Blog Innovation

Innovation in Times of Crisis

John Tuders

Director, Growth and Innovation

  • Reading Time  Min Read
  • Publish Date June 24, 2020

With so much collective energy being expended on business survival by so many, is it really the right time for innovation? In the wake of the 2008 economic meltdown, researchers found that one in four firms stopped innovation projects, even where innovation performance was unaffected by the crisis. Younger firms and those experiencing a decline in exports were more likely than counterparts to abandon their investments in innovation.

That crisis negatively impacted innovation and R&D worldwide. Although many countries have since implemented policy around innovation during crises, the OECD notes that budgetary constraints put pressure on the public and government support of innovation. The intergovernmental policy organization also warns that “long-term damages to innovation systems occur when long-term skilled unemployment rises and public support of innovation is weakened.”

If we cannot rely on corporate decision-makers to protect investments in innovation during a crisis, and governments don’t have the stomach to defend these investments to the public, is all lost on the innovation front?

Not by a long shot. In fact, crisis and turmoil can impact adoption and other barriers to innovation in surprising ways. Those with a digital innovation and transformation strategy heading into the Coronavirus lockdown are best positioned to continue on, but even enterprises only just developing their strategy should feel comfortable proceeding.

Much of the timing around innovation is out of our control; it’s true. The market as a whole and whether your clients’ timing is right for adoption—whether those clients are internal or external—this is out of our control. Competitive timing, regulatory pressures and changes, funding cycles… these factors are all completely outside of our sphere of control.

However, companies can dramatically strengthen the odds of positive innovation timing by speeding up and staying agile, even in times of crisis.

You don’t want to speed up innovation because of outside pressure but because strategically, you should. There are a million and one things you could be doing right now, but that’s the worst reason to push a product forward—just because you can. Sure, it may have cool tech capabilities, but that doesn’t mean it’s ready (remember Google Glass?). This should reveal itself when the customer wants it and the timing for adoption is appropriate.

If you’re shooting for the perfect time to launch innovation, you can be too late.

What we do have the ability to control includes:

The progression and maturation of our innovation processes.

You have the ability to stay ahead in fleshing out new capabilities, constantly testing, and continuously learning. Even in times of crisis, you can put ideas in front of internal and external clients to evaluate their needs. You own the timing of how often you’re doing research and evolving your understanding of the problem.

This is a cultured approach, so if you’re with one of those one-in-four organizations whose knee-jerk reaction to crises is to shut down innovation and call it a day, you have your work cut out for you.

How we approach timing acceptance. 

The right time may not be right now (and just because you build it, they won’t come). Let your customers set the timeframe for adoption. Work to deepen your understanding of what the obstacles to acceptance are; are they lacking training and resources? Are there privacy or other concerns triggering reluctance or other emotional barriers? This is the time to explore issues around acceptance and workshop ways to overcome them.

Our perception of the problem—and the solution.

As my colleague, Jason Rome, advocates: Fall in love with the right problem, not a preconceived idea of what you think the solution should be.

You have to get on board with the fact that what you need first is a prop plane, not a jet plane. Design and create your prototype with user input and remember, if you’re holding out for perfection you are sabotaging your own best efforts at getting the timing right. Speed up the development of your minimum viable product, because it’s tough to spur adoption until you can put something in front of your people. Get that feedback, make adjustments, and understand the customer pull. Stay consistent in your process of designing, testing, iterating, etc. and your timing will fall in line.

Understanding your company’s appetite for innovation timing. 

There are four types of companies when it comes to the timing of innovation:

  • Leaders who have the appetite to take a swing and miss, then get back up to bat again.
  • Fast followers who don’t want to be first but prefer to learn from the mistakes of others and come out behind them.
  • Laggards, who are completely okay with not leading or fast following. They’d rather see the concept and adoption solidified, then come in adapted to that.
  • The risk-averse, who often fail at their efforts to innovate. They have no appetite for reinvention or getting it wrong, learning, and trying again.

As we learned earlier, crisis and uncertainty have a way of driving the risk-averse and laggards right out of their innovation program. Right now, fast followers are hanging back waiting to see what they can learn from the leaders. Innovation leaders—those companies willing to stay the course, be consistent, continue learning and testing—they are the ones who will have the greatest and most accurate market insights as we head into recovery.

Just as you cannot perfectly time the stock market, there is simply no way to perfectly time your innovation investments and launch. Trying to time the market is a gamble; the majority of the time, you will fail.

Instead, taking a steady, consistent and intentional approach to innovation and your design cycle. Keep the process going, even (and especially) in times of crisis.

Want to learn more? Get in touch with the team at Skookum and let’s see how we can help.

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