Harnessing creativity and innovation during a crisis

My series on innovation, tech and business continues as we examine how business and government responses to COVID-19 are revealing creative ways to tackle significant problems resulting from the pandemic. 

Life as we know it has changed dramatically and it remains to be seen how effectively and quickly economies, governments, businesses and institutions can respond to the crises. But one thing is for sure: Organizations that draw on creativity and innovation will be the ones that weather the storm of uncertainty and a new way of doing life. 

Successful responses include leaders who have committed to innovation, overhauled their infrastructure, used social innovation, as well as organizations that are dominating during the COVID-19 pandemic. These case studies can serve as your guide to how to navigate the rough waters of COVID-19, all the way to innovation.

Going All-In On Innovation

When a company commits to innovation, the opportunity to be nimble and face change head-on rises. A look at the latest Most Innovative Companies annual report released by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) reflects how the qualities of serial innovation and the perks of scale are even more applicable today, as COVID-19 requires a rapidly shifting way of getting things done. 

The report outlines how going all-in on innovation when there’s an economic downturn allows companies to outperform their competitors over the long run. The successful qualities these companies share include:

  • Creating and adopting a clear strategy for innovation.
  • Identifying the appropriate resources to support it.
  • Leveraging the benefits of scalability.
  • Ensuring that your system for innovation can respond quick enough when an opportunity presents itself. 

While a commitment to innovation is a must, according to the report’s findings, successful organizations must also rely on advanced analytics, technology platforms and digital design to address several innovation challenges at the same time. 

While innovation is an important quality to build sustainability, a company’s infrastructure is also critical. In the age of COVID, successful innovation stories abound, including Lidl, a budget supermarket that lets its customers interact with an online chatbot to find less-busy times to shop, theoretically reducing exposure to COVID and ensuring healthy customers.

Overhauling Infrastructure

When a time of disruption presents itself, and rapid change becomes the norm, it can be difficult for institutions to shift their way of doing business when they’ve depended on stability – a quality that directly contributed to their success in the first place – to promote efficiency. While innovation at the service and product level can help a business survive, what is really required to keep up with rapid-change increases (due to economic globalization and COVID-19) is innovation at the institutional level. 

Deloitte Insights advises that companies create a new architecture in order to facilitate creativity and build opportunities for interaction and relationship into that infrastructure. In this way, information can flow across and within their organization and lead to adaptability, increased learning, and as a result, innovation. Whether this comes through opening up the employee pool to new, diverse markets or investing in platforms and training that make collaboration more effective, organizations can drive changes that bring success during—and after—COVID.

With a commitment to innovation and infrastructure, two qualities that emerge during a time of crisis, another important element to consider is social innovation, especially at a time when social distancing and remote work are mandatory.

Employing Social Innovation

TACSI, a national social innovation company, led the way during the COVID outbreak and continues to do so as the pandemic continues to shape policy and innovation. They encourage organizations to take advantage of social innovation opportunities as we emerge from work-from-home requirements and social distancing. They encourage companies to think future-forward, as business will be forever changed. 

Focusing on social innovation now will be the driver for effective change management – as social innovation will help propel imagination, promote the concept that we can do things differently, and then give form to these ideas. Now that online and remote working have largely had a positive impact, another important consideration is to ensure that the human element, which is at the core of social change, be included in discussions for how to structure work after the pandemic – especially for organizations that once relied on the physical presence of employees and customers.

Finally, social innovation can also help us reimagine the future in a better way, and out of a challenging shared experience across the globe, give rise to hope. TASCI suggests five positive potential outcomes from the pandemic, which include:

  • People being more like actual “people” at work (now that many of us have likely done a video call wearing pajama bottoms).
  • Having a renewed value for caring for and connecting with others.
  • Seeing an increased number of people volunteering within their communities.
  • Giving prominence to having more resources available for things like mental health.

Companies that use this season to focus on creativity and innovation are the ones that actually get ahead.

Responding Like An All-Star

It may seem counterintuitive, but a pandemic is also a time of opportunity. And while COVID-19 has exposed weaknesses in countries like the U.S., it has also propelled innovation. For instance, Inokyo, a startup that builds and installs autonomous checkout processes for retail stores, employed the technical knowledge it had developed using cameras to track grocery shopping purchases to build a new product, Act, which is designed to help with contact-tracing in the workplace. 

To bring more humanity to healthcare, OhmniLabs used its telepresence robot to help with virtual visits, connecting quarantined patients diagnosed with COVID-19 with their families. Outschool, a startup that produces online video chat classes, saw the demand for their classes taught by independent teachers skyrocket, giving away $1M in free classes to spur adoption.

Banjo Robinson is another tech company capitalizing on the changing consumer behavior during COVID-19. The digital interactive penpal technology service has rapidly grown during the pandemic. Hamama, a producer of microgreen kits has seen sales grow significantly, too. Given the people are stuck at home, the mail-order kits are giving homebound people access to fresh produce. And finally, Stanford has jumped into the race to help businesses innovate, offering free access to a digital toolkit designed to help entrepreneurs identify and evaluate potential projects that could help the economy recover from the effects of COVID-19.

If your business has been hit hard by the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, you don’t have to be a victim to circumstance. Your organization can drive change from within by following these innovative examples of reimagining what business looks like and effectively capitalizing on change.

Share your take on the best change management solutions and examples during COVID-19 pandemic with a comment below, and follow my LinkedIn for additional insights.