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Crisis Breeds Innovation: How To Embrace Change Right Now

The crisis we find ourselves in is different than any that have come before it, and the innovation it drives will also be unique.

The aftermath of September 11, 2001 saw extraordinary advances in security technology and an upheaval in the way we design public spaces. It also sparked citizen journalism and changed the way we share and consume information. These changes were designed to protect us from the vulnerabilities we uncovered and bring us closer together.

The 2008 financial crisis gave birth to the gig economy as people sought to pool resources and find creative ways to earn income. It also drove the adoption of enterprise developer teams to create custom solutions to specific challenges of business as budgets tightened. Many of these solutions are ideally suited to the times we find ourselves in. If the coronavirus had happened just 10 years ago, most companies wouldn’t have had the video conferencing, automated supply chains or technology infrastructure to keep the business running with their employees working remotely.

I believe this crisis will drive a new and better balance between the push for efficiency and the need for resilience. Agility requires both components. The past decade or so, companies have prioritized efficiency. Auto-makers have perfected the just-in-time manufacturing that means parts show up exactly when they are needed. Retailers work to keep inventory matched precisely to demand to reduce waste. These are noble goals, but as this crisis has shown us, it falls apart quickly when one link in the delicate chain is broken.

Business leaders around the world have the opportunity right now to rethink their business models and their products. Their focus should be on agility, with resilience as a key ingredient. The companies we’ve seen be most successful in this moment are the ones who were able to pivot most quickly to creating services that are needed now.

Luxury perfume and cosmetics brands have started making hand sanitizer. Sporting goods manufacturers have started making face shields. Companies that have nothing to do with medical supplies have started using their supply chains to source the goods that are in demand right now. They are not only helping their communities; they are keeping their employees working at a time they’d otherwise be deemed “non-essential,” businesses.

Borrowing from lessons of the past, companies can embrace change by doing the following:

• Provide what’s needed now. Start with the short term. What does my community need right now that my company can offer? At Anaplan, we asked our most experienced platform experts to come together in a global hackathon to encourage them to develop creative solutions not only for the customers and partners, but for public agencies and nonprofits on the front lines of the pandemic response. This group created 17 different applications in five days that can be rapidly deployed on everything from PPE consolidation to hospital resource planning. We’ve continued to develop applications internally and with our partners and now have 24 available. We also made our platform free for 90 days to qualifying non-profits, government entities and others working on a COVID-19 response. People are desperate to help their communities right now, so give them an outlet where they can be creative and do just that.

• Focus on resilience. This crisis has exposed the fragility of many global supply chains and manufacturing processes, and the vulnerability of huge industries such as airlines and hospitality. Figure out what makes you more resilient in the future. This might mean giving up some efficiency to build in redundancies and stockpiles, but the trade-off that this will bring to your agility is worth it. From a technological perspective, this means being able to access data from across your entire business and having the ability to use that information to make business decisions that allow you to change course instantly.

• Keep communication open. Make sure the most strategic minds in your company are talking to one another. The pressure of a crisis forces creative thinking and you need this dialogue across silos and business functions. Now is an amazing time for collaboration, despite how counter-intuitive that might seem. Your employees are likely all stuck in their homes, which also means they are hungry for connection. Create environments where they can talk to one another and build that part of your culture so when the physical walls come down, the metaphorical walls don’t go back up.

This crisis is unique in that the economic slowdown is deliberate, in order to combat an enormous public health threat. Once treatments and vaccines are found that allow the world to start reopening, growth will hopefully skyrocket. Take the time to think about how your business can innovate to help your broader community now in order to encourage the recovery to come sooner and so you can be better positioned on the other side.

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