Businesses navigate challenges every day, but when business is good, innovation can seem like a small piece of the puzzle. Sometimes, it takes a crisis—whether internal, regional, or global—to highlight the importance of innovative ideas. Crisis can take many forms. Most relevant today is the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but we cannot forget about climate change, supply chain disruptions, humanitarian concerns, and others. Past innovations have come from financial crises, natural disasters, and raw material shortages.
The Challenges of Innovation in Times of Crisis
Innovation always carries risk. In times of crisis, risk can sound especially scary to your business. However, seizing the opportunities that also present themselves from innovation requires tolerating some amount of risk.
Innovation rarely just happens. Creative, forward-thinking businesses dedicate resources to coming up with novel ideas and seeing them to commercialization. Innovation during a crisis is no different. It requires strategic management and resources, as well as the right team members (including AI). If your organization neglected innovation until presented with a crisis, creating this framework from the ground up increases your time to market, perhaps reducing your competitive advantage in a changing landscape.
The novel ideas your business comes up with today may not immediately benefit your business. The innovation lifecycle, even when accelerated, takes time. Research shows that innovation during a crisis is still critical. Investing in new ideas now can not only lift performance during the crisis, but help you remain competitive afterward as well. For example, many restaurants turned to digital ordering, virtual classes, and QR codes during COVID-19 rather than shutting their doors. These innovations allowed restaurants to survive the pandemic and change how they do business well into the future.
Taking Advantage of Opportunities
In order to capitalize on the opportunities presented by a crisis, your organization should consider these questions:
Who is in crisis?
Some businesses face real, daunting challenges during crises that only impact their business, their industry, or their city. Then there are crises that affect the entire world. How your business reacts to the current crisis depends on who is facing disruption. Navigating a short-lived supply chain disruption may require limited innovation. However, a lengthy worldwide crisis (like COVID-19) may prompt companies to consider whether their business model will remain profitable or even possible.
Why are you innovating?
The short answer here may have to do with the potential financial and competitive gains to be made from innovation. Would you be able to recover post-crisis if you choose to forgo innovation at this time? However, during a widespread crisis, you may find your team is working toward a greater purpose. This motivation, as well as the natural constraints presented by the crisis, can spur innovation.
COVID-19, as well as other widespread crises, illustrate this point perfectly. In the early days of the pandemic, organizations rallied to manufacture and distribute personal protective equipment (PPE) and other supplies as fast as possible. Distilleries made hand sanitizer, Dyson and Ford made ventilators, and a huge variety of businesses started making face masks and shields.
Is there a system in place?
A good idea or two is not enough for sustainable, monetizable innovation. If there was no system in place to manage innovation before the crisis you’re facing, let it serve as a reminder to ensure a robust innovation pipeline and process for vetting ideas is in place. Investing in an innovation workflow ensures ideas are generated consistently and move through the invention process with ease.