway, get rid of the car and find our way back to the footpaths of old. This is especially the case when it comes to how we (personally and publicly) govern technology, treat our elders and define what it really means to be a good person, which is no small feat. 

Although it sounds counterintuitive, being “adaptable” today may actually mean not changing in many regards. With so many swirling tides pushing us to and fro, it is up to us to say “I’m going to stay on this path, it’s the right one”. If adapting means doing what is best at any given moment, it may mean consolidating what we have been doing, rather than changing course. That may seem like another way of telling you to do nothing, but the paradox is on the platter: focusing and improving on the good we have been doing is, today, an act of resistance.

The same is happening to the discourse. Useless words and meaningless fads abound. We live at a time when euphemisms reign and new high-sounding words are coined left and right. We are in the midst of a naming war that wages on to colonise unique spaces. These days, speaking simply and concisely, using the language of our fathers and, when necessary, dusting off old words to reveal their original meaning, almost seems to be an act of bravery. In short, going back to basics appears to be the most revolutionary thing we can do amidst so much turbulence.

“Before one can go back outside, he must first come back in.” These words, performed by Residente in a song and music video that pay homage to simplicity, reignite diversity and provide a metaphor for getting “back to basics” in the form of 113 kisses, are forever burnt into my memory. Starting anew, for me, does not mean changing everything, but rather coming back in. I will leave it at that.

Originally published at


Amalio Rey is an expert in participative innovation models based on collective intelligence and the creation of networks and collaborative ecosystems. 

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Amalio Rey