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COVID-19 is Impacting Innovation

6 Ways COVID-19 is Impacting Innovation (and How to Take Advantage of it)

What will be the “new normal” for COVID-19? No one has the answer right now. But the virus is yielding changes in the workplace, technology, and the very act of innovating.  

We reached out to innovation gurus Sally Dominguez and Navi Radjou for their thoughts on how innovation is changing and how your company can adapt to it.  Check out these seven evolving trends. 

Sally Dominguez
Sally Dominguez

Navi Radjou
Navi Radjou

1. Disconnection yielding digitization

With so much of the workforce being forced to self-isolate, workers are switching to platforms like Zoom to communicate virtually, and relying on emails and written documentation more than ever. 

That means our thoughts and ideas either are or can be digitally documented. Emails to clients explaining specific solutions.  Web meetings in which you’re sharing PowerPoints. All of these are now digital assets, repurposed, and shared with a larger audience.  

Sally Dominguez

“The value you deliver can be digitized, and its value increases exponentially.”

Each team member can digitize their respective knowledge base using video and written formats.   If knowledge is power, your company can suddenly become a powerhouse of insights and ideas. “This is a way to activate your human capital,” Sally said.

2. Even faster fast-testing and prototyping 

With COVID-19 cases increasing exponentially, innovators are scrambling to solve problems.  As you’ll note in the video below, they’re using tools like very cheap 3D printers for cost-effective rapid prototyping anywhere and everywhere.

Sally, with a background in product design, has been an active participant in COVID-19 hacks and even devised a methodology to sterilizing surgical masks and extending their lifespan.  (Check out her how-to PDF here.)

A “co-creative mindset” is taking shape in these online communities.  How that will play out when business returns to normal is hard to say, but this model of collaboration should be your blueprint for improving prototyping and speed to market.

3. Discovering new ways to deliver your core value

Both Sally and Navi emphasize the need to focus on the core value you bring to the table.  What is it your customers ultimately value?

This is essential if the method you use to deliver your core value has been upended by COVID-19.  For example, if you’re a builder, your supply lines may be dwindling, and you may no longer have raw materials for construction. 

Sally believes this is a setback, but it’s also an opportunity  “What you do may be even more valued,” she said.  

If more people are quarantined, and supplies become scarce, the builder’s expertise can be digitized and shared. People stuck at home may be able to make porch repairs by using existing wood and tapping the expertise of the builder.  

4. Mobilizing an at-home workforce for bottom-up innovation

Navi believes the ValuesJam that IBM organized in 2002 is the mindset companies need to adapt. 

Echoing Sally’s belief in mobilizing bottom-up innovation, Navi says, “Companies have a unique opportunity now in these turbulent times when workers are staying home to engage them in a virtual brainstorming to redefine the company’s values and purpose.”

Much like Sally noted above with digitizing assets and using collaborative online tools, you have a chance here to really tap the brainpower of your workforce.  

Mobilize bottom-up innovation.

Of course, Netflix wasn’t around back then, but you get the idea.

5. Reconfiguring the supply chain to a local level

We are truly seeing the impact of a global supply chain.  The border closing inspired by COVID-19 is like nationalism on steroids, and Navi believes it will lead to a more prominent role played by local resources. 

Navi Radjou

“Made in America will no longer be just a political slogan. It will be key to saving American lives.”

He notes that 80% of active ingredients in US drugs come from India and China.  We’re going to need how to source those items locally, and fast. “Made in America will no longer be just a political slogan. It will be key to saving American lives.” he said.

There are benefits.  Localizing the supply chain will allow us to co-locate R&D for rapid feedback.  

Navi cites the example of Reformation, a clothing company in Los Angeles, that would use local resources to quickly create variations of merchandise. Based on in-store feedback, they’d then scale up the highest-performing models. 

“It’s an agile supply change,” Navi said.  “And this changes the way you manufacture products.”

6. Learning more about customers while training the team

People are working at home, without normal outlets like shopping malls, restaurants or movie theaters. Navi believes this is the ideal time to do professional training.  

“There are amazing tools that can help you learn very complex things online,” he said.

It’s also an opportunity to deepen your understanding of your customers.  The “sales call” should be replaced by a “learning call.” Your sales team can reach out to your customers and review what’s worked for them in the past, and what they’re excited about in the future. 

7. Forming partnerships with friends and foes

Companies invest millions of dollars in their own equipment and resources to achieve a competitive advantage.  That’s all well and good when you have unlimited resources, but in times of scarcity, where do you turn?

How about your competitor?  Navi points to the B2B sharing economy that’s taken shape in Europe, led by players like FLOOW2 and Xometry, in which equipment and even personnel are shared by companies. 

Navi Radjou

“It’s a great time to acknowledge how we can pool our resources and think about new business models.”

“Don’t experiment in a solo fashion,” he said.  “It’s a great time to acknowledge how we can pool our resources and think about new business models.”  

Don’t bounce back — bounce forward

Resilience is one of the calling cards of success.  But Navi notes there are two kinds of resilience.  

One is fatalistic — you accept the change is predestined, and you adapt and fight through the new normal.  The second is transformative. “You don’t bounce back,” Navi said. “You bounce forward.”  

This is the underlying beauty of innovation.  It allows us to transform our current state (pretty depressing when considered) into opportunities for new and better ways.  The message of both Dominguez and Navi is about much more than just innovating; It’s really about mustering courage. 

“The definition of courage is not the absence of fear,” Navi said.  “It’s using the presence of fear to move forward.”

Learn more about Sally Dominguez’s Adventurous Thinking approach, and watch her Daily Future vlog.

Read Navi Radjou’s book Frugal Innovation, and check out his upcoming webinar on the topic.