This period is more dramatic, more global and more unusual than anything seen by anyone working today – this is the opinion of journalist Fareed Zakaria as stated in his TED Connect interview on 13th April. The infectiousness of the virus poses threats equally on everyone no matter republican or democrat, rich or poor, religious or secular.
Though lethal danger is considerably smaller compared to earlier diseases like the plague or Spanish flu, and concentrated on those having other chronic problems, the necessary defence measures still shake the world to the core. As Ray Dalio, the legendary investor and reform economist says the last time mankind experienced something like this was in the one and a half-decade starting from 1930, after which a new world order was created.
As a company leader, we may have had pressing questions for weeks. How can I keep up the spirit in my team? How much will my current year revenues be affected? Will my costs increase or decrease? What help can my company get from the government? Should I hope that my business will return to the way it was conducted before the virus, and if yes when and in what way? The dramatic, global and unusual uncertainty is burdensome to the soul, though it also can be inspiring and motivating for the entrepreneurial spirit.
In this article I would like to highlight a few reactions from three industries. With these, I would like to underline the importance of two attitudes: adaptability and being susceptible to technologies – as it has never explained differences in performance better than in this year. Reactions in the health industry are trivial so I exclude its news this time – but I still want to express my gratitude and optimism when thinking of the awesome innovative examples I see every day created by many committed experts and citizens!
The distinctive feature of the current situation is that next to the operational subsidies there are several opportunities for capital investments and product development or innovation grants. There are numerous innovation consultants on the market as well. In some countries, there are also platforms (like in my country we have access to the Tungsram Innovation Marketplace or e.g. globally there is the KNOWCO by Collabwith) which provide access to these opportunities in regulated and audited ways using end-to-end online processes. If the examples I show help find the opportunity in the situation it is wise to turn motivation into action fast because these limited resources will be plundered quickly by the countless companies chasing survival or growth. Escaping forward is also a competition.
My first example is the restaurant industry. Talking to a friend of mine who produces degradable packaging we agreed to put all restaurants into three categories. A large proportion of them stopped instantly when measures were posed, sent employees on holiday or fired them upfront. Another large proportion tried home delivery but when orders – without significant marketing – did not skyrocket after one or at most two weeks they also stopped completely. Now the remaining small portion of restaurants can barely keep up with demand, so they started to experiment with ordering apps and delivery platforms. As an example, local services Wolt and Netpincer reported 5-10 times more sign up requests than ever before.
My second example is MOL the Hungarian Oil Company. While oil prices crashed, #stayhome decreased petrol consumption by one third and coffee – the most popular product of the company – became forbidden to drink inside, the lubricant factory of MOL switched to sanitizer production just 10 days after the state of emergency was announced. The “recipe” follows WHO standards and instead of the regular 6-12 months of commercialisation, it was on the shelves within one month. This was possible only because the adaptability of the experts in the factory was augmented with superb production technology and software-based processing.
My third example is the training and conference sector. While WHO declared a public health emergency of international concern already on 30th January and Italy quarantined the Costa Smeralda ship with 6000 people on board, most Hungarian business event and training organiser companies still daydreamed about their record-high revenues – almost entirely from in-person gatherings. When in the last week of February food shelves were emptied seemingly overnight, then everyone concentrated on personal needs; real crisis management started mostly two weeks later when on 11 of March a state of emergency was declared and group gatherings were prohibited. At first companies cut costs and tried to change bookings for 1-3 months later at venues for training and events. During March I tried to convince – in vain – my friends working in the sector, that the situation requires more openness towards technologies and that they should start getting familiar with the most recent tools of online events, which allow for crowd attendance, continuous interactivity, networking possibilities and highlighting the sponsors even in 3D virtual environments. Add another month of emergency and several additional government announcements and now most of them thoroughly examine and pilots innovative solutions.
It is of utmost importance to turn motivation into action as soon as possible. Those who adapt first will take most of the market opportunities: besides generating continuous – albeit a modest – income, they will gain new customers and reputation for years to come.
The adaptivity and susceptibility to technology have to be catalysed both by bold management and credible innovation experts both internally and externally. Training, announcements and showcases develop the mindset, skills and knowledge of the whole organisation. Focused trend research and innovation potential analysis enable companies to select the optimal projects to implement.
Innovation potential analysis is a professional alternative to brainstorming. I strongly recommend using it to achieve effective and sustainable results. It consists of five steps:
- Company Assessment. During this step, the innovation expert outlines the company’s 4-6 key processes/services by making sense of the data available and the interviews conducted with the management and employees of the company.
- Trend Analysis. In the second step, a targeted trend research is conducted. We analyse the trends and technologies that are most relevant for the company in the next 2-3 years (origins, how do they work, future outlook, present doubts). As part of the research, use cases from the sector of the company should be collected.
- Process-technology matrix. The next step is to examine the possible uses of the 10-15 trends and technologies of the previous step in the 4-6 key processes/services agreed in step 1. In this step, we identify which relevant technologies can transform the internal processes/services into competitive advantage. I recommend taking into account the current subsidy and patent opportunities.
- Prioritization and execution roadmap. A delegated team of company leaders and the innovation expert prioritise the opportunities during a workshop using the Impact-Effort Matrix method and create their ideal implementation order.
- Result. In the end, a comprehensive presentation is created of the ordered list of innovative proposals on the technological, process and possible organisational changes necessary to reach the full innovation potential of the company. The document should also describe the required resources in terms of equipment and time, plus it should be digestible by anyone who was not involved in its creation. Make sure that at least one person of the innovation potential analysis team is part of the execution team.
This method in peaceful times can take a comfortable 3-4 months. However, as this situation rather resembles the world of extreme sports, we should adapt it a bit. By undertaking offline work combined with 1-hour workshops every day, the company should get the result in two weeks. The result should contain innovative solutions that bring the highest value to its clients with affordable costs. In line with the Pareto principle – by allocating 20% of total time 80% of the result is achieved.
As innovation lab guru Richard Turrin posted recently, “if ever there was a need for “out of the box” solutions to problems in your company or bank it’s now.” If you haven’t called out your innovation team or partners to help solve your dramatic and unusual #COVID19 related problems “you’re missing out on a critical resource at a time when “all hands on deck” are required. Innovators are by their very nature energised by a crisis and will probably do their best work now when the pressure is on.
So don’t hold back. The more bizarre, unusual, off the wall, or obtuse the problem the more they will like it.” Your company is probably already responding to the coronavirus with solutions you wouldn’t have dreamed of implementing a few brief months ago. Don’t stop. In fact, it’s time to maximize innovation efforts. The gains in new customers and the recognition of your team and the market can cement a good reputation for the company for years to come. Involve innovators in the business and do what you are here for.