The next normal is here: new approaches to innovation

Published on Thursday, 8 April 2021

A year after the pandemic broke out, we’ve come to terms with the fact that we cannot wait for things to go back to normal. Instead, we must be the ones who adapt to a new reality. Necessity, as the saying goes, is the mother of invention. So, how will our approach to innovation change as the world recovers from the pandemic?

The global health crisis has shown us that innovation doesn’t focus exclusively on new technology or the launch of a new product: it can take many forms – and extend to the adoption of new methods and processes, or even pivot business strategy to create new value.

Understanding these shifts in innovation trends prepares organizations to identify and seize opportunities that can make them more resilient in the future. Here is a look at a few key learnings from the past year that will impact how we pursue innovation in the post-Covid landscape.

The power of pivoting

The Cambridge Dictionary defines innovation as “the use of a new idea or method.” As a result of the pandemic, our collective understanding of this concept has evolved to also include the repurposing of existing resources in order to create new value. Before Covid-19, most organizational innovation activities centered on increasing revenue and operational efficiencies. Companies rarely planned for change – which became clear as organizations struggled to react to the challenges posed by the crisis.

This is where pivoting comes in. Pivoting occurs when an organization shifts its business strategy and leverages existing resources such as expertise, infrastructure and supply chains to address a new scenario in its industry, brought along by changes in demand, evolving consumer preferences or times of crisis.

One of the most well known examples of pivoting during the pandemic came from luxury brand LVMH, which pivoted operations and utilized three of their perfume and cosmetic manufacturing plants to produce several tons of sanitizer for local hospitals in Paris.

Another great example came from the partnership between ride-hailing company Lyft and Amazon. At the beginning of the health crisis, demand for Lyft rides took a hit due to confinement and mobility restrictions, while Amazon orders soared. Through this partnership, Lyft was able to pivot their operations and leverage its network of drivers to help Amazon with the surge in deliveries.

As the world moves forward, the ability to pivot will create new opportunities for organizations – and could also mean the difference between survival and extinction of the species.

hands pink background | Enel Startup

Source: Freepik

Innovation with a purpose

One of the many things we’ve learned over the past year is how to prioritize what’s important. By pivoting, many organizations were able to identify core needs and adapt their strategy and operations accordingly. In the process, they were also compelled to reflect on their priorities and values, often reassessing their innovation strategies and activities to focus on new objectives.

What does this mean for innovation? As societies, governments and businesses recover from the crisis, the focus on innovation will be to solve tangible problems, not just innovating for the sake of innovation. Purpose-driven innovation has a much better chance of succeeding than one that blindly aims to sell something to people.

Of the many trends that are emerging as world economies begin to recover, three stand out regarding their influence on the focus of future innovation.

  • Focus on practicality. Consumer preferences will likely remain centered on solutions and innovations that can address everyday needs. The collaboration between Wires Glasses and Vivien Westwood in the development of facemasks that eliminate lens fog is a prime example of focus on practicality. These masks hang from wearers’ glasses instead of their ears in order to create a more comfortable and functional experience.
  • Focus on empathy. The pandemic has highlighted issues such as inequality in access to healthcare, food, lodging and mobility: challenges that will still need to be addressed after the world adapts to its new version of normal. One instance of innovation tackling one of society’s problems is Ulmer Nests. Created by a German design team, Nests are sleeping pods intended to provide shelter for the homeless population, especially in the sub-zero temperatures of the German winter.
  • Focus on sustainable innovations. The pandemic brought sustainability issues back to the foreground driving significant shifts in market sentiment and government regulations, refueling the sense of urgency about these challenges. Sustainably driven innovations will be a top priority in the new and next normal, as more consumers value organizations that prioritize eco-