Innovation panic is the new normal

Innovation panic is the new normal

Economies are stalling. The world as we know it has changed. The status quo has been irreversibly altered and none of this is a bad thing as this is the breeding ground for innovation.

The thing with a pandemic like this (or any crisis for that matter) is that there are two ways to respond. The first is to sit in the corner and lament the fact that the world has changed and what worked yesterday won’t work tomorrow. The second is to innovate, adapt and create the new normal!

Of course this needs to be done with deliberate thought and planning. One cannot just run headfirst into the fray and hope to win it. There is a confluence of macro movements at play and each needs to be understood and quickly factored into a strategic response.

Typically this is a PESTLE analysis that most corporate strategies take into account on some level.

For the sake of brevity; let’s group and cherry-pick a few of those to look at now: arguably the countries who are reacting quickly and efficiently to this pandemic are the ones who will come out on top.

Political and Economic

There is so much conjecture around the origins of this virus. So much accusation and fake news about it being manufactured or leaked into civil society that it has in some cases eclipsed the real issue of the virus itself.

That being said, the geopolitical landscape is in turmoil at the moment. The balance of world power is shifting and many feel that the Trump administration has handled this crisis so badly that they will not be able to easily command the respect of the rest of the world. That leaves the door open for a superpower like China to swoop in and claim the lead.

The counterpoint here is that a global superpower should be leading the way in navigating through a global pandemic, not causing it. The twist of fate now leaves China without the moral high-ground to claim any global lead.

While this is pressing for all of us from a global point of view. Affecting currency exchange rates, visas, trade agreements and so much more, including the push for an even more nationalist view of the global supply chain, there is a very real in-country battle being waged.

Unemployment is going to surge. Those on the fringes are the hardest hit, deepening the divide and causing debt levels to reach unimaginable levels. Small to medium businesses who don’t have the reserves are forced to cut costs and ultimately employees.

It’s a simple Value Proposition change, but this hotel group in Sandton are doing their best to make the best of a bad situation. They get that the only way to navigate through this pandemic is through a little innovation. So they put an offering together offering a 14-night stay at a reduced rate, all meals included, all washing included and a nurse on-site to monitor anyone who so much as coughs twice!

Social

Arguably what should be the biggest area of concern and focus during these times is Social. But sadly it is getting a lot of focus for the wrong reasons though. There has been a lot of noise in the system. People posting fake news and fear-mongering; for who knows what good reason.

As we move closer to the traditional flu season in the Southern Hemisphere; there is a lot of fear and panic around whether allergy symptoms are just that or something more. This handy guide from Robert Roy Britt provides a great way to judge the symptoms you might be feeling. His article on Medium is an equally good read!

allergy and covid-19 symptom checker

Add to the already large covid-19 panic the huge GNI coefficient that South Africa has and you have a recipe for absolute disaster. The South African government have been quick, deliberate and ruthless in their quarantine measures. Some of which the general population has diligently followed, but there will always be a section of any population that thinks the rules don’t apply to them (or worse don’t think the virus applies to them).

Technology

Technology has been the big winner since the covid-19 lockdown was put in place with companies having to scramble to ensure their teams have the ability to work remotely.

digital transformation

This is the area that most organisations have centered their innovative measures around. How can we pivot our processes and staff to deliver work in a remote way? And to be frank, this is not really innovation, this “new ways of work” has been the digital transformation hymn sheet for the last 5 years, if not more.

Innovation in the technology space is more about how this technology can open up new value propositions and business opportunities that can be delivered through technology, rather than delivering as close as possible to “business as normal”.

This quite interesting website (www.testforcovid.co.za) launched the other day in an effort to try and use geolocation data and a quick self-diagnosis questionnaire to drive (pun intended) the presence of the mobile testing stations.

This is the kind of innovation that is needed. Pivoting data and existing accepted technologies to ask new questions. Combining datasets to innovate new answers to questions that until a week ago were not thought of as important.

How do we lose?

We lose by sticking our heads in the sand and hoping that this goes away. We lose by not thinking positively about how this pandemic is only accelerating innovation. The danger we face as South Africa, and indeed any other country, is that we allow the status quo to prevail. That we continue to trudge through mediocrity “because it has always worked” and we continually ask the few to uplift the many. We need to stand up and be counted!

How do we win?

We win by being deliberate in our planning and agile in our actions. We need to think through the various scenarios that could come out of a post-covid-19 lockdown, but we cannot allow ourselves to be paralysed by the fear of the unknown. There are countless permutations that are possible; but only a handful that are probable – and those are the ones that demand our innovation attention.

Focus on what you can control. Focus on where you can add value and let these be your watchwords for innovating your way to relevance in a post-pandemic tomorrow.

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