It will be many years – perhaps decades – before any of us can have anything like an objective perspective on the events of 2020. It's my guess that we will be picking over it for the rest of our lives. And, if history is a guide, as the human impact recedes, one single question will begin to dominate: 'what if?'
In the end, it isn't politicians or scientists who will have the last word on this, but the arts. And that is as it should be. Only art can take these huge 'what ifs' and push them to extreme conclusions, casting light into darkness and illuminating our experiences in unexpected ways.
One of my late lockdown discoveries has been the HBO series, Watchmen, which takes as its foundation the 1921 Tulsa massacre and imagines an America which, in response, pivots towards racial justice. In the pantheon of counterfactuals, Watchmen is an outlier. Most of these stories tend towards the most convulsive catastrophe of the 20th Century, the Second World War, with Amazon's 'Man in the High Castle' only the most recent example. After all, alternative histories, as well as real ones, tend to be written by the victors.
But when it comes to my own speculations about future 2020 'what ifs', Watchmen feels like an instructive example. Because the greatest unknown-unknown of the pandemic still lies ahead of us: the US election.
The outcome will, I think, determine the lens that culture casts on the crisis more (unjustly, perhaps) than the trajectory of the virus itself.
What if the US had approached the election with a buoyant economy? What if there had been rallies? What if, spooked by the confidence of their opponent, the Democrats had fractured around their selection?
And, for me, the most important 'what if' of all: what if George Floyd had not lost his job as a nightclub doorman because of the shutdown; what if he had not, jobless and hungry, allegedly sought to pass a counterfeit twenty dollar bill in a grocery store?
There can never be a satisfactory answer to these questions, but that will not stop the world's future creative talent, their childhoods now being shaped by the life-changing events around us, from seeking to find an adequate response.
One of the risks emerging from the crisis is that by focussing on the short-term challenges of cost and cash flow, we fail to leave space for this critical creativity to flourish.
I know, from speaking to our own creative leaders and community, that this is front of mind for them. Their concern is that the temporary austerity imposed by the pandemic becomes a permanent state of affairs, and that investment in creativity begins to be seen as an optional extra.
Chief among these concerns is that the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity becomes one such casualty. Its postponement has been unlamented by FDs the world over, and I've heard it said in certain quarters that the industry will wake up from some kind of collective delusion, and conclude it can live without it.
I strongly hold the view that the opposite is true.
Just as the arts and entertainment are the light that illuminates culture together and helps us interpret these seismic changes, creativity is the north star of the business we're in. And the business we're in is, in collaboration with the rest of the commercial world, designing a better future.
If we are to emerge into a post-pandemic reality that we are all proud of, we all have our part to play. Candid was conceived right from the start as a change agent. A challenger in all senses of the word, set up not simply to answer briefs but to fundamentally transform our clients' companies for the better.
These days we feel that responsibility keenly. And the fuel that makes it possible is, fortunately, the only resource in the world that is inexhaustible: creativity.
The ability to bring vision to a challenge; to imagine and foresee a better outcome; to turn that vision into an idea that can be expressed or an innovation or invention that works: this is the magic that creativity brings. And creativity demands certain conditions to flourish.
These are: a community within which ideas can be freely discussed and shared unfettered access to skills and resources to make those ideas a reality; the freedom to experiment. And, most importantly, inspiration from outside.
We built our organization as a platform rather than a typical siloed network precisely to nurture these conditions. But we're not egotistical enough (quite) to think we alone can provide everything our creative community needs. A focus like Cannes Lions is an explicit signal from the industry to every creative person – inside and outside – that we value creativity above all else.
It's fair to say that over the past few years the creative component of Cannes Lions had become somewhat overwhelmed by the volume of loud, corporate voices. My hope is that for Cannes, as for the rest of society, this year will be a positive pivot point. One where we turn away from the distracting, alluring light of a tech-driven battle for the most powerful algorithm, towards the more compelling beacon of creativity. What if?