The Importance of Innovation in Times of Change

Doesn’t the first week in March feel so far away now? There we all were looking forward to spring in blissful ignorance about the tsunami of change that we were all about to experience. Now it is real. Two weeks after lockdown started and there is no end in sight. Your world has been turned upside down. Homes have been transformed into mini offices as families are all trying to find their own quiet corner in which to work, work clothes have been replaced by t-shirts and sweat pants and the dog is now hiding every time the word ‘walk’ is mentioned!

And what about your organizations? The ‘double whammy’ of the lockdown and a plummeting oil price has hit the Province hard. How will your current business model survive and how will you be able to execute your services with fewer resources and more demand? How can you continue to serve the community when you haven’t seen many of your clients in person for weeks?

Many people will be feeling a sense of helplessness in the face of these questions and will be hoping that we can all get back to ‘normal’. But, as we all know, ‘hope is not a strategy’ and that ‘normal’ may never happen. There will be a recovery, but the world could look very different when this is all over. In that sense business owners and organizational leaders are all sitting at home under lockdown wondering what their own little piece of recovery is going to look like.

If you haven’t noticed this crisis is already driving innovation; Italian manufacturers have 3D printed ventilator valves, an Alberta start-up has pivoted from creating a new test for Prostate Cancer to working on a test for Covid 19, brewers here in Alberta making hand sanitizer, retailers and restaurants of all types are providing curb-side delivery.

This is the perfect time for a re-think – a time to work on your business, not in your business. Re-think what you offer, re-think how you offer it, re-think your delivery channels. In short, re-think your whole business model. You probably should have done this before now, but now there is an imperative driving you to action.
So, how should you approach this seminal time for your business?

1. Go into this with a positive / ‘growth’ mindset
This might be the best opportunity that your business or organization has ever had to grow stronger and more resilient and you must think that way. Re-frame your current situation as an opportunity. Alter your perspective. Act entrepreneurial and fall in love with finding a solution again, focus on the challenge ahead and look at this as the best opportunity for future growth. If you lead a team, be a model of positivity and direction. The crisis will generate natural energy in your team, and it will be crucial to unite that energy around a common purpose to generate a wave of momentum towards creating a new future.

2. Focus on your customer or client and take time to understand the new world that is emerging
We all know that the best innovations solve a clearly defined customer problem. You have successfully done this before, so you can do it again. Take time to understand how your customer’s problems/jobs to be done might have changed during the crisis, but also take a step back to understand how the world has changed and its impact on the systems around you. Did the system operate effectively before? Given the fact that the need for support has outpaced the supply of funding and services for some time, many people would argue not. A more holistic view of a new system that works for more people might lead you to new opportunities that were not available before.

3. Think freely
Once you have a clear idea of how your customers’ problems and the world around you has changed, take the opportunity to think freely about the opportunities the crisis provides. Look at adjacent industries and how they are overcoming the current crisis. Don’t be fearful of resource scarcity as many of the most successful innovations come from constraints. But do take the opportunity to re-combine the resources available to you, think what new community partnerships you can create (there will be strength in collaboration), re-calibrate your offering and think the unthinkable. After the lockdown is over, do you really need to deal with your customers or clients in person? Do you really need high street premises?

4. Reassert the importance of Experimentation
We’ve all read the books about the importance of experimentation when developing a new innovation or solution, but have you ever really had the guts to do it? With such a profound change to the world, no-one can assume to know what solutions will really solve the new customer problems you have identified. This is a clean slate, an opportunity to start afresh and in this situation, data trumps opinion.

Set out multiple small-scale experiments to test the most important assumptions in your new business model and work out the simplest, most small-scale way that you can test these assumptions with a small set of clients. Over time, this will identify the best way to move your business forward. This is a scrappy process and many of your experiments will fail but be kind to yourself. Failures at small scale are not costly mistakes, they are simply opportunities for learning.

5. Have a bias towards action and adopt an agile mindset

Don’t dwell on your situation and spend too much time planning. Get on and act – the pace of ideation, decision making, and implementation all need to increase dramatically. This current crisis has reaffirmed that we live in a VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) world and no-one has all the answers. Create experiments and see what happens. If you lead a team, you will need to model agility in your leadership. Agile leadership means the ability to listen to diverse opinions and empower your team to act without necessarily knowing where it will take you, building flexibility into your ‘plan’ and the willingness to pivot when the data tells you.

6. Focus on Community
While we all need to respect the importance of physical distance during the lockdown, you should not socially isolate yourself from the network of businesses, social support organizations and assistance programs that are available to you. Many of the most creative solutions in a crisis come from the collision of diverse opinions and the combination of resources that have, hitherto, not been considered. So, go through your contacts and find a way to connect virtually with other people grappling with the same problem and see where it takes you.

Covid-19 is a terrible shock to the Alberta economy as well as the thousands of individuals and families it has affected. The crisis has irrevocably changed the way businesses and organizations will compete over the next decade, but we will probably look back at this time as one of great innovation; new solutions to meet the needs of customers and clients, new drugs and medical devices, new manufacturing and supply chain breakthroughs, and new collaboration techniques. But only if we act now. Those that get this right will ride the tsunami and thrive. Go for it!

Listen to our most recent Responsible Disruption: Innovation Table.

Register for our next Innovation Table on April 15 at 2:00 MST as we discuss Creating a Culture of Possibility with Bina Patel, CEO and Founder of Saathi Impact Consluting LLC.