Monday, 1 September 2014


That was a Beatles song but in 1859 it was Richard Carrington (English Astronomer) who was saying it. The so called Carrington Event was when he observed an amazing white light flare in the solar photosphere. This led to the biggest geomagnetic storm in history. It caused huge disruption to telegraph services.

If it were to happen today experts from NASA predict it could catapult us back to a pre-technology age. Fortunately there’s only a 12% chance of this happening in the next decade.

That’ll teach me to listen to Radio 4 at 4.30am before rushing to the airport as I did last Monday. And it’s real, it’s serious. It even happened - with a  solar storm - in 2006 which blew out the Quebec hydro-electric system for a few days.

So what’s our plan?

I ask not in horror but in fascination as I’m a huge believer in human resourcefulness. The sort of resourcefulness that had people like Sam Walton, William Kellogg and Henry Ford doing their inventive but practical work. You know, like creating mass markets.

Lord Rutherford deserves a mention too for his Nobel prize winning work into radioactivity. He it was who said “we have no money so we’ll have to think”.

I want to change that to “we have no technology so we’ll have to think”.

I say this with feeling having just acquired Sat Nav and discovered it’s the navigational equivalent of autocue. You do pretty well what it says. Your common sense gets switched off. (Incidentally that’s what newscaster Anna Ford did with autocue if news editors inserted ridiculous pieces which she then blithely read.)

Imagine no planes, trains, ATMs, banks or shops working, no phones, no TV or social media, no computers…no digital system at all. Imagine a total  infrastructure meltdown. Imagine the sudden irrelevance of Amazon and all those e-commerce operators.

If you never lived in a pre-digital age this would be like switching off the oxygen supply.
But I think before it all got sorted (which it would be after a few months of breakdown) that some great companies, brands and organisations would swing into action making things work and reinventing distribution systems.

Recently in Dorset we visited a pub in the early evening called the Wise Man in West Stafford. There’d been a widespread electrical failure in the area. Rather gloomily they said they couldn’t serve us because they couldn’t work their till. So we said no. We’ll give you money and you’ll find the change. Give us our pint. So they did. Meanwhile from all over the village people were gathering to meet and talk.

Pubs, churches, universities, schools would all become focal points. Localism would be redefined. As some bemusedly were shaking their smartphones and thinking OMG others would be wondering how to achieve lasting social, commercial and brand advantages.

So I thought the man from NASA opened to window on a new and exciting challenge.

Here comes the sun? Bring it on.

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