Communities around the globe have been disrupted on an unprecedented scale. As a society, we continue to address the Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on both people and business. We’re considering the damage done, contemplating recovery efforts, and thinking about lessons learned.
Beyond the painful personal losses communities are facing, many people worldwide are facing a significant economic recession. While the duration and severity are not clear, economic output has reached a level of instability not seen in decades. Organizations and people alike are taking a careful look at their priorities and considering what type of future they might like to see.
In some cases, the pandemic has widened cracks for companies that lacked agility and a digital strategy. In others, seemingly healthy organizations have found their main customer bases disrupted beyond recognition. Undoubtedly, more tough decisions lie ahead.
During times of massive cuts, the building blocks for innovation are vulnerable, despite innovation being more important today than ever before. But what happens next, and how does this impact the adoption of innovation tools, processes, and culture?
"...now is the time for innovators to be agile as they help address disruption."
Many organizations recognize that a key foundation for improving their innovation performance is agility – and now is the time for innovators to be agile as they help address disruption. How quickly can the path be changed? Can the speed and effectiveness of bringing new things to market be accelerated? How effectively can the right resources be established, both inside and outside of the company, to create necessary outcomes?
Where to focus your innovation performance efforts
When it comes to considering where to put your energy, it’s worth breaking down innovation into four parts:
- Strategy building – listening to external signals, trends, upcoming technologies, and competitors.
- Harnessing collective intelligence – capturing what you already have and creating new things.
- Ecosystem & partnering – considering core competency, there are things you need to deliver with partners; you'll need to engage customers, suppliers, and partners, and you'll also need to look for new creative organizations that will help you build for the future.
- Execution – developing your innovation portfolio, strengthening decision making, and executing the best new projects.
Let's take a closer look at each part of the innovation lifecycle to help you decide where to focus your innovation performance efforts during the recovery from significant economic and social disruption.
It’s likely that strategy building has been disrupted as longer-term activities get put to one side – the strategic sacrificed for the tactical. However, having the correct recovery strategy is critical, and it must go beyond tactical needs. During times of disruption, it is even more important to understand what the future may hold – whether changes to the economy, policy, or other trends will continue or come to a halt.
The most progressive companies sanity check their strategy through the lens of the disruption. What will change now? Is our old strategy still fit for purpose in the short- and longer-term? Fujitsu has a program that dynamically engages customers on its business needs, enabling the company to stay up to speed on the changing landscape. Fujitsu is, therefore, better positioned to adapt and update offerings to stay ahead of the game.
"The most progressive companies sanity check their strategy through the lens of the disruption."
What you can do:
- Ask what new trends are emerging due to the pandemic
- Proactively engage with customers to understand their challenges and needs considering a different operating environment
- Use the insights gathered to focus innovation strategy on a set of topic clusters, or hunting grounds
Harnessing collective intelligence
An organization’s greatest asset is its people. Leveraging it dynamically to uncover new ideas, old ideas, refine existing ideas, and solve problems is key to moving quickly and making the most of what you have. At HYPE, we've seen many organizations use their collective intelligence to respond to the pandemic, consider changes they need to make as they adapt to new circumstances, and gain insights from customers regarding what they now face.
For example, the innovation team at the global law firm Linklaters is asking its employees for ideas on how to better serve its customers in these unprecedented circumstances. Another example is how HERE Technologies is creating offerings for smaller companies to help diversification.
Listening to customers, employees, and partners is critical to ensuring your offerings remain relevant and competitive. There is no guarantee that what you sold before is what customers will need in the future. Consider creating an ongoing, open dialogue in the spirit of partnership to listen carefully and validate products or approaches you may take.
The DNA of your company may feel slightly different as we enter the recovery. Ask your employees what they think you should keep and drop based on what they hear from customers and more widely.
What you can do:
- Run idea campaigns to gather customer insights
- Harness collective intelligence to look for new or emerging market opportunities
- Refine existing offerings to make them more suitable for different operating conditions
Ecosystem & partnering
Ensuring that you play to your strengths and allow partners to do the rest has a significant bearing on agility. Doing everything in-house is no longer an option if you want to change paths quickly and adapt to market changes. Consider your key competencies and strengths. Where are you going to need help? Smaller partners tend to innovate faster, and you may see opportunities for combining capabilities that they cannot. Partnerships help both parties during times of change.
The multinational paints and coatings company AkzoNobel engages its ecosystem through its "Paint the Future" program to build new relationships with start-ups and engage at greater depth with suppliers and academia.
Screenshot via AzkoNobel's Paint the Future website.
There is a vast ecosystem with a vested interest in your success, so consider including slices of that ecosystem into your innovation work. What can a set of complementary companies see that none can see alone?
What you can do:
- Semi-automate the discovery of new potential partners
- Engage segments of your ecosystem to work towards a common goal
- Work with existing partners to get more value or even reduce spend
Look at your pipeline and consider what is active (assigned resources and money) and inactive (an interesting concept, but not currently being progressed). Is this still the correct mix given the changing circumstances? Many organizations are moving towards globally accessible pipelines, where all active concepts are tracked to avoid reinventing the wheel and make more dynamic portfolio choices.
Cypress Semiconductors actively manages its innovation pipeline to have one “single source of the truth” across the organization.
At times of significant disruption, it is good to check what you have on the shelf and determine whether it better suits your future than what you have been working on.
What you can do:
- Standardize basic reporting for any developmental concept over a specific budget threshold to ensure portfolio reporting is possible, aiding decision-making and resource allocation
- Harness collective intelligence to identify lost concepts that may be valuable given the changing market conditions
- Review concepts that are on hold, ensuring that active parts of the pipeline are still the best way to spend resources and money
So, what next?
Disruption and change are inevitable. Preparing for them is good business, and innovators have a crucial role to play. Supporting your organization’s response by using innovative thinking and tools will help not only ensure that your reaction to the pandemic is as effective as possible, but also help prepare the foundations to be more agile and adaptable to future change – no matter what form that takes.
The team at HYPE has been busy helping organizations build and execute their response plans. If we can help you do the same, please reach out here.