Innovation in times of crises and beyond

By Sandra Hovland, Devoteam

Never before has short-term adaptability been so critical to survival. Many leaders and organizations around the globe have rapidly responded to new pressing emerging needs. How can they stay ahead of the curve?

Looking to the future it will be critical not to run out of steam, stop, and revert to the everyday focus on efficiency and productivity at the expense of innovation. In this perspective, the New Normal, with technological and market shifts, stands out as a point of no return for leaders that thrive to stay relevant in the future.

Innovation and the pre-Covid-19 techno-economic paradigms

According to the insights by the World Economic Forum, innovation being a key driver of competitiveness is still “the capability pillar” with the lowest performance, in The Global Competitiveness Report 2018 (In-depth: is there a formula for innovation). Showing promising signs of improvements in 2019.

This being the case despite that almost two-thirds of companies have innovation in their top three management priorities, according to the annual global survey in the last decade. Companies with continuous innovation at their forefront, particularly and not surprisingly tech giants, dominate the 2020 top-ranking lists of global innovators.

What happened to Innovation with Covid-19?

As with other major crises in history, the pandemic put innovation on the fast-track of enterprises’ agendas, where businesses had to cope with accelerating existing trends and sudden shifts, to adapt and stay relevant.

Years of change, traditionally expected to reach a critical mass for new ideas, behaviors, and technology, have been packed into a few short months for mass adoption.

Direct to consumer model has taken off, as seen by retailers who increased efforts to build up their sales by catering directly to the consumer through online channels. Some of the world’s biggest brands have launched innovative new value propositions and business models. This short -term adaptability enabled the companies to sustain brand equity and affinity in the digital space.

Cloud technology became a lifeline for governments, municipalities, and public institutions around the world, who were faced with the challenge to deliver vital public services in unprecedented ways.

Experimenting with digital technologies on an unforeseen scale, took off with healthcare providers, educational institutions, and welfare authorities, who often collided with overburdened and outdated IT systems. Remarkably, many public services have implemented innovative solutions to help people access critical resources and enabled transformation by overcoming the existing hurdles of bureaucracy and involving numerous stakeholders to co-operate and co-create new solutions. Surely, more will be achieved going forward.

Connectivity concepts through digital platforms have been rapidly adopted during the lock-down to overcome the hurdles of remote daily tasks, be it working, banking, shopping, and to stay socially engaged.

Changing habits enabled rethinking on how we opt to spend free time. It is now normal to enjoy a relaxing evening at home, virtually touring the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY, topped by an exquisite dinner delivered by your preferred restaurant and a live online concert.

Covid-19 has sparked an intense innovation activity, alongside the impetus to further rethink established approaches to innovation and business practices. How did your company overcome these trying times?

Rethinking how to innovate

Challenging times require a mindset beyond the conventional wisdom of leadership where innovation is continuous throughout the lifecycle of the enterprise.

Traditionally, we think of start-ups as companies whose business runs on the edge of innovation. This undoubtedly holds true during the initial stages of a startup, where they enter the market with a clear intention and are not held back from legacy-driven organizational, technological, and infrastructural barriers.
Eventually, as they grow and transform, they will face the same challenge of established companies: the need to stay committed to innovation to maintain their relevance amidst changing market demands.

Innovation has created a transformational landscape of newly intertwined digital and market contexts

The digital context has put a focus on reinventing the way a firm sells or delivers the products and services they already offer, as well as on identifying how to create new value through new digital capabilities.

This is of uttermost importance in this age, where technology acts as the connective tissue that links businesses, government, and society, gradually phasing out traditional boundaries between companies and markets, both in the private and public sectors.

This is currently seen with numerous companies from different sectors starting to orchestrate ecosystems that bring together business and digital capabilities of multiple participants, in a new platform or service offering. For those companies, digital transformation is an enabler to enter new market arenas otherwise not attainable without targeted digital strategies.

As firms mature during their digital transformation, we see them adopting advanced analytics, along with targeted AI and machine learning methodologies that are easily scaled on the cloud to create valuable business insights. These practices are contributing to a fundamental shift from focusing on data to improve business operations to leveraging data as a source of value creation in areas of customer experiences, such as loyalty programs.

The market context puts focus on staying ahead of the curve. It means making innovation real, turning ideas – old and new – into value in form of products, services, or ways of doing various tasks. An outside-in, customer-centric approach proves to be the new norm for enabling major innovative shifts.

This usually starts by scouring for market signals and insights into customers’ emerging needs of the “job the customer wants you to be done for her/him”. By putting on adjacent lenses, one avoids the narrow framing of the problem and familiar threats, to explore new fields of potential and unlock new opportunities. Innovation can be looked upon as an agile process, where a problem is framed and a strategic direction is created to enable rapid experimentation through digital technologies. As innovation efforts intensify in business and society, we can expect new market arenas unfolding form innovations co-created by partners of dynamic networks.

New techno-economic paradigms evolving from the crisis require leaders to walk the talk on their commitment to innovation

Companies and institutions need to focus on the following approaches to solidify their commitment to innovation:
Adopting a discovery-driven strategy approach to balance present and future demands.
Embracing a transformative entrepreneurial approach where innovation efforts become part of a flexible portfolio.
Building and transforming capabilities, investing in talent to develop the workforce for tomorrow.
Fostering an entrepreneurial culture, leveraging the collaboration of multiple talents to break through.
Patiently investing in the future, transcending from a system that incentivizes short-term returns on investments to one that allocates resources towards long-term innovation projects.

How will you innovate from now on?

The 24th of September 2020, you can get more insight and tips for how to succeed as a leader at the online conference 'The New Normal'. Want to join us?

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