The COVID-19 epidemic has had an overwhelmingly detrimental impact on economies, communities, families and individuals across the globe. It is challenging to identify any positive outcomes from this situation; however, it is important to recognise that adversity can bring valuable lessons and opportunities for future development. There may be strategies that can be taken from this experience and integrated into our everyday lives.
The COVID-19 pandemic served to highlight the capacity for innovation of many businesses. They were often presented with a stark ultimatum of “innovate or perish”, and this led to a number of examples of outcomes. Businesses that had previously never employed remote workers were quickly able to set up entire departments for remote working, while many teams searched the world to keep their manufacturing lines running and provide essential items to those who needed them.
Many managers have been pleasantly surprised and somewhat amazed by their employees’ response to the challenge, and how they were able to come up with and put into practice creative solutions to problems in a matter of hours. It is understandable that those in positions of authority would like to maintain the organisation’s ability to be inventive and capture some of the “animal spirits” that allowed for even quicker invention for use in the future.
It is essential to look beyond the political, tragic, and difficult aspects of the current pandemic in order to recognise the positive outcomes of it, particularly in terms of the speed at which innovation has occurred. Regardless of whether your next challenge is on a global scale or is the introduction of a new product, having this attitude will be beneficial to your company.
Calculating the Potential Benefits and Drawbacks
Following extensive interviews with businesses, a recurring theme emerged; a rethinking of the traditional ‘risk vs benefit’ assessment for pandemic innovation. Whilst few leaders would ever advocate retaliation against calculated risk-takers, there has been some interest in previous outcomes for failed pioneers prior to the pandemic.
In the past, people would invest their political capital in attempting to convince others to try something new. Success would result in credit being shared amongst all those involved, however, at the first sign of failure, all parties would seek to distance themselves from the innovator.
In some cases, the risks involved in making changes within an organisation were often taken on by a select few, while the benefits were not distributed equally. It was often a situation of a single individual taking on a much larger entity, with limited assistance or support from the institution.
The threat of existential devastation Organisational and individual changes significantly impacted the circumstances. When faced with a genuine risk to your livelihood, you may be willing to take a risk on any plan that offers a glimmer of hope.
Suddenly, everyone was involved in altering the status quo, since the potential benefits exceeded the dangers.
Reconfiguring the Cost-Benefit Analysis
Those responsible for maintaining their teams’ or organisations’ innovative capabilities when the world returns to a more normal state must actively engage in a “rewiring” process. Due to the pandemic, incentives have shifted, so that the reward for taking risks is now greater than the reward for maintaining the status quo.
You may do this “rewiring” by having candid conversations with your team members and asking them free-form questions like:
- The ability to experiment with new strategies is a direct result of the shifts brought on by the epidemic.
- What are the top two structural adjustments you plan to keep after the pandemic?
- What new approaches did your leader take that freed creativity?
By asking simple, open-ended questions, we can start to identify patterns without needing an extensive research project or costly consulting agreement. The aim is to identify the techniques that have enabled innovation and experimentation during the pandemic, so that we can replicate or even improve them when the pandemic has ended.
It has been suggested that a relaxation of typical regulations and laws could encourage creative actions. While your company may have created an overly restrictive set of guidelines and regulations, it would not be feasible to eliminate all policies and controls entirely. These may have hindered creativity, but they may be adapted to maintain necessary oversight without inhibiting creativity.
It is evident that there have been few serious repercussions for trials that did not turn out as expected. Several senior executives I have worked with have stated that several initiatives implemented during the pandemic did not immediately produce desired results. However, this may have provided useful insights or generated new tools that have enabled progress in other areas.
Essentially, they shifted their perspective from viewing failure as a damaging setback to a career to seeing it as an essential part of the journey to success. There is some truth to the idea of ‘failing fast’; it demonstrates that you are attempting to be innovative. Like an athlete who never exercises, a business that never takes risks will never be able to innovate.
To the Future
Innovation The success achieved during the epidemic was not the result of any extraordinary event. Leaders likely adjusted the balance of risk and reward in favour of experimentation, rather than requiring innovators to assess and reduce the risk of their ideas until they were no longer viable. The larger corporation also reassessed the value of innovation, recognising that everything was at stake and the existing situation was insufficient.
It is probable that the expertise, abilities, and assets required to maintain invention are already evident. Utilising and incorporating these insights will guarantee that you sustain innovation even in the midst of worldwide disasters, instead of attempting to return to the “traditional approach” immediately and losing the progress you have made with your fresh inventive flair.