Bold Innovators Thrive in a crisis.
It is a very well-known fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has played a pivotal role in accelerating the adoption of digital technologies in all its tragedy.
A very well-known meme, which has been circulating in the past several months on social media posts, executive, choosing is COVID-19 as the leading reason for digital transformation within the company’s innovation in innovating in a crisis.
Many have recalled the Italian Renaissance that happened just after the bubonic plague. So, they find solace in this cycle-the light of hope in moving forward.
But innovating in transforming businesses during a crisis is now critical, not only for survival but also because we have seen firsthand how particular companies have been thriving in the past 12 months compared with others.
Research from McKinsey pinpoints that bold innovators — the companies who dare to innovate during a crisis — perform better and deliver better performance. The bottom line is that innovation pays during and afterward, both in economic and financial terms-
How do you kickstart innovation during a crisis?
While there is no easy recipe to do so, we make a fundamental first step by striving for simplicity. To the extent that complexity belongs to marketplaces and marketplaces are ambiguous and volatile enough, firms need to embrace those complexities, but that doesn’t mean that they must not bring it inside the company and wrangle with it.
Bold Innovators and the Need for Speed
A simple model to kickstart innovation includes four steps:
1) Need for Speed.
The key metric in this cycle is speed. Speed is everything. Being late to the party often means being nowhere. There is plenty of research supporting the notion that being first, even though there is no first-mover advantage any longer, helps deliver better results. Of course, speed is a trade-off with quality. Perfection takes time. To jumpstart innovation in your firm, you need to prefer speed to completeness by launching earlier and fixing later.
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2) Manage Risks.
The second aspect that corporates need to embed within their culture of innovation is a risk. There is no innovation without risk.
Innovation is about risk-taking. Of course, it’s not about betting and going all in, in a single hand. It’s about taking the proper steps by betting on multiple potential futures, technologies, and ideas, learning from them, and then deciding which one makes bigger longer-term bets.
And while firms should embrace risk for innovating, that doesn’t mean that innovators within those corporates should risk jeopardizing one career for innovating. When firms build a system whereby employees risk their careers by being innovative, they have effectively created a model to kill innovation and get rid of the most suited to pursue innovation. Naturally, they should do the opposite by creating innovation safe-heavens and attracting the most talented innovators.
3) Get in the right shape.
A good playground for unleashing innovation is the innovation process itself. A corporation that aims to work with speed must eliminate either not customer-oriented; or not innovation-oriented activities. And the key is to get rid of activities that slow down the testing, the learning, and the decision-making process.
One year after the pandemic, we know that there is zoom-fatigue, there is remote fatigue, for numerous endless meetings. So really, very simply, are we making decisions in all those meetings? Should these meetings be just an email exchange or a Slack exchange? Should this email be even an email?!?
Where should we start? While collaborative tools are omnipresent, there is still a tendency not to fully use them. So people prefer to share by one-sided email revisions of documents or comments by email. Simultaneously, the adoption of collaborative documents where multiple actors work on, analyze and edit the same document simultaneously provides incredible results in saving time. That’s all speed. But of course, that is the starting point. The next bottleneck belongs to the realm of decision-making.
4) Faster, better, and more seamless decision making
One of the most likely killers of innovation within firms is discussing a five-year revenue growth or market share for a market that does not exist yet. These endless discussions represent a bottleneck for speed and make no sense in a VUCA world. Focusing on details, we can’t control might be dangerous in a volatile, ambiguous, and uncertain marketplace, where the past is not a good predictor of the future.
To embrace speed, corporates need to start co-creating future scenarios: this will help set a context for innovation and manage risk more effectively. It will even speed up the decision-making process.
The pandemic is also an example of how VUCA our world is, and how 12 months into it, we still do not see what the “new normal” will look like.
Future Scenarios should be the output of a creative, collaborative, co-creation process. Involving the customers in the process produces better, more relevant human-centric, digitally-enabled scenarios. It also serves to avoid a faux-pas of innovation: technology is not the purpose of innovating. It is often one of the means of innovation. Streaming did not become mainstream because it is a better technology, but it provides tangible benefits based on relevant customer insights. Technology without insights leads to no innovation. Seldomly bold innovators become so because of their sharp, edgy technologies. They achieve success because their tech, design, and insights go hand-in-hand.
In a nutshell, companies can jumpstart their innovation efforts in a crisis by focusing internally on their innovation process and go-to-market approach, making speed-to-market their ultimate goal. This will not suffice to become Bold Innovators but will bring your firm onto the right path.
In this way, they can build an innovation process that favors speed instead of completeness, prototypes, and MVPs instead of full-fledged products, allowing them to test more ideas before scaling them.