Pulse of Innovation: Innovating through a Crisis

July 21, 2020

Every so often we ask our community to sound off on popular topics in innovation and share their best tips, tricks, and advice in hopes that their answers may inspire others in the field. We’ve gathered these insights by email, over phone calls, at events and roundtables, and catching up with clients and colleagues.

It’s been roughly a half-year since COVID-19 wrenched daily life from “normal” to “crisis”. Around the globe, organizations of all sizes have tried to adapt. Most focused first on survival and continuity. Some have prioritized employee retention. Others are revising sales projections and KPIs, trying to set realistic goals for “success” despite the unpredictable climate. Everyone is making short-term adjustments while trying to anticipate the impact to their business in the long run.

Alongside these challenges, there are reasons for optimism as well. Some of the most amazing innovations were born out of chaos. After six months of dealing with ambiguity, we have even heard some leaders argue “normal” was always a convenient fiction, and that there is no clear version of normalcy to return to.

The opportunity for innovation is cresting toward an all-time high. The role of innovators – today, like always – will be crucial in driving positive change. But in these uncertain times, even the innovation leaders struggle with how exactly to mobilize their efforts.

In this Pulse of Innovation, we’ve asked: how do you keep innovation moving during a crisis? Here’s what we heard:

  • Focus on Consumer Needs – Consumer-facing industries need to innovate with the customer in mind. It is always important to look for unmet or underserved needs, but especially now, innovators need to consider changing needs as well. Given the evolving crisis, new compounding factors may impact consumers’ lifestyles, habits, and/or budgets. Many of these new trends may become permanent; others may be evanescent. All should be evaluated carefully in your innovation work.

  • Leverage Existing Assets and Relationships – With many large offices, labs, and R&D centers shut down for the foreseeable future, organizations can repurpose research and learnings from older projects and unsuccessful experiments. New applications for existing technologies can bring short term value to the business without endangering the long term innovation strategy. The same holds true for external connections and innovation networks. A strategic alliance that didn’t make sense a year or two ago might now be a favorable opportunity for both organizations.

  • Evaluate Current Projects – Consider the relevancy of projects in the pipeline. With the disruption of normal day to day life, certain areas of your technology portfolio might need more attention than others. Should you put more weight behind specific bets and pivot away from others? There may be stalled projects that deserve renewed priority given the current situation. What can be done to help customers, both locally and globally? Such reflections are always useful in the background, but they acquire greater urgency and frequency in periods of upheaval.

  • Advocate for Organizational Optimization – Local and global crises can force an organization to operate differently. While many large corporations and enterprises resist change, periods of global uncertainty can be used to address long-simmering issues with decisive action. As teams react to emergency response and government orders, they can inadvertently discover workarounds that are more effective than the existing processes and activities.

  • Invest in People – A temporary slowdown in business presents an opportunity for organizations to level up their workforce. With less time spent in meetings and nonexistent commutes, employees have the bandwidth to pursue professional development. Individuals with a fluid skill set may be able to adapt more quickly, supporting other teams or contributing to the mission of the organization in a new way.

Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments below. For more tips, check out our growing collection of Pulse of Innovation posts!

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay



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