We are all innovators now

The current crisis has forced us to step into the unknown and adapt to new ways of working, turning us all into innovators. Victoria Harrison-Mirauer, Discipline Lead at Hult Ashridge shares how to hang on to that agility and innovation going forward to thrive in a new business landscape.

The COVID Pandemic has turned us all into innovators. Whether we are working with new virtual tools or stepping in to cover new areas of work, everyone has had some experience of working differently. This means we have all stepped into the unknown and had to adapt. That is what innovation is all about. We have developed some ‘muscle memory’ as a result. We are all innovators now.

Imagine if we could capture that innovation muscle memory, and make it work for us in the new context as we emerge from the crisis phase of the pandemic. Innovation is a mindset as well as a set of behaviors. Innovation is a mix of creativity and action- it is the implementation of new solutions. COVID-19 has demanded many new solutions and seen the barriers to implementation swept aside. How might we hang on to some of that agility and innovation going forward?

These are some of the most important innovation behaviors:

  • Questioning
  • Curiosity
  • Creative thinking
  • Collaboration
  • Experimentation

If you match those behaviors with the effects of the pandemic namely a need to act, a sense of urgency, and a faith that there are solutions out there- that is an immensely powerful combination to drive innovation. We need to hang onto the positives of the ‘crisis mindset’, leaving behind the reactive, panic, and necessity driven decisions, retaining the beneficial aspects of the ways in which we have had to adapt to the consequences of the pandemic. What is interesting is how important it is that we care about why we are innovating, the sense that what we are focussed on, and why we are making an effort to try new things even when it’s challenging to do so, really matters. This tells us that to harness the power of our new-found innovation capability, the ‘why’ needs to be front and center.

You can build on the innovation muscle memory you and your teams have been acquiring over the past weeks, by reflecting on the innovation behaviors you have unwittingly been practicing and start to practice them actively. Innovation skills can be learned and improved so you can apply them to your next challenges. We have questioned the foundation assumptions that usually guide our operating models, we have collaborated with competitors, we have asked really, really good questions, hard questions of ourselves, of our processes and of our communities. We have challenged ourselves to work remotely, to work collectively, to come up with alternatives in the face of constraints. All of this we can continue to do in the new ‘normal’ whatever it looks like, and if we do, we’ll maybe take some small benefit from the period of crisis to help us thrive again.

For some organizations, innovation, in the form of a new operating model will be a given, take heart if you find yourself looking at a deep disruption coming out of the pandemic. The crisis mindset is your friend in this situation- because at the heart of the crisis mindset is the faith there is a solution out there, and that there are alternatives, new ideas, and options to be investigated.

One of the other important contexts for innovation in the ‘new normal’ is digital. New technologies and the consequent pace of change for every sector has been called a 4th Industrial Revolution by the World Economic Forum. That idea is nothing new. But lockdown has forced this digital-driven innovation at pace again. Digital transformation was happening for some organizations, it was part of an on-going process for others, but it is well and truly here to stay for us all now. Perhaps we could change the title of this blog to We are all digital innovators now.

On top of many of us emerging from the pandemic more fully ‘digital’ than we went in, comes an inescapable recognition that we are more connected and more interdependent than ever before. This calls for more ‘systems thinking’, a collaborative innovation mindset, and an approach that recognizes we don’t work in ‘organizations’ in isolation. We are all part of a much, much wider, more intimately connected eco-system, the consequences of our choices and decisions can be far-reaching.

This is not about ‘going back’, this is about creating new value and moving our organizations and teams forward, so now is the time to deploy your newly supercharged inner innovator.

In order to innovate for the new context it is important to keep the positive aspects of the ‘crisis mindset’, its urgency and its faith, a belief in what’s possible together. Encourage your teams to practice the innovation behaviors, keep collaborating, keep innovating.

Harness the power of agile with our Innovation and Digital Transformation programs.

Victoria Harrison-Mirauer is the Discipline Lead Innovation at Hult Ashridge Executive Education. Her 20-year career spans marketing, innovation, and digital transformation.

Hult International Business School
Hult International Business School
Ashridge Executive Education