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Serendipity is one of the most powerful forces in innovation. There are so many great product ideas or sales opportunities that emerge through the power of random chance. However, COVID-19 has radically altered the workplace.

According to research, serendipitous encounters play a central role in the development of new collaborative partnerships that are crucial for corporate innovation. These unplanned interactions between employees or employees and customers, depend on us working in close proximity to each other.

With so many employees working remotely – and the remote work itself becoming a permanent fixture, not a temporary fix – how is the occurrence of serendipitous encounters to be preserved? How can you occasionally “bump” into someone in your office when all your meetings are scheduled in advance on Zoom?

Technology, of course, can help. Two promising approaches could be considered:

  1. Creating a virtual reality office which employees could “visit” via realistic, high-quality avatars. Spatial, a NYC-based startup, allows its clients to share a virtual room using just a web link so that users can enter it with a web browser and even without a special headset.

  2. Another option could be enterprise-wide adoption of networking apps allowing random matching of the firms’ employees.

Firms should also not neglect a time-tested approach that by its very nature is designed to let large groups of people innovate together – crowdsourcing.

Crowdsourcing is a process of assigning internal jobs to external crowds of people in the form of an open call. Over the past 10 years, numerous organizations – including corporations, governmental agencies, and nonprofits – have adopted crowdsourcing as an open innovation tool to help them address their most pressing business challenges.

At times of uncertainty, crowdsourcing becomes an indispensable ideation tool allowing firms to define the contours of their “next normal.” Different crowdsourcing approaches could be chosen depending on a specific corporate goal:

  • External crowdsourcing can be used to spot the so-called weak signals, early signs of shifting customer demand and newly emerging consumer needs. Later, these weak signals can serve as input to scenario planning, a disciplined process of the creation of flexible long-term plans.

  • Internal crowdsourcing, an approach to engaging the “internal crowd” of the firm’s own employees, has been proven effective in finding new ways of optimizing operations and cutting costs. Many firms can also benefit from internal crowdsourcing to perfect their remote work processes.

Talk to Change Logic if you want to leverage crowdsourcing to ideate for “next normal” in your organization.

Eugene Ivanov

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Cash management has been the key focus for management teams in the past two to three months. However, as we move out of the first phase of the crisis, history shows that the smart ones will switch their focus to new sources of growth. This is helped by a systematic approach to Resiliency Planning that can give insight into how market opportunities will evolve.

Gartner’s analysis of the 2008 Great Recession revealed that thirty F1000 companies that had sustained growth through 2017 had all invested in new growth options instead of just cutting costs. Reacting to the COVID-19 crisis, some companies have demonstrated resiliency by rapidly shifting resources to meet critical needs. Examples include GM and Ford making personal protective equipment and ventilators and global distilleries (e.g., Anheuser-Busch and Pernod Ricard) making hand sanitizer. The question is how can companies do both, reinvent to drive growth and build resiliency, when facing significant uncertainty?

Resiliency planning can help companies determine how to accelerate through the recovery curve and improve their ability to withstand future disruptions. The primary steps are to:

  1. Create scenarios based on the key drivers of uncertainty for their market

  2. Critically assess scenarios and create plans by leveraging input from broad, diverse groups of people

  3. Act based on leading indicators for the scenarios and future disruptions

So, what are some of the key drivers of uncertainty due to COVID-19?

  • Disease Progression: duration and severity of COVID-19, treatment / vaccine availability

  • Economic Impact: depth of economic crisis, shape of recovery curve, distribution of recovery across markets

  • Society: public confidence in removing social distancing, long term psychological and economic impact

  • Government: public policy and regulation, international travel restrictions, relief packages

  • Industry Specific: rules and regulations, new industry standards

Companies select the drivers most pertinent to them and create scenarios of what the world could look like using combinations of low to high impact for each driver. The keys are who is involved in the scenario assessment and how the plans are created. In traditional planning, the strategy and operational leaders do the work. However, to reinvent, it is crucial to challenge existing assumptions and generate provocative ideas that cause discomfort. This can be achieved through engaging broad groups of people through open innovation to create ideas / solutions and build new communities. In addition, gamification techniques (like award points for ideas that are pursued) will keep people engaged to help achieve successful outcomes.

Once plans are defined for the various scenarios, it is important to track and act on related leading indicators. In addition, it is important to identify indicators for potential sustained disruptions like COVID-19. These disruption indicators are dependent on the company’s industry and ecosystem.

Companies are unlikely to have a playbook for every possible disruption. But by embracing resiliency planning, they can better prepare to withstand future disruptions and even thrive during times of uncertainty.

Nishi Gupta

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The latest coronavirus outbreak has become an inflection point in corporate culture for many businesses. It is no secret that public policies focused on limited gatherings, travel restrictions, hygiene, and protecting vulnerable groups have brought with them an onslaught of changes to the workplace, and new habits and behaviors that are likely here to stay. While the pandemic has been a terrible shock to society, the world economy, and public health, it can also be perceived as an opportunity for companies to change, question their long-held beliefs about who they are, and make room for new ideas, people, operations, branding, and markets.

