The Two Best Practices for Innovation in Times of Crisis

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The COVID-19 pandemic has led some organizations to make pivots in how they operate. They’re doing this in ways and at a speed they never thought possible. How are such quantum leaps possible in times of crisis and what can we learn from that?

An Expert in Innovation in Nonprofit Organizations

I spoke with Dr. Peter Temes, Founder and President of The Institute for Innovation in Large Organizations (ILO). He launched the Institute in 2005 to bring together senior executives leading innovation around the world. The current ILO membership includes AT&T, Kaiser Permanente, NASA, Pfizer, and the University of Alabama, among many others. How are innovation leaders attacking this crisis?

Peter says pent up demand for innovation in some organizations is finally getting unleashed. The “thumb on the scale” to preserve old ways and hold back change is gone.

Yet the focus is shifting to innovating systems over point solutions. Most notably, the ability to match resources to needs across complex networks. Ventilators are a prime example of this in the age of COVID-19. Resource matching is an underdeveloped capacity in many organizations. This is true on the people’s side of things, too. For example, there are nurses that could operate ventilation equipment in a public health crisis but have not yet been trained to. Systems to address and anticipate those needs are now top of mind.

So how does innovation at a systems-level happen? Peter points to two enduring best practices.

Lower the cost of failure

Associations can incentivize people to experiment more at lower costs in time and money, but also reputation and brand. A crisis environment, one might suggest, changes those equations dramatically.

Focus more on discovery than prediction

Try something and expect that it might fail. If it does, treat it as an opportunity to pivot to a different way or even a new concept altogether. In times of overwhelming change, like these, it is impossible to predict what will happen. There is no time to work through the gap between what we predicted and what happened in fact. Organizations need to work more like lean startups than they ever could have before to keep up with the pace of change.

Want more of Peter’s insights on innovation in extraordinary times? Listen to excerpts from our conversation here.

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