• Neil Cohen

2020 Annus Horribilis? Maybe Not

Prelude: You can’t write anything about 2020 without first acknowledging the tragedy of the millions who passed away due to COVID-19. My heart aches for everyone who has lost a loved one or will be impacted by the disease long-term. Along with that is an acknowledgement of our health care workers who sacrificed themselves selflessly since day-one of this crisis. Thank you.



So, was 2020 truly an Annus Horribilis? Sadly, in many ways yes as people around the world sort through the economic and emotional impact of the year. Still, in what is probably an unpopular opinion, I believe 2020 will be known decades from now as one of the most important trips around our sun this millennia. Here’s why.


The Triumph of Science

The last few years haven’t been friendly to science – and yet, when crisis hit, it is science that has delivered our salvation from this pandemic. In a broader context, the world and somewhat more importantly, America, is rapidly embracing science to solve some of our most intractable and existential problems. The reemergence of Science and increased support it will receive with policy and funding will be consequential.


Necessary Food System Transformation is Underway

The transformation of our destructive and oppressive food system is truly the definition of an overnight success 10 years in the making. The massive investments in companies like Impossible, Beyond, Just and NotCo are finally coming to fruition in ways that could not have been imagined just two years ago. COVID-19 is one in a long line of zoonotic diseases (SARS, Swine Flu, Bird Flu) but truly the first to raise awareness to mainstream levels on the implicit danger of animal agriculture. It has helped to dramatically raise the demand for alternative protein and dairy from plants to levels predicted for 2024, and has paved the way for cultured, kill-free meat and dairy. To their credit, traditional animal meat and dairy companies (Tyson, Nestle, ConAgra, Danone), under a new microscope for their massive contribution to climate change, animal cruelty, endangering workers and food insecurity, are investing in carbon neutralization, and believe it or not, alternative proteins and dairy products of their own. Expect even more incumbents to jump into the pool, continued funding for new alternative proteins and dairy, and a more aggressive shift in policy to continue this hastened transformation towards a more compassionate, more equal and more sustainable food system.


Acceleration at “The Speed of Culture”

If there ever was an evolve or die moment for business, 2020 was it. Regardless of size, everyone had to rapidly adapt to the new reality brought on by the pandemic. In many instances, it accelerated innovation to what Anthony Yell, Chief Creative Officer of Razorfish calls, “The Speed of Culture” – meaning the ability to shift gears and innovate in real time as our culture shifts. Companies had to create entirely new business models almost overnight or risk literally going out of business, for example, fitness studio Orange Theory that is based on in-person classes shifting to 100% virtual training classes. Companies had to scramble to set up or expand their digital expertise, be if for e-commerce (both selling and fulfillment) or enabling remote working and learning. What we learned is that business can innovate rapidly. Can it continue without the existential threat of shutting down? I think yes.


The Role of Travel in a Life

We miss our families. We miss our friends. We miss our freedom. Nothing was more clear to us in 2020 than our realization of how we love to experience people, places and culture, and the richness they bring to our lives. The words of Saint Augustine couldn’t be more true in 2020 than they were in the year 430 AD – “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only a page.” Or in the words of Joni Mitchell “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” Those of us who have been fortunate enough to travel in the past miss the rest of the world. The travel industry is poised for unprecedented growth as vaccines take hold and the pandemic subsides – and maybe with it – a better understanding and appreciation of the wonderful world we live in for all of us.


These are just a few of the very powerful silver linings of 2020 that I’m ready to embrace. How about you?

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