Reeling from the shock of shuttering Ford’s 30 North American auto plants due to the coronavirus outbreak, CEO Jim Hackett told the White House, “Who knows, maybe we should be making ventilators?” Shortly thereafter, Ford’s slogan went from “Go Further” to “Built for Right Now” and “Built to Lend a Hand,” marking the company’s pivot from automaker to PPE supplier and quasi social enterprise. Similarly, General Motors has gone from being an auto company with a mission to create “a future of zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion” to one that is “Mobilizing to Combat a Global Crisis,” using its facilities to mass produce masks and ventilators. Ford and GM are now manufacturers of personal protective equipment and their factory workers are, at least for now, producing medical gear instead of vehicles. This impacts not only the production lines but also the very identities and public perception of these auto giants.

Just like Ford and GM, many businesses are being forced to pivot, not just what they do, but who they are and how they brand themselves. For some businesses, the change has been welcome, but for others, it has been met with resistance, causing corporate culture shock. But is being forced to change and question your firm’s identity such a bad thing?

One of the keys to successfully ideating, incubating, and scaling new businesses within existing firms, is that its leaders neutralize the resistance, assumptions, and organizational culture that impede growth and innovation. Organizations often fall victim to their own success, believing that what worked for them in the past, will work for them in the present and future. This was the case with firms as well-known as Polaroid, Nokia, and Kodak. Each had deeply entrenched notions about who they were, how they worked, and what was best for their business. Their unwillingness to challenge their own assumptions and identity led to their eventual downfall.

Businesses and the workforce are discovering new ways of life that challenge conventional notions of “business as usual.” Rather than bracing for things to go back to normal and resisting the disruptions sparked by COVID-19, the businesses that pivot in response to recent changes in the market and corporate life, and embrace these shifts as a new normal, will likely be the ones to not only survive, but thrive. While it can be difficult to distinguish disaster from opportunity, unprecedented disruptions such as COVID-19 can help businesses to overcome their own deeply entrenched beliefs. Some might move from having inflexible work policies that required employees to work onsite to going permanently virtual, seizing this moment as an opportunity to do away with costly commercial leases. Such cultural changes will eventually trickle down to other areas of the business, from attracting talent that values a flexible working arrangement, lowering operational costs, and finding new and creative ways to connect and be productive online.

To borrow from Peter F. Drucker, “The greatest danger in times of turbulence is not the turbulence itself, but to act with yesterday’s logic.” How has your firm’s logic of yesterday changed due to COVID-19? How has your corporate culture and identity changed?

As Melinda Gates said, the novel coronavirus is not a once in-a-century pandemic like the Spanish Flu of 1918—“we will absolutely have more of these.” Take this moment as an opportunity to challenge your long-held beliefs about your organization’s culture and structure.

What assumptions and aspects of your firm’s culture can the pandemic help you to overcome? How can yours become a nimbler organization in the face of future disruptions?

Vanessa Ceia

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Companies across the world are dealing with unprecedented disruption for their employees, customers, and partners due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some companies are using technology innovation to address immediate challenges which may position them to be leaders in the new normal. Technology innovation includes new applications of 3D printing, drones, artificial intelligence, and big data analytics. As these new capabilities mature, they may change customer expectations and the landscape of related products & services. Companies must continue to innovate to be competitive in the new normal.

Technology Innovation

There are many new applications of 3D printing. To reduce COVID-19 transmission via door handles, Barcelona’s BCN3D and the engineers at CIM-UPC created a hands-free door handle attachment (Arm Door Opener) which is made in a single piece in under 4 hours on desktop 3D printer. Stratasys, 3D printer manufacturer, mobilized to produce 5000 full face shields in under a week and plans to increase production. Northwell converted BiPAP machines into ventilators using 3D printed adapter.

The promise of drones as a reliable delivery service is beginning to materialize. Alphabet’s drone delivery company, Wing, has seen a significant increase in demand as people adhere to social distancing rules. Wing currently offers its drone deliveries in Virginia, Finland, and Australia, where the company has partnered with local shops for deliveries. Customers use Wing’s app to make an order, and their deliveries can arrive within minutes.

These are a few examples of how Artificial Intelligence is being used to support medical personnel, countries, corporations, and citizens. In Israel, Tyto Care Ltd. offers in-home medical exams, using AI to deliver clinical-grade data to remote doctors for diagnosis. Baidu Inc. devised an algorithm that can analyze the biological structure of the new coronavirus and made it available to scientists working on a vaccine. Remote biometrics is being used for fever detection. IBM is using AI to put critical data and information into the hands of citizens with “Watson Assistant for Citizens.”

Big data analytics will be an enabler to the recently announced contact tracing project partnership between Apple and Google. China is deploying a new system, Health Code, to map infection hotspots and then triage China’s population based on their previous interactions. South Korea used their own version of contact tracing, leveraging CCTV, bank card records, and mobile phone data to deal with the outbreak.

