04 February 2021

Three Keys to Fast-Track Innovation during Moments of Crisis


Innovation and crisis seem to be two polar opposites. We’ve heard many stories about how a crisis can deplete an organization’s resources, and the lack of resources leads to the lack of R&D funding, which leads to the lack of research, which leads to the lack of innovation. And no, it’s not a slippery slope. It has actually happened in the UK, creating all sorts of problems. Briefly speaking, a crisis can be a significant threat for innovation.

However, crisis and innovation probably aren’t always mutually exclusive. A crisis like Covid-19 can in fact be a great ally for not just “regular” innovation that typically takes some time, but also fast-track innovation. Transforming a crisis into an opportunity for fast-track innovation certainly requires careful consideration and wise decision-making. Here are three important points that are essential for fast-track innovation during a crisis.

Willingness to Change

Innovation during critical moments is like “drifting in a vast ocean. Either you die of thirst, or you will survive.” (Yes, that quote from Netflix’s Start-Up is so good that we have to borrow it.) Some businesses may choose to take more conservative paths during crises, prioritizing security over innovation. However, during crises, a little bit of risk-taking for the sake of innovation might not be something so foolish. Willingness to change, after all, is the heart of innovation. 

A case in point would be Netflix’s transformation. Some call Netflix a self-disruptive business for its innovations. In 1998, Netflix offered audiences DVDs to rent. In 2007, even before iPhone 3G was launched, Netflix started streaming services for its users. Now it’s one of the biggest content platforms, and when the 2020 pandemic crisis first occurred, Netflix’s innovation throughout previous critical moments gained the company millions of new paid subscribers.

“Unrealistic” Timeline

This idea is proposed by Chris Foster, a founder and CEO of Foster Equity, for the Winter 2020 issue of strategy+business. He told a story where during a crisis, his team had to select a partner for their client overnight although the process originally could take months. With commitment, the team could successfully do the task, and the project was a success. He goes on saying that deadlines can make people more creative.

But surprisingly, tight deadlines can indeed support innovation—even some research also back this up. If you feel like the innovation part of your organization is getting stuck somewhere, making a more efficient and “unrealistic” timeline can probably help innovation to grow. Simply put, sometimes tight deadlines are not always a bad thing if you wish to innovate during a crisis. 

Cooperation with Others

Finally, fast-track innovation during a crisis can only happen with cooperation. Innovation can only happen with teamwork. While solidarity among team members can sometimes be tested during adverse crises, it is also the thing that we need to make efficient and useful innovations in a short period of time. The cooperation between creative minds allow ideas to spark, even in crises. This is why you might want to check how your team is doing in terms of cooperation.

In addition to internal cooperation, external cooperation can also be a great opportunity for innovation. When a crisis strikes, consider cooperating and/or collaborating with other businesses, even your competitors. Working with different organizations can give new insights and reshape our perspectives about how things can be done creatively. After all, if we want to survive a crisis as challenging as this pandemic, we’ll need each other to innovate and survive.

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