Crisis: Time to Innovate

Updated: Jan 22, 2021

"Opportunity mixed with difficulty" is a famous statement by Jim Rohn. It was his way to summarize the history of humanity in one brief sentence.

Tidd & Bessant (2009) mention the so-called "unthinkable events" as one of several types of "discontinuous conditions" that require different approaches for innovation than the usual ones used in a stable environment. They also consider "shocks to the system" and "accidents" as significant sources of innovation.

So the crisis in various forms from tragic accidents, disasters, pandemics, natural catastrophes, to horrible conflicts and wars, are also times of innovation. I am aware that people who are in horrific pain, just lost their loved ones, or are in other ways directly or indirectly affected, are most likely not interested in innovation.

As probably everyone who has been around on this planet for a while, I faced a couple of tough challenges and difficult situations. I am grateful to those people who helped me to overcome these challenges and to get through the difficult times. Of course, I also learned that my mindset is a crucial key to find solutions for the problems I face.

For a long time, I kept a small piece of cardboard with a quote by Jim Rohn on my table: "It's not what happens; it's what you do that changes everything."

After you managed to overcome your shock from a horrific incident, it becomes more and more your choice how you deal with the new situation. Some remain passive for different reasons. Others take action and grow. They become high performers in ways that they had never believed to be possible. It's also the time where leaders show and prove their qualities.

Without any doubt, prevention is the best way to deal with a crisis. But it is unrealistic to assume that any disaster is preventable. Therefore, the preparation for emergency response is another critical part of ensuring survival and mitigate the negative impact. Be grateful to all those who engage in emergency services, prevention, and preparation. And to be clear: Please follow the advice and the rules of emergency services and authorities.

Modern societies include complex networks of interdependencies that are prone to interferences. Every crisis has unique aspects. People cannot realistically prepare for every aspect because some of them are more or less unforeseeable. As a consequence, they have to deal with numerous severe and less severe problems of any kind. Solving problems or enriching people's lives is the essential purpose of innovation. What can you do?

Everyone can become an innovator!

You can take the following pragmatic and proven steps to start innovating:

First of all, you should create an overview. Take a sheet of paper and make three columns for problems, skills, and resources. Of course, you can do this also electronically.

Write down the problems you perceive. Think about people first: Problems that threaten lives, cause human suffering and pain, affects people's lives, and so on. Highlight the most severe problems in your list.

Write down your skills and highlight those that appear to be most helpful in the current situation. Be aware that a skill you do not consider as a strength of yours still might be useful.

Make a list of your accessible resources and highlight those that appear to be most useful under the given circumstances.

If possible, try to connect with likeminded people who are able and willing to tackle one of the problems. Use social media and other online tools when internet access is available. Follow the formula "similar goals, complementary skills" and form a team.

Start a collaboration. The free tools of the well-known Silicon Valley giants for connecting, sharing, and communication, can be handy. You don't necessarily need special software.

Discuss the problems you are facing and their severity. Prioritize and agree on a scope where you want to search for solutions. For example, you can share inspirational pictures, notes, thoughts, and other information with the group in a simple, dedicated online document. To foster the flow of ideas, you could run virtual creativity sessions based on the concept of brainwriting: Brainwriting uses typically sheets of paper dedicated to the selected search field for ideas that circulate in a group sitting at a table in silence. Every member of the group takes a quick look at what the others wrote on the sheet of paper and adds a new sentence before he or she passes it on to the next person. You can do a similar thing in a simple group chat. You just need to agree on a scope, an order as equivalent to the forward-passing, and how much time you schedule for a session. After a couple of such creative sessions, you usually summarize the resulting ideas.

The next step is to select the most promising ideas. Once again, you might want to take a pragmatic approach. These questions can be helpful: Which ideas would have the most positive effect on humans? Which ideas could be realized given the skills and resources you and your teammates have at hand? How much time would it take till a solution would be available?

In crisis scenarios, time is often a critical factor. Typically, solutions to severe problems are needed immediately. The amount of time to acquire new skills is limited.

Once you selected a promising idea, you start with the development of the solution. The specific actions very much depend on the type of solution you work on and the problem you try to solve. Insert further creative sessions to overcome hurdles during the development phase. Focus on the essentials! Try to develop a so-called "Minimum Viable Product," in the way the Lean Startup philosophy proposes. Once again: Be pragmatic. You need solutions that work and solve or mitigate the problems you want to address. Don't waste time.

In case you create a paid solution, make sure that its price is fair. To be more specific: Years after the crisis, your margins and the profits you generated during this crisis should appear reasonable and reflect an ethical sense of responsibility.

Do you have any questions about innovation?

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Sources and Recommendations

Greater Life. [YouTube]. Jim Rohn Best Life Ever. Retrieved from

Ries, Eric. (2011). The Lean Startup: How constant innovation creates radically successful businesses. Retrieved from

Tidd, J., & Bessant, J. (2009). Managing innovation: Integrating technological, market and organizational change (4th ed.). Chichester: Wiley


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