Preparing for the New Normal

We don’t know what the new normal will look like. Will the greater use of 3D printing make it more cost effective to be used for more traditional manufacturing? Will touchless home delivery via drones become commonplace? Will there be transparency through the supply chain such that we know who touched what and when? Will medical diagnostics using data from remote sensors become commonplace? Will countries and companies be able to address personal and private information security concerns in order to broaden usage of AI and big data analytics?

What we do know is that we can begin preparation for the new normal.

  1. Identify and understand the potential disruptors that affect your business’ ambition (purpose for being).

  2. Define new business areas or extensions of core capabilities to explore.

  3. Foster innovation to create and test new ideas.

The key is to prepare now such that your business can accelerate when the world begins making the turn to the new normal.

Nishi Gupta

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The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered new levels of cooperation between competitors – so called coopetition.

Coopetition is not new. Businesses already use it to solve complex problems more effectively and spur faster adoption of new technologies. For example, Ford and GM teamed up to develop nine and ten-speed transmissions to dramatically reduce the risk and cost of a massive project. Tesla open sourced its electric car patent portfolio to encourage faster adoption of electric vehicle technology by competitors.

The pandemic has made these efforts more urgent. Numerous examples of how coopetition facilitates faster development of tools to fight the pandemic have emerged in recent weeks:

  • A consortium of 15 life sciences companies, including Eli Lilly, Johnson & Johnson, Novartis, and Sanofi are sharing their proprietary libraries of molecular compounds with available safety and efficacy profiles. This may result in preclinical trials starting in as little as two months.

  • Apple and Google are planning to co-develop a smartphone platform to help public health authorities track the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

  • Medical-device company Medtronic is joining forces with University of Minnesota and the rival Boston Scientific to quickly design and manufacture an open source makeshift ventilator made from available parts.

Companies still care about protecting intellectual property. However, the COVID-19 crisis has demonstrated that even the most competitive enterprises can put aside their protective tools and collaborate to solve one such an urgent challenge. Common threats can override trade secrets and even profits.

Are there other problems that might be better solved through coopetition? Should Nokia, Blackberry, and Ericson (the big names in mobile phones before the iPhone) have built a shared operating system and marketplace rather than pursuing their own projects? Can industries that Amazon has not so far disrupted – like Banking and Insurance – find a way to defend their positions through coopetition?

This crisis is an opportunity to throw out the rule book!

Eugene Ivanov

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Innovators have hyped telemedicine for decades, but doctors and insurers didn’t adopt it. Then COVID-19 happened.

American Well’s visit volume is up 250%. Teladoc’s visit volume doubled to 20,000/day. Doctors who refused to try telemedicine 3 months ago are now converts. The COVID-19 crisis is a watershed moment for telemedicine – so, what can this crisis teach us about how to bring other innovations to market?

Before the coronavirus, telemedicine failed to realize its potential value because innovators couldn’t resolve barriers in its adoption chain. As Ron Adner describes in his book, The Wide Lens, every innovation needs to align its adoption chain – the series of ecosystem players and partners who need to adopt or adapt to an innovation to enable the end customer to realize its value.

One of telemedicine’s critical adoption chain barriers was doctors themselves. Many doctors resisted telemedicine because of the threat of change – both to how they delivered care and how much they got paid for it. The COVID-19 crisis removed the threat of change by removing the option of traditional care delivery. Doctors had no choice but to help patients remotely.

“I didn’t believe in telemedicine – I was anxious about not seeing or feeling enough of the patient to be able to help them. But with Coronavirus, I didn’t have a choice. It turns out you can help the patient by video, especially if you know them. It works quite well.” -General Practitioner

Value flow was also a significant adoption chain barrier for telemedicine. Insurers wanted telemedicine to reduce costs, and doctors didn’t want the savings to come out of their pockets. The COVID-19 crisis created a shared goal of providing contactless medical care, thus aligning two key players in the value chain. Private and public payers worldwide changed reimbursement policies, which helped drive a dramatic increase in adoption by doctors, hospitals, and insurers.

“The hardest part to crack with telemedicine was getting doctors to use it. With the coronavirus, we made cultural changes in our hospital in 5 days that would’ve taken 2 years otherwise… and that change is here to stay.” -Hospital Administrator

COVID-19’s impact on adoption chains will last far longer than the crisis itself, and telemedicine isn’t the only innovation being impacted. Crisis or not, innovators can position themselves for adoption chain success with these 4 steps:

  1. Map your adoption chain – What steps are involved from releasing your new offer, to reaching customers, to end users getting value from your innovation?

  2. Understand the players – Who is involved in the key steps? What do you need them to do?

  3. Identify potential barriers – Which players could become barriers in your adoption chain? What are their needs and motivations?

  4. Mitigate barriers – How can you create shared goals or distribute value differently to align stakeholders and remove adoption chain barriers?

Aaron Leopold

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