Whitepaper: A Case Against Nostalgia

by Angelica Dios Jaramillo

We are in an overwhelming period.

Not only are we living through a variety of traumatic environmental, economic, and geopolitical events, mass migrations and epidemiological urgencies – we also have more access than ever to real-time, often biased information about all of these topics, all at once, in the palm of our hands. As people, we are expected to know the current state of affairs, and to have a point of view, and show up to work, inspired and ready to produce.

When we feel overwhelmed we often turn to nostalgia as a coping mechanism because it provides a sense of stability and a temporary escape from our struggles.

Nostalgia is our first response, because our need to find familiarity amidst the unknown is a basic human instinct. When we feel pessimistic and dissatisfied with the current state of things we seek the familiar because we want to minimize these feelings. This nostalgic response is all around us in the trends we follow, the music we listen to, the clothes we wear, the films we watch, and even the food we turn to for comfort. Its presence is heightened by the continuous stimulation from the technology in our lives. When things get hard or feel confusing, we find comfort and feel inspired by things that remind us of better times. In a world where there is a new crisis every day, nostalgic references transport us to another time.

However, it is important to acknowledge that nostalgia is not a solution, it's a feeling – based on romanticized, idealized and aesthetic versions of the past. Nostalgia provides the comfort of a hug or a band-aid when you need one, but it is not a real intervention or long-term resolution. When our environment feels overwhelming it’s tempting to behave conservatively, particularly on behalf of an organization. But playing it safe can be a short sighted vision.

We all know the same bite-sized-crisis-innovation stories: how during WWI and WWII soldiers used their ingenuity to fix trucks without spare parts or how the explosion aboard the Apollo 13 forced NASA engineers to improvise a life saving mission. If we scratch deeper, we see these radical approaches to problem solving are scalable. We saw how the SARS epidemic stay-in-place order in 2002 put China at the epicenter of e-commerce innovation and more recently how during the Coronavirus pandemic distilleries quickly moved to produce hand sanitizer and 3D printing pivoted to supply urgently needed medical devices.

Times of adversity offer us an opportunity to tap another innate human impulse; our desire to be a part of the solution. What if we challenged ourselves to lean into that desire? To help one another, and problem solve–which is at the core of innovation. Adversity adds unparalleled momentum, acting like adrenaline when channeled into a purpose. Disruptive interventions that emerge from global economic downturn change the world as we see it, and even permanently shift our behaviors. The chaos that comes with turmoil rewrites unspoken rules, removes obstacles and levels the creative playing field.

History has taught us that organizations that invest in innovation through crises rise from them stronger. We’ve even seen them outperform their peers post crisis and continue to deliver accelerated growth. Household names like Netflix, Amazon, Airbnb and Uber emerged from the 2008 financial crisis, and they weren’t companies that tapped into nostalgia for inspiration. They pushed past the discomfort and embraced the uncertainty of the future as an opportunity. As we wait for the clear “winners” of the Coronavirus pandemic to surface, we can already see broad behavioral shifts– like permanent hybrid and remote work environments, phygital spaces, alternative payment methods and processes and a whole new library of convenience-centered commerce options.

In hindsight, it’s easy to identify the necessary shifts in our creative approach to create disruptive interventions – Through this lens, we can see nostalgia is a potential misdirect, and that pushing past it's short-lived feeling of comfort leads us to create disruptive solutions. How can we resist this bait when we’re tired, and confused? How do we apply these learnings outside of the context of a crisis?

We challenge ourselves to resist the warmth of the past in exchange for the promise of the future. Easy, right?

New business: Connect with a partner.

Job inquires: View our handbook.

Newsletter©: Sign up.

167 Canal St., 3rd Floor
NYC, 10013

Social Media
Instagram, Behance, LinkedIn

View our show reel:
Watch video

General inquiries:

Media inquires:

Privacy Policy