What's Next for Innovation?

Many firms scaled back investments in innovation in response to the global pandemic. There was a sense of urgency to address employee safety and stabilize the core business. The uncertainty remains as the combined effects of the pandemic, social unrest, and the economic downturn unfold simultaneously.

When conditions improve, the winners will be those who are able to bounce back after a setback. We are referring to their resiliency. This includes the ability to respond to a crisis and stabilize operations. It also includes their ability to respond to opportunity and move resources for growth. Both the contraction and expansion rely on rapid decision making and adapting to new circumstances.

Growth is always a priority, but an elusive target. Firms like Bosch, Nvidia, Amazon, and Datametrics­[i] are a few examples of companies known for their ability to grow from one strength to the next. They excel at an emphasis on long term growth, the ability to sense shifts, to validate new sources of value, and implementing change at scale. They create a disruption or respond to one. They are innovative.

In these troubled and troubling times, however, innovation capabilities are not enough. People are scared about the future. When we are concerned about our lives and livelihoods, we are more likely to play it safe and retreat to low risk moves. You need to build resilience in the team so that they foster growth that is resilient.

  1. Speak about emotions: People need to recover from the crises of 2020. The leadership challenge is that the exact impact is subjective - each person’s situation is unique, which can make it more complicated. Rather than ignore the emotional reality, accept that each person’s situation is unique and make talking about isolation and fear a part of getting work done. Start by meeting 1:1 with members of your leadership team. Find out where they are at. Inquire, listen and be supportive. The goal is to demonstrate your compassion, not to fix the situation. This kind of support goes a long way to helping people manage their unique circumstances.

  2. Revisit the firm's ambition: What is your aim? What do you want to be famous for in the markets you serve? How do the disruptions of this year impact the ambition? Then, work backwards from that. Our research found that firms with a clear ambition are twice as likely to respond successfully to disruption. What opportunities do you want to go after? These are strategic questions. The value of a clear ambition is that it gives people a license to be bold and challenge conventional wisdom. It also helps them be hopeful about the future.

  3. Rebalance the innovation portfolio: Many companies reduced innovation budgets. Now is the time to reassess. What are the most promising projects? What do they need? Are they set up for success? Then comes the hard part, making decisions about which projects are most aligned with the firm’s ambition. If you had to lay people off, you have less capacity. It is better to park the less promising ideas than it is to let them fester.

  4. Learn new innovation tools. Assess the health of innovation practices. Identify the gaps for ideating, incubating, and scaling innovation. Find out what innovation teams need to do this work remotely. Consider crowd sourcing and sentiment analysis, which can be done remotely and help break down isolation.

  5. Reinvigorate in the core business: Spark creativity with inquiry. Discover how you can become more adaptable, i.e., respond to changing priorities, learn faster and integrate across the business at speed. Consider the value of projects focused on reinventing work or becoming more agile. Create capacity by stopping “zombie projects”.

Nobody knows the shape of the economic recovery. The steps above are a concrete way to build resiliency and demonstrate a commitment to innovation. They will build passion for the business, and foster learning in ways that will prepare your organization for whatever comes next.

Kristin von Donop

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[i] https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/industry/miscellaneous/indias-growth-champions-2020-ranks-indias-fastest-growing-companies/articleshow/73734995.cms?from=mdr

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