Leadership / Technology

Innovation in times of crisis

How can companies exploit this time of economic uncertainty to enable and encourage innovation? What can we all do to communicate and empower others more effectively? I’ve witnessed many companies retreat to old protective habits in these times – instead of innovating. How can we overcome this instinct?

I had the privilege of talking to the team at SWITCH who developed ‘The Comprehensive Guide to Marketing in Uncertain Times’ which is now available as a free e-Book. Here are three areas we explored.

Is this the right time for innovation, or is it the time for conservative consolidation? 

Immediate and effective responses to COVID-19 will be vital to the survival of any enterprise. First efforts should focus on that. However the immediate tactical actions should not stifle log-term measures which always turn out to be more relevant to the company’s positioning. Reimagining the ‘next normal’ must eventually take strategic precedence and the toolset for that transformative journey is innovation.

An old English proverb states that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’. In times of crisis the need for business survival becomes a top-agenda item and an enterprise is understandably forced to find new ways of achieving growth and dynamism. This results in a form of ‘forced innovation’ which although less controlled than innovation by choice, still has positive impact on business activity and aids the reinvention process.

What are the best ways to keep your company innovating in a time of prolonged crisis management?

Change is not the problem. Resistance to change is.

When faced with a crisis our natural reaction is often to battle it with all that we know and have learned. Yet a supple and graceful stance is more desirable.

We can innovate during a crisis by demonstrating ‘quick wins’ in non-core initiatives which we prototype rapidly and test in the market.

To do so we need to be clear about the objectives we’re trying to accomplish and how we’ll measure success. In many cases such an innovation doesn’t return the immediate ROI we hoped for, but opens a route to market (or product) which is itself pregnant with possibility.

A core ingredient (often ignored) of innovation is collaboration. In a prolonged crisis we should communicate and collaborate across functional groups within the enterprise as this brings all the perspectives, inputs, intellect and ability into the central activity of growth.

Do you see any specific areas of innovation that will benefit from the Covid 19 crisis?

There is no doubt that COVID-19 will fuel the next wave of innovation. Disruptive events such as this change the trajectory of socities, economies and governments leaving an indelible mark in human interaction for years to come. Business behaviour has already jolted: the disruption of supply chains is getting us to rethink principles of resilience. Remote work necessities are driving a new work ethic and a set of supporting (technical) tools. Artificial Intelligence and its amazing ability to automate, is standing-in for many human tasks which can’t be performed by employees in quarantine.

The cross-sector acceleration which technology is driving is significant. Online education is being reinvented in weeks (as opposed to years) in many countries. AI-driven prediction models are innovating the way we predict which heathcare centre requires which resources, and subsequently what form of Governmental intervention. Manufacturing firms are pivoting their workflows to address new societal needs.

The real disruption however is not that which manifests itself in physical products (although those are great too), but in the minds of millions of entrepreneurs worldwide who have understood that capitalising on the changes brought about by the crisis is the only way to avoid being disrupted.

Switch: The Comprehensive Guide to Marketing in Uncertain Times

Click here to get the free e-Book

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