Looking backwards to see the future or, rather, shape the future has never been more important in so many areas of business right now.
Theming this issue on the "ethics of the internet" might seem at odds with the march of progress that these pages so often champion and challenge. It is anathema to the rhetoric of disruption, which has cast the evolution of technology as one of unstoppable progress, as DigitasLBi’s Chris Clarke puts it.
Somehow, in the past 20 years, Clarke continues, we’ve convinced ourselves that the internet, and the tech businesses that power it, have no need for moral governance as they are fuelled by the interactions of the people.
As George Osborne predicts in our interview, Google and Facebook will find themselves "drawn into many of the legal and regulatory restraints" that sit around traditional media in the future.
So, how should we shape what we’re doing today for tomorrow and create a practical and moral framework for the new tech that will continue to alter our lives and society?
I can’t help but ponder this now from an unintended angle: who are the people, the visionaries, taking the leading roles in reshaping this future? It’s a thought that once again – oh how boring! – brings us back to diversity.
After Justin Tindall wrote in Campaign last month that he was "bored of diversity being prioritised over talent", the backlash has been swift and vocal. Many point out the business case of diverse teams, while others, including MediaCom’s Karen Blackett, highlight the insinuation that diversity and talent are mutually exclusive. "Diversity is hard. Yes, it takes longer to get to consensus. Yes, it can involve conflict. But my god, the end result is worth it – take note, old-school thinkers, take note," Blackett warned, writing for us online.
Of course this issue is far reaching beyond our industry; it goes to the core of constructed society and even our education systems.
"Decolonising" education has come to the fore recently, following an open letter from a Cambridge student calling for more black and minority ethnic voices in reading lists. "Decolonising the English faculty" is not about replacing white with black authors, but about "expanding our notions of ‘good’ literature so that it doesn’t always elevate one voice, one experience, one way of being in the world".
None of this is about playing identity politics or demonising the white man in a suit: it doesn’t matter who the dominant group is. If a company, industry or society is run by one homogenised club, then the bias is always there. That group will be the one determining what is or isn’t acceptable and deciding what the future looks like, be that how multi-billion-dollar businesses behave or those heading up company recruitment.
While in Abbott Mead Vickers’ offices last month, I heard about unconscious-bias training that recruiters there were undergoing, as well as anonymised CVs. This must surely become standard practice across the industry. Yes, diversity and equality are perennial issues, but far from making them boring, it simply means we are failing en masse to sort out this problem.
A perfect storm is brewing whereby the industry is actively seeking change for fear of becoming outdated and unattractive to future talent, plus there is a groundswell of passion and anger in equal measure ensuring this remains top of the agenda, rather than a corporate fad of which we can simply get bored and hark back to the good ol’ days.
There is nothing boring about creating a commercially successful, healthy, happy and ethically fit-for-the-future industry in which we are all proud to play a part.
Rachel Barnes is the UK editor of Campaign.