The world is going through a huge crisis at the moment that impacts all of us. About 3 billion people are under lockdown around the globe. The Corona virus is above all a grave human crisis as people are dying or are getting contaminated daily, and we are all forced to drastically change our daily habits.
Companies of all sizes have to adapt very quickly to these new rules and to the predicted economic crises that will follow.
In this context, entrepreneurs have to :
- be very creative to survive
- bring the company in a position to start again, hard and fast when the lockdown is over
But how can we deal with innovation in such an unique context ?
It’s a paradox but this may be the perfect time to invest significantly in innovation.
Although it is not a natural behavior for most of us, innovation has always been an answer in crisis periods.
Many describe this period as being in war, I do not necessarily agree but the parable is useful. How do you think countries win wars ?
They take risks and invest heavily in R&D to build solutions to win the war or take over the enemy.
Consider the following facts and the graph below.
How many of Da Vinci’s concepts saw the light during war time?
- Armoured boats
How many technologies can you think of that have been developed first for military purposes in order to win wars?
- IR Cameras
- Furtive vehicles (stealth technology)
- Space shuttles
As you may know, the military has always been a source of inspiration for business.
Just think about where the concepts of strategy and tactics originated to confirm it.
Like the virus we are facing today, a war is a terrible situation from which great things can happen, that is what history has taught us.
So what is it about this rare situation that inspires me ?
A crisis – wars or virus – are real game changers.
They instantly break beliefs and force us to think differently. They make us understand that what we were taking as for granted is not.
Uncertainty rules the game now !
- You were thinking you were safe : you can die tomorrow from the virus
- You were thinking you were in a free country : you are locked down at home
- You were thinking you would be able to work the same way for years : you now work remotely while taking care of your kids at the same time
- You were thinking your company was healthy : it probably will not last
- You initially thought lockdown would last 2 weeks : it will twice that, maybe more
Uncertainty has always been a source of inspiration all over the world and across innovation history.
A crisis obviously brings huge changes and has sad consequences but it also creates huge opportunities. They brutally push you outside your comfort zone and habits, often forcing change that would not have been a conscious decision otherwise.
Crises present good opportunity to innovate and reinvent your business
Why are crises the best times to innovate and invest? The answer is so simple… you don’t have any other option to survive! You only have 3 options when the time comes to take decisions are the context of before, now and after.
Before is over!
Maybe you thought innovation was not useful for your company. Maybe you think you should have invested more in innovation before – that’s most of the time true – but you didn’t. Maybe you already invested a lot in innovation, but it was in another environment with other rules, the ones that were existing before the crisis happened and the initial assumptions are no longer valid. Whatever your choices were, before is before and you don’t have any way to go back and change it.
The more you look forward, the more you have questions without any clear answers. That’s uncertainty.
You don’t even know when the lockdown will be over and, in such uncertain times the future is far more difficult to predict than usual. Who can predict what tomorrow will look like? Nobody, not even governments, we can see them struggling every single day because they don’t know and they fear making a wrong decision. In life, should you be a president, CEO, middle manager, employee, father, mother or whatever, the worst decision you can take when a crisis happens is… not to take any!
So, waiting to take a deep and strong decision is to me a totally crazy risk. To adapt strategy is both mandatory and highly complex so herein lies the risk.
As the saying goes “high risks yield high profits” just think about it. You are already at risk today! Probably like you’ve never been before.
You have no way to predict with any amount of certainty what the impact of the Coronavirus will be on you, your company, your country or the world.
You therefore have 2 main options:
- Hold firm waiting for the end of the storm : reduce sails and wait for the blue sky to come again
The risk involved – Bankruptcy ! We don’t know how long the lockdown will last and we all know that we will face a huge economic crisis immediately after that so, if you have 2 or 3 years of cash ahead, it might be an option, otherwise probably not
- Innovate to adapt to these new rules and fight against uncertainty or design new rules before a competitor does it!
The risk involved: Spending too much money on innovation and fail because of the pressure.
NOW is definitely the right moment to start or strengthen your innovation efforts. It will never be like it was before again, keep this in mind! How many companies have enough cash to say “ wait and see ”? Most of my customers – startups, SMEs and even some groups – won’t survive, there’s no shadow of a doubt about that. That’s the sad reality. Change your strategy and be creative to find new solutions to ensure your company will survive, that’s really a matter of life and death, it is as simple as that.
Now, I don’t want you to log off and hold your head in your hands after reading this article and as an innovator, I’m definitely positive about the future. Being positive is more useful today than ever before and helps us fight the crisis effectively for ourselves and others.
Innovation is, according to me, the best way to move forward especially in these extraordinary conditions, but you also have many other ways to manage it, depending on your own situation, here are some examples :
- Unemployment (stop working)
- Part time unemployment (stop working some of the time)
- Home office (work from home)
- Stop paying yourself a salary or reduce it
- Accelerate your digital transformation
- Get support from administrators
- Negotiate loans
- Get new loans
- Ask investors to invest in your business
- Negotiate terms of payment with your suppliers
- Negotiate terms of payment with your customers
- Sign up partnerships with existing business partners
- Freeze your business (that’s an option here in France)
It is also up to you to be creative, to get your teams involved in this process and to find additional opportunities to reinvent your business. To me, all these options are innovations indeed. In the end, no matter how you call it, the key is really to start NOW!
Following this process will give your company the best chance of survival. Take the following into consideration:
- First, have a clear view on the situation to take time to check all the key figures and the KPIs that will offer you a realistic vision of where you stand.
(Feel free to ask for external support as being quick and accurate is highly important now.)
- Secondly, try to draw several different projections changing assumptions from the most favourable to the worst. It’s clearly not comfortable to do so but it’s very important here again to do it quickly and properly. External support to challenge your assumptions and conclusions is also highly recommended in this phase.
- Third, once you know where you stand and what the options are, choose the best one according to you. Be confident in yourself! Don’t underestimate the related risks for each. Here again, external support can be useful.
- Fourth, once your choice is done, communicate with all your stakeholders, both inside and outside the company and start your action plan immediately. For instance, banks won’t support companies that don’t know where they are going and that don’t even move forward!
The whole process should be achieved in a couple of days, I know this is ambitious but that’s the price to pay to stay alive. Stop speaking about being agile to your team, BE AGILE yourself. Show them the way, that’s what leadership is and that we really need leaders to do today.
The best part of it all is that the ones who will do it right and fast will for sure survive this crisis, and will have a great opportunity to build resilience.