Recovery? Follow the yellow brick road

7 min read

31 January 2011

Davos has finished, and as the world’s political and business wizards cast aside their champagne flutes, I can't stop thinking of The Wizard of Oz.

While the emerald city of Davos debated the gripping title of “Shared norms for the new reality”, the underlying narrative was a story of courage overcoming fear and triumph over adversity. 

Didn’t the Wizard turn out to be an ordinary man who lacked the big answers, much like our leaders? Wasn’t Oz also about a society of terrified munchkins, much like our response to the financial crisis? And are we all not searching for the yellow brick road to a happy ever after? 

Like Oz, there is another epic journey underway, but this time the destination is recovery. Indeed, many nations seemed to have adopted the characteristics of Dorothy’s travelling companions. 

Take Obama’s State of the Union reference to America’s “Sputnik moment”. Surely the Lion receiving his badge of courage?

But what is the UK’s Sputnik moment? Before we can answer it, we need to be a lot hungrier for it than we are now. Our lion needs to learn to roar again.

I’ll get you, my pretty!

Listening to the recent criticism of government reforms, you’d think that we had elected the Wicked Witch of The West and her evil flying monkeys to torture our innocent national economy. “I’ll get you my pretty! And your little dog too!”

Let’s not forget that we elected this lot to get to grips with a nation that was manifestly failing. We need to get the magic of self-belief back and we need it now.

This downturn has hurt a lot of people but it has also provided short-term benefits that anyone in a job (and with a mortgage) has got very comfortable with. In today’s Britain, the ongoing story of recession suits many and woe betide those that reveal this inconvenient truth. Witness the demise of Lord Young.

By inflating our woes we might keep interest rates at their historic lows for a little bit longer, keep our mortgages cheap, get the government to think twice about its brutal cuts and tax hikes. By so doing we also lose our drive.

The 14th annual PwC global CEO survey results show that globally CEOs are almost as optimistic around growth as in the boom years. A concerning exception is the UK, which it describes as having “a more measured view.” 

I read that as lethargy and complacency. In turn, our chancellor, George Osborne, speaking at Davos, highlighted the “forces of stagnation” as the single biggest risk to our economic safety.

Surely an overstatement – after all, “There’s no place like home,” no place like the UK, is there?

Well, if you live in Germany then you might be quite thankful for that. The speed of the economic recovery there is as if the Good Witch of the North herself has granted the dream of growth. Change happens through will and it can happen quickly.

Keep reading Michael Hayman’s column on page two.

If I only had a heart  

So spoke the Tin Man. More metal was on display at Davos from Klaus Schwab, the founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, who made an interesting point:

“We see global burnout characterized by micro optimism and macro pessimism.” 

For many of us, there’s a growing sense of micro or personal confidence. If you’re in full time private sector employment, then chances are that you’ve weathered the risks of redundancy. If you’re an entrepreneur, you may well have an individual belief that you’ll beat the trend. How many of us do there have to be before we are the trend?

On the other hand the media has reacted with morbid glee at recent GDP figures and the evident discomfort of the chancellor who blamed the weather 24 times in three minutes for this reverse. When the retail golden child, John Lewis, makes the same claim for disappointing results, we similarly scoff. Right or wrong, we are not going to let the truth stand in the way of a good story.

This is a recovery that must have more heart in speaking its name.

Over the rainbow

Back to the Lion who says to the Wizard: “I am a cowardly lion, afraid of everything. I came to you to beg that you give me courage.”

Courage is what we need. There is a recovery under way in the UK. It is fragile and has every chance of faltering, especially if we talk it down or give up. 

Countries and companies alike win because of courageous self-belief. This happens also to be the message of the movie of The Wizard of Ozwhose backdrop was the Great Depression. 

It provided a vital ingredient, a message of hope: that “somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue; and the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true.” It’s the optimism of that very dream that we badly need to believe in today.

Michael Hayman is co-founder of the public relations consultancy Seven Hills. You can also follow Michael on Twitter.