What COVID-19 Means for Innovation

It’s often said that necessity is the mother of invention. Some of the world’s best inventions were developed due to basic needs. Many things that we consider essential today were created to meet a demand long ago. Constant innovation allows us, as humans, to reach consistently higher standards and improve our quality of life. Many times when people hear “innovation,” they think of brand new inventions. 


However, that doesn’t need to be the case. Sometimes, fresh perspectives can lead to the creation of entirely new solutions. Consider SafeHandFish, who started leveraging their fish-shaped container for soy sauce as a hand sanitizer vessel when the pandemic struck.


While the pandemic has created plenty of hurdles for organizations to overcome - it’s also provided a catalyst for creativity. According to a McKinsey survey, more than 90 percent of executives said they expect the fallout from COVID-19 to fundamentally change the way they do business over the next five years, with almost as many asserting that the crisis will have a lasting impact on their customers’ needs. In the next normal, company initiatives will be geared towards broader, diverse goals, as opposed to just increase in profits and decrease in competition. 


How has the pandemic affected overall innovation?

Today’s business leaders also have to focus on maintaining business continuity and implementing safety measures for employees, on top of driving productivity and cutting costs. There is a growing need to triage requests and balance priorities. Given the current economic climate, investment in innovation is either down the priority list or a last-ditch effort to save the company from going bankrupt. 


But all hope is not lost. 


This McKinsey study reports that nearly three out of four executives agree that changes brought about by the pandemic will be a large opportunity for future growth. Not only that, business leaders expect that once the world has stabilized and core businesses are more secure, innovation-related initiatives will resume, stronger than ever. 


What’s the future of innovation at work? 

It’s nice to know that innovation will eventually play a larger role in business again. However, moving forward, you can expect that resources will be reallocated. 


Innovation & Resilience

In the days before the pandemic, most innovation within companies was geared toward increasing profits and resisting competitors. However, what the past year has made clear is that many organizations are lacking resilience. “In this new era — or the future-forward — innovation will be a cornerstone of organizational resiliency,” explains Jeff Wong, Global Chief Innovation Officer at EY, “one that will drive a company’s ability to shift rapidly in response to unexpected events and evolving customer needs." Forward-thinking firms will develop both service lines and processes that are flexible and able to withstand various social disruptions. 


Innovation & HR 

When COVID-19 hit, many companies moved a remote workforce model with little notice and even fewer processes in place. They lacked the tools required to facilitate virtual work and rarely completed the appropriate security and compliance training. These challenges highlighted the lack of innovation that had previously been standard in HR departments. 

As countries come out of lockdown and people return to work, the first order for HR will be to ensure worker safety and invest in designing programs that are also suitable for changing environments. 


One can also expect technology to play a massive role in this function. For the foreseeable future, the use of advanced technologies like automated contact tracing will help mitigate contagion risk and ensure employees’ safety. Companies that adopt these technologies will limit disruptions due to illness and save their HR departments a lot of manual work.  


Innovation & Perfection

Research shows that innovation initiatives after the crisis are apt to prioritize quality rather than speed-to-market. “Gradual evolution in both technology and markets provides first movers with the best conditions for creating a dominant position that is long-lasting,” point out Fernando Saurz and Gianvito Lanzolla in this Harvard Business Review piece on the topic. Faster movement in technology and changes in the market mean typical “first movers” cannot follow the same product lifecycle. 


Consider a service like T-Mobile. Their main competition is AT&T, Verizon, and other cellular providers. They started much smaller and in an offensive position in the industry. However, by listening and following their core customers’ behaviors, they could focus their offering attributes on what appeals to their target audience. Through creative programs like paying off early-termination fees for potential customers and using messaging that appeals to a younger, more urban crowd, they became noteworthy competitors and the market leaders in some areas. Research shows that people will choose the company who offers the best service, not just the company that came on the scene first. 


Innovation & Adaptation

Many businesses will simply never be the same following the pandemic. In some cases, what made a company successful before the crisis just might not be possible any longer. We see channels shift radically to accommodate new needs and adapt to the way people are currently living. Similarly, new opportunities have arisen that also didn’t exist before. 

We have seen a plethora of product-based changes across several sectors. For example, automakers retooled their assembly lines to develop ventilators, and some clothing manufacturers began making masks. The ability to pivot within your business is becoming critical. 


Research shows that many companies would not be in business if they had not been able to pivot from office work to remote work quickly. Sometimes a shift in the market—even a crisis—can present new opportunities or help business leaders to differentiate themselves further. For example, organizations that continued to focus on innovation through the 2009 financial crisis emerged stronger and ended up outperforming market averages by more than 30 percent


Although pivoting is essential, it remains difficult for companies to get such transitions right. Accenture research proved that while 54% of executives expected new business to generate half of their business over the next three years, only 6% of companies generate at least 75% of revenues from new business today. That’s because even if companies recognize the importance of pivoting, they rarely plan for it or invest in the proper tools to enable transitions. 


Pivoting from entertainment to safety technology


Before the pandemic, we offered two solutions PixMob and klik. The former is known for high-quality LED wristbands technology, creating togetherness by elevating the guest experience syncing the audience to the stage when attending concerts, sports games and other events. Klik, on the other hand, is a complete software-hardware ecosystem, designed for conferences. However, when the events industry took a hit last year, we had no choice but to dig our heels in and fight. 


A joint partnership between the two sister brands led to a new endeavor— Safeteams — a contact tracing and social distancing solution. 


With employers actively looking for technology to protect their workforce on-site, there was a surge in demand for risk mitigation products. By retargeting our core business under a different branch, Safeteams, we not only made a call to survive but also to thrive in the long-run. Safeteams users can use innovative technology to lighten their workload through automation, increased data accuracy, and faster decision-making. 


In the short term, every business is facing serious challenges. However, times of crisis can lead to innovation, which has never been more critical. Savvy leaders will focus on both risk-mitigation and innovative initiatives that lead to better customer experiences and employee satisfaction—now and in the future. 

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