"We decided to innovate our way through
this downturn, so that we would be further
ahead of our competitors when things turn
The "downturn" was not the Great Recession of
2008. It was the 2001 recession that was fading
(after about three years) at the time these words
were said. The speaker was Steve Jobs and the
"innovations" included the iTunes Store, which
had just launched eight months earlier.
220 million iPods, 30 million iPhones, 8.5 billion
songs sold, 1.8 billion mobile apps downloads
later it's easy to miss that the foundation for all of that was set during the darkest part of
the 2000s downturn. When many companies were retracting fearfully, and while dot-com
companies were exploding like evil pinatas.
I thought about that old quote as Steve Jobs triumphantly returned (after a liver transplant)
to the public stage, looking weathered, but happy. He was in his element: showing off new
candy-colored camera enabled iPod Nano's, poised to enter another new category for Apple,
the home camcorder marketplace.
What we've just faced makes the dot-com recession look quaint. We came as close as one
could to complete economic meltdown. As it became clear what we were facing, then
President Bush summed up the state of the US financial system in a perfectly Bushian
phrase: "This sucker could go down."
Later, as President Obama was first proposing the emergency stimulus -- to act as a sort of
national defibrillator -- conservative friends of mine emailed me, panicked. They wrote:
"What the Hell is Obama thinking? You can't spend your way out of an economic collapse!" I
replied with something entertainer and libertarian Penn Jillette wrote. He too was worried,
but admitted that the spending might be needed, and that sometimes metaphorically you
have to steer the car into the skid to regain control.
We as a country were scared and didn't know if we were, in Jillette's words "turning into a
skid" or "accelerating into a concrete wall."
All the sturm and drang over the stimulus has become somewhat academic. Thankfully,
we're seeing the beginnings of good news. Most economists say that the Great Recession is
over and the early stages of recovery are at hand, and the stimulus seems to be working as
Obama promised -- as a buffer against deeper pain and loss until the recovery can really
kick in. Even Google search patterns are showing this. But economists also agree that
recovery will feel less like a weight lifted, and more like a slow march out of a deep and
wide crater. So we've escaped the Abyss and the Recession from Hell, how do we navigate
the Recovery from Hell?
The answer I suggest -- for the entire country -- is the same as it was in 2000 for a pre-
iTunes and pre-iPod Apple Corporation: we innovate our way out.
America is a generative, innovative nation all the way down to our DNA. In the technology
sector, but in all sectors(including governance) innovation will be our north star as we
rebuild a 21st century new, new economy. Obama quotes Lincoln at the drop of a hat, but
mostly with cause. On several occasions talking about our economic path forward, Obama
alluded to wisdom from Lincoln's second State of the Union Address:
"The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is
piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so
we must think anew, and act anew."
In other words: Think Different.