How Businesses Can Innovate In A Time Of Crisis
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Innovation in a Time of Crisis

17 June 2020

The COVID-19 crisis has thrown businesses worldwide off course, but also spurred inspiring acts of innovation. Companies and private individuals alike have proven how quickly human beings can adapt to changes and how resourceful they can be in times of crisis.

Without a doubt, the current crisis has resulted in various innovations. Furthermore, it has created a shift in how many organisations – large and small – view their businesses and core products. Production, product and workforce priorities are changing at a rate never experienced before, creating dynamic working environments that we could not imagine in 2019. While some innovations, such as offering online solutions for clients, are quite simple and obvious, others require advanced-solution approaches. One thing is for certain: organisations that adopt an innovative mindset will thrive throughout the COVID-19 crisis and beyond.

When a crisis hits, we are forced to confront the truth about how our systems work (or don’t). The places where things could be done better or more efficiently become glaringly obvious. The ability to work remotely is an example of this.

Understanding that your organisation can reflect on gaps and seek to rectify them is key to accelerating out of this crisis. If we understand where our human capital investments are needed, you can provide the long-term solutions. Be bold, don’t be afraid to ask internally and externally for innovative solutions.

Here are three examples of good innovation best practices:

1. Embracing collaboration
Fact: collaboration brings competitive advantage. According to a recent study by CB Insights Growth Collective, 79% of high performing companies indicated a preference for innovating via partnership or acquisition against less than half (49%) of their lower-performing peers. There are various reasons why many organisations are reluctant to collaborate, e.g. fear of sharing intellectual property, data privacy and often simply the belief that collaboration outside one’s organisation is unnecessary. However, the current health crisis has shown an immense degree of partnership and coordination. When Amazon got flooded with requests duringthe lockdown period, they took on employees who had been laid off by their companies. Even after the COVID-19 crisis has passed, we should remember that collaboration is business best practice and we must all include it in our innovation strategies.

2. Challenging established beliefs
Companies tend to adhere to certain beliefs about their products, business models, markets, clients, and competitors. Throughout time, realities change, but aren’t revisited and questioned. However, it is crucial to regularly examine and challenge these beliefs and reassess them if necessary. Let’s take the shortage of face masks as an example. Numerous textile companies worldwide have reacted promptly and started producing protective masks in response. Making a habit of evaluating existing structures can prompt innovation and bring additional growth.

3. Acting fast, refining later
Due to unnecessary processes, health and safety regulations, IT restrictions and other bureaucratic hurdles, organisations in general may be slow when introducing changes. Academic institutions in particular have a reputation for moving very slowly. However, when it became clear that educational institutions will be closed for a longer period, schools and universities had to react fast to ensure ongoing education. In the UK, within a few weeks, a consortium of 80 state school teachers developed – in co-operation with the Department for Education and the Oak National Academy – an online classroom and resource hub covering a wide range of subjects. A process that would normally take years was put into place within a few weeks. Many schools already had access to online learning portals, which could be easily adapted for online learning. Others had to patch together solutions that may not have been perfect, but were better than nothing at all. Analogous to this, companies that don’t take any action in crises may fail, whereas those that try to find new and creative solutions will prevail.

The COVID-19 pandemic enables us to look at conditions that have prompted innovation and to observe how organisations have responded. Time will show how effective those innovations are in the long term. Meanwhile, companies should monitor the development, reflect on their learnings, and apply them to stay innovative – regardless of external circumstances.