Why Should I Worry About Innovation in the Middle of a Pandemic?

"Necessity is the mother of invention."

- very old proverb

Desperate times often give us the courage to try the thing we've been afraid to venture. As a writer, I'm sorely tempted to make my point by listing a bunch of success stories of companies that almost went out of business but turned it around and became wildly successful. Apple, Reddit, and FedEx for example? But those stories of success sit on a pile of corporate husks that we'll never hear about because they didn't make it.  

When times get tough you need to make changes and figure out ways to squeeze more out of your time and economic resources. A bunch of feel good stories? No - but one thing ALL those successful companies have in common was that when things got desperate they didn't give up, they gave more.

This came up when I searched for "tough marine" images. When I looked for "drill instructors" it gave me dentists. At least the clown fish's bravery is well known since Finding Nemo.

Now is the time to automate. Now is the time to innovate. Now is the time to get more done with less.  Now is the time to collaborate. Now is the time to brainstorm on how to do your work more efficiently, better than the competition.

Crisis Paralysis

It isn't unusual in times of crisis to find that your leadership has frozen. They've never faced these circumstances. Often they look to their own leadership structure instead of the leaders in their own structure. You can teach management, but real leadership often comes down to the core value of getting stuff done even when things seem impossible. Distractions. Confusion. Insufficient resources. Illness.

How can you keep on getting things done when the world seems to be aligned against you?

One - step - at - a - time.

  1. Find the things that have to be done. Make a list. Keep them moving no matter what. When you stop doing the must be dones, you've lost.
  2. Find the things that need to be done. Put them on a second list. Get through your must be dones, then find the bandwidth to tackle the needs to be dones.
  3. Brainstorm and figure out how to speed up the must be dones. This is often where you need to use automation or train up people to take up work they've never done before. You need to get slack somehow or you'll always be stuck in "reactive" mode instead of "proactive" mode.

Think about the future, not the past.

The past is a mind-trap. It looks like a beautiful oasis in the desert, but it is a mirage. There is no shade there, no water, no food. You have to let go of the past and move on. Pack up the things you learned and carry the essentials forward, but abandon the notion that things will just go back to the way they were.  

When you meet with your team to collaborate, think forward. We all miss things from the past but we're on a journey now to a path of sustainability.  You need to find resources that will let you grow and thrive. You need to find time and focus.

  • Which of the essential tasks you perform can be automated? Do you know?
  • Which of the tasks you perform now are vestigial remnants of the before-time? Can you get rid of old processes or streamline them?
  • Are there other companies who have complementary resources that you can partner with whose needs mesh well with your assets? This is a good time for careful alliances.
  • How's your supply chain? Have you had any insight into weaknesses of your current system or unexpected resilience that you can capitalize on?

"Fear is the mind killer."

-Frank Herbert, Dune

We all have fear now and again. Courage isn't being fearless, it's doing what needs done despite your fear. Try very hard to avoid conversational and thought-loops around negativity. It is important to know when actual threats exist. I'm not suggesting ignoring those. But there is little value to be found in self-sustaining loops of gloom and despair. In fact, they can destroy not only your morale but your mental health.

There's a tired old saying that in Chinese, the word for problem is the same as the word for opportunity. I don't think that's true - but what problems can do is spur you on to try something new.

Don't get paralyzed by fear. Don't get swamped by despair. And definitely don't get trapped in the pattern of trying the same old things over and over while you watch your resources dwindle away.  Now is the time to do something new.

If you can't think of something new, call in help. Bring in outside insights. There is an entire ecosystem out there of consultants who specialize in turning around companies by automating, streamlining and innovating the way you do business.

Hang in there. Stay positive. Keep doing what needs getting done.  And stay safe.

Blake Smith

Blake Smith