Innovation in times of crisis

The corona crisis is an unforeseen challenge that we need to solve as quickly as possible. And a lot is already happening. The confusing and uncertain situation highlights how crucial innovation really is. It is essential for two reasons: we must rapidly develop solutions for the corona crisis on the one hand. On the other hand, countries and companies severely suffering from the economic consequences need to recover and get up and running again.

So, how can lessons from this pandemic contribute to the optimization of your innovation in times of crisis?

1. Innovation is crucial

Innovation is crucial to anticipate for the future and secure the company’s existence. Many companies struggle to manage and implement innovation efficiently. A major reason is the reluctance to change. But that is exactly what innovation is about. Innovation is about developing new, better solutions for the challenges you are facing. What we experience today in society is that we do change, simply because we are obliged to. And it feels uncomfortable in many ways. We still tend to shake hands when we meet people… So if we want to deal with the situation, we have to completely transform our behaviour and many of our habits. Luckily, mankind always adapts, but often needs a hand to do so.

Today, a majority of companies are obliged to innovate and to reinvent themselves. In fact, companies should do so continuously and anticipate for radical changes and disruptions, which will arise sooner or later. Airline companies did not realise that web conferencing endangered their business. Organisations that did not allow remote (tele)working, suddenly adapted their processes within a week. Restaurants now offer full take-away service and embrace Deliveroo. Has radical innovation become the ‘new normal? It seems so.

2. Learn from the known

how to innovate in crisis
Good artists copy, great artists steal.
Pablo Picasso

In the rush of developing a drug or vaccine against Covid-19, we notice that researchers dive into publications from existing research. Dr. Paul Stoffels, Chief Scientific Officer at Johnson & Johnson, is convinced that massive vaccination against corona will be possible, the latest in the first half of 2021, thanks to existing knowledge and experience. ‘It has been 30 years that we are in research of viruses. It must be possible to develop a very efficient medicine against Covid-19. We have learned how to quickly develop vaccines and to produce them in large quantities. This acquired knowledge is applicable and extremely useful today. We just selected a candidate vaccine for Covid-19.’[1]

This a global strategy. A previous creax blogpost ‘What we can learn from previous SARS outbreaks’, explains the data analysis research performed on a large pool of scientific documents describing prevention, strategies, diagnostics, therapeutics for SARS-coronaviruses. We mapped responses of the scientific and industrial communities and discovered similarities in these responses after the SARS-CoV-1 outbreak in 2003 and this SARS-CoV-2. We revealed a general pattern of research groups following established strategies but they also get inspired from strategies, therapies that were previously not uniquely developed for coronavirus outbreaks. A broad perspective on the technology landscape clearly accelerates the development of solutions against the current COVID-19 outbreak.

Map existing knowledge

Any innovation and R&D process should start from strategic insights in existing knowledge. Before developing something new, we should first map what is already out there. However, too often we skip this very logical step. And do not restrict your research to your own domain. Merely every problem already has been solved by someone, somewhere. Existing knowledge across industries and domains very often leads to direct implementation, or at least inspires to develop innovative solutions. As such, the wheel is not reinvented, and the risk factor related to innovation is reduced subsequently. And we save precious time.

3. Innovation in times of crisis

Again, in times of pressure and crisis, innovation is more important than ever. And people, governments and companies do acknowledge this. On the other hand, too many don’t dare to jump because of the economic and financial consequences and budget restrictions. And this is a wrong attitude. Everything comes too late, for those who wait.

Two years ago, a company approached creax in panic, as they suddenly realised they were missing the innovation train. As a consequence, competitors seemed to have created a serious gap, leaving them behind. Interviewing the leadership team confirmed that the company barely survived the financial crisis of 2008. Since, they only concentrated on operational excellence, ignoring dedicated R&D and technological innovation. In that past decade, their playing field, being the automotive industry, drastically changed, without them realising the direct impact on their activities. Of course it is more easily said than done, but companies must innovate in times of crises to survive and safeguard their existence. But efficient innovation does not necessarily have to result in big spending. Very often, there are unexpected white space opportunities, the low hanging fruit. Doing nothing is definitely not an option.

Conclusion

People are longing to get back to the normal. However, everything changes and we come to the so-called ‘new normal’. And the only solution to be ready for this upcoming new normal is innovation. To conclude on innovation in times of crisis:

  1. Innovation is crucial at all times.
  2. Be open for change and embrace it.
  3. Learn from the known.

[1] Trends, 46stejaargang, 2 april 2020