A Thomas Cook Airbus A321 airplane at Skiathos airport in Greece. The failed company's UK customers have all been returned home. Photo: AFP

When life offers a lemon not everybody suggests making lemonade; Cathy Guisewite advises squirting someone in the eye, Bill Watterson recommends chucking the lemon right back. Others brew lemon tea, rich in Vitamin C and see the better side of life – more so with “techno-nomic” lemons in our times of rapid change.

A “techno-nomic” lemon is fruity version of what I call “Technonomic Redistribution” – rapid technology-driven changes, with resultant economic upheavals and redistribution of wealth. This poses challenges to all humanity directly or indirectly, one way or the other.

‘Techno-nomic” changes, upheavals, and redistribution of wealth were seen with the 178-year-old Thomas Cook collapse in September that left 600,000 travelers stranded and cost thousands of jobs. But as the world’s oldest travel agency slid to its grave with a US$2.1 billion debt, online travel giant Expedia earned $11.2 billion in revenue in 2018, employs 22,000 worldwide (the same number as the Thomas Cook jobs lost), while its chief executive officer Mark Okerstrom pocketed $30 million.

Doom somewhere means boom elsewhere, and one day, Expedia will go the way of Thomas Cook.

The doom-boom-doom-boom sequence whirls in a rapidity of change during this 21st century that is unprecedented in human history.

The first factory in the Industrial Revolution appeared 250 years ago, in 1769. The Internet Revolution with widespread use of the World Wide Web started barely 25 years ago. And life quickly changed.

Internet-enabled smartphones alone have changed and reduced or removed the use of everyday objects of 25 years ago: the land-line telephone, flashlight, radio, music player, television, video cassette player, camera, wristwatch, fax and photocopying machine – thereby impacting businesses making or selling those devices. Jobs lost, suffering caused, but new jobs gained, new millionaires made.

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A Superman costume on an empty phone booth at the Facebook campus in Menlo Park, California, May 15, 2012 – reminder of vanishing landline phones, phone booths, and journalist Clark Kent needing someplace else to change into the Man of Steel.

Austrian-American economist Joseph Schumpeter (1883-1950) used the German term Schöpferische Zerstörung (“creative destruction”) to refer to what I call “Techno-nomic Redistribution.” His 1942 book Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy described how new technologies destroy old industries, jobs, lifestyles – and create new industries, jobs, lifestyles. Lemons change to lemon-fizz in the techno-nomic upheaval.

Surviving techno-nomic change needs street-smart alertness to see changes early. The Thomas Cook crisis in the $8 trillion global travel business was boiling for two years, and served as a reminder on impermanence: everything changes, nothing lasts forever. Being swept away or taking advantage of changes depends on effectively, quickly adapting to the sudden lemons of life.

Thomas Cook copped a fatal lemon from online travel agents. Similar upheavals affect nearly every industry, including media, book publishing, entertainment, manufacturing, and the global retail industry, with millions of jobs worldwide.

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Thomas Cook workers in a protest march through central London on October 2, 2019, demanding wages and an inquiry into the 178-year-old company’s collapse. Around 22,000 employees were affected worldwide.

Internet Retailer research says online shopping was worth $2.86 trillion in 2018. Online retail sales rose from 69.3% in 2017 while in-store retail growth reported a bare 1.0% for 2018.

This winter festive season of 2019 will not be merrymaking for all retailers. Online merchants will follow Ms Guisewite’s lemony advice and squirt offline retailers in the eye. Backed with serial multibillion-dollar funding, Amazon, eBay, Walmart and Co will offer lemons at 70% discounts – Amazon and Flipkart face trouble for predatory discounts in India – and push brick-mortar lemon sellers closer to extinction.

In the US alone, more than 4,500 retail stores have gone extinct in 2019. Gap, JCPenney, Sears, Kmart and Macy’s are part of the doom; the 123-year-old luxury retailer Henri Bendel in January announced it was closing all 23 of its stores, including the iconic New York Fifth Avenue flagship.

Henri Bendel fell to “Retail Apocalypse,” the term in use to describe wholesale demise of street shops and chain stores. Abandoned “ghost malls” of urban America are haunting the rest of the world. I see commercial entities appear and disappear in Churchgate, South Mumbai, in this kaleidoscope of impermanence every 90 days.

The code of life through these rapid changes needs a spirit of adventure of being open to change, and learning from it.

The code of survival needs learning, like learning coding, courtesy the free “Grasshopper” tutorial that Google offered on Monday. Coding – programming to communicate with computers – is an essential language in our computer-filled lives, and will be soon taught in schools like learning alphabets in kindergarten. Grasshopper, a coding app for beginners, teaches adults to write Java Script, and thereby become Aladdin to the computer genie producing magical wonders.

Being receptive to learning, expanding and upgrading skills helps one bravely watch the familiar give way to the unfamiliar. Evolution, after all, needs change. Rejecting positive change is rejecting progress in life. Imagine what would have happened to civilization if Stone Age market bosses in a cave conference told the inventors of the fire and the wheel: “Boys, your fire and wheel will put us out of business. So you disappear.”

As old business and big brands disappear, the new appears. Traditional factories too might disappear, with 3D printing technology revolutionizing manufacturing. Within decades, customized goods will be 3D-printed at home, including cars. Strati, the world’s first car made of 3D-printed parts, was rolled out in two days.

“Change is inherent in all compounded things,” said the Buddha. Nature effects change through the law of cause and effect. No business, job, relationship, possession or status is permanent, more so in the techno-nomic world with its rapid flux of loss and gain. Accepting this reality of change helps develop the mindset to be ready for change.

Better to be strong and welcome change. No fear of change leads to living without insecurity, and living with tranquility amid turmoil. Many senior corporate executives worldwide opt for the free-of-charge Vipassana training in equanimity to help cope with the stress of inevitable change.

The rapidity of 21st-century changes demands courage, creativity and caution – including living within one’s means. For instance, avoiding big loans to fund lavish lifestyles (to impress others) helps avoid serious woes from a sudden loss of income.

It is said, “Hope for the best, prepare for the worst.” Asking oneself, “What will I do if I lose my well-paying job tomorrow?” can be a start to preparing for the shock of sudden change.

So better to make best use of life’s lemons. The lemon itself, Google informs, is a natural cleanser, with the ability to purify things and the power to heal. Life’s lemons improve our sense of good fortune, and help us accepting changes in life.

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