The importance of innovation during a crisis
May 15, 2020
7 MIN READ

Road to Recovery: Why Innovation Matters Now More Than Ever

The Covid-19 crisis has been likened to the Great Depression, the Great Financial Crisis of 2008, and the Spanish Flu of 1918. While every crisis is unique, creating parallels to other extreme financial and health crises helps us understand what worked, what didn’t, and what innovative approaches are needed to meet the new challenges of post-pandemic life.

How will your company fare on the road to recovery? What should you focus on to come out of this crisis stronger? Brands are already making tough decisions about the future of their business and we want to help. We’ve gathered timely advice from industry experts, thought leaders, and brand executives on how to spur innovation, seize new opportunities, and create meaningful connections on the road to recovery.

For the first topic in this series we asked 5 business executives, academics and thought leaders why innovation matters now more than ever. Here is the list of experts you’ll be hearing from on this topic:

  1. Art Markman, professor of psychology and marketing, University of Texas, Austin and executive director, IC-squared Institute
  2. Dr. Kumar Mehta, innovation expert, founder of Bridges Insight, and author of The Innovation Biome
  3. Tim Galles, chief idea officer, Barkley, and author of  Scratch: How to build a potent modern brand from the inside out
  4. Dr. Ioannis Ioannou, associate professor of strategy and entrepreneurship, London Business School

While their backgrounds may be varied, all our experts agree: This is not a time for business as usual and companies hoping to emerge from this crisis with their brands intact need to be looking far beyond the virtual walls of their businesses. See what they had to say in this video series, “Fueling the Next Wave of Innovation: Expert advice for companies on leading through a crisis.

Here is a quick recap of the advice and insights they shared in our video series: 

Use the opportunity for innovating, learning and evolving

Despite the doubt and anxiety, now is the time to strengthen your resolve and focus. Businesses will be remembered for how they responded with creativity, innovation, and customer-centricity.

It’s crucial that companies identify, prioritize and continue to invest in initiatives that will future-proof their organizations.  Brands need their teams to be as agile as possible, and empowered to pivot strategies and areas of focus while still remaining true to the company vision and mission. 

Once brands rediscover their new purpose and an evolving market need they’re going to try and fulfill,  it’s time to take advantage of the possibilities. Instead of going into “save and divest” mode, companies that can see beyond the current situation to continue innovating to meet changing needs are those most likely to survive.

“This is a great time to be thinking about new customers…I think that the brands that are going to come out of this stronger are the ones that are finding really smart ways to innovate. It’s really important and you’re seeing brands find this time to not only press the pause button or a panic button, but actually to press a prototype or an innovation button.”

Tim Galles
chief idea officer, Barkley

Click here so see the video in its entirety

Our experts agree that in the middle of the crisis, companies have two choices. Either to save, in other words, entrench their way out of a recession, or to invest their way out of a recession. And there are reasons to do both. During the great recession companies both: they saved and invested their way out of a crisis by adopting a two-pronged approach. 

Some of the things that brands need to start thinking about is how are the customers changing? How are their needs and wants and desires and what they value, how is that changing? And if they keep abreast of the macro shifts, they’ll have a better sense of how to meet those changing needs.”

Dr. Kumar Mehta
innovation expert and founder of the Bridges Insight think tank

Dr. Ioannis Ioannou, associate professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at the London Business School explains that on the savings side, what companies did back then was to cap investments in tangible assets like building plans and equipment. In other words, they did everything to maintain two critical intangible resources: stakeholder relationships and innovation capability. 

Companies need to take a step back and consider what their strategic assets are. What is the foundation of your business model and how can you make those strategic adjustments in terms of saving or investing so as to maintain survival but also competitiveness? 

Consumption patterns have definitely been impacted. So in addition to thinking of the medium and the short term, companies should also keep in mind how this preference, how these relationships are going to look like in a post-crisis world. Start thinking, what sort of investments could I make today so I adjust, so I adapt, and therefore I’m a better fit for that changed world that’s going to appear after the crisis.””

Dr. Ioannis Ioannou
assoc. professor of strategy and entrepreneurship, London Business School

Staying true to your roots

All five of our experts agree, it’s time for business leaders to take a moment to reflect and ask themselves some key fundamental questions about their mission, their customers, their employees, and the communities they serve. 

Looking beyond business interests and customer desires, companies now have the opportunity to grow their community and to put in place the value statements that have hung on their walls during times of prosperity.

One of the things that I think we all need to be thinking about at this time is the importance of community in everything we do and really working together to find partnerships that will enable us to move forward. In what ways can brands actually demonstrate that they can help people to find some degree of connection to their broader community and to feel a connection to something bigger than themselves?

Dr. Art Markman
professor of psychology, University of Texas, Austin and executive director, IC² Institute

So while companies are trying to figure out what they need to do to control costs, maintain profitability, help support employees or even how they communicate with people on an ongoing basis, now is a really good time to do some deep soul searching. The most successful companies are the ones that stay true to their mission and purpose, what their core was, and now is a good time to ask some of those fundamental questions.

A simple SWOT analysis can also help your business and your teams to decide what’s important now and what will lead the organization forward in the future. 

What are your strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats? Are your strengths going to be relevant going forward? Do you need to build new strengths based on the new normal? Did the weaknesses that you have exacerbate the problems you went through? Did they cripple you or were they not relevant? Are you going to have new weaknesses going forward that you’re going to have to address? Opportunities may have disappeared or changed, but, there may be new opportunities out there to explore.”

Tim Galles
chief idea officer, Barkley

All economic meltdowns cause disruption to the business cycle due in large part to the uncertainty that accompanies these events. We know it’s happening, we just don’t know what the duration will be or how people will respond once the immediate crisis is over. In the short term, companies are taking a look at who they are, who their customers are, and what they can do to respond to the immediate economic concerns. But how will you look forward?

How do I stay authentic to my message and the integrity of my brand while at the same time tackling these very difficult questions that the meltdown is raising? This is the biggest trade-off companies are likely to face. It’s about how to stay true to the purpose of my organization, its mission, and its long-term vision, versus managing these economic disturbances.” 

Dr. Ioannis Ioannou
assoc. professor of strategy and entrepreneurship, London Business School

Very few companies are profitable right now in the midst of this pandemic which makes this a great time to invest in innovation and focus on making sure you’re well-positioned to emerge stronger from this crisis. A crisis shouldn’t be a reason to stall innovation projects. Experts around the world recommend quite the opposite. Now is the time to question conventional wisdom and assumptions, move quickly and think and act decisively.

Experts want to stress that it’s even more important right now to be inclusive in your innovation efforts. Innovation is not limited to a few people who think they’re in charge of innovation. We now need all ideas on the table and we don’t know who has the best ideas.  

Learn more about what these and other experts have to say about responding to the crisis, leadership and looking ahead. Explore our guide featuring expert advice, helpful resources and blogs to help companies navigate and lead through a crisis.

This is the first in a series of three blogs highlighting our expert advice for brands looking to lead on the road to recovery. You may also be interested in reading:

Building Resilience to Lead Your Company Through a Crisis and Reinvention and Business Continuity in a Post-Pandemic World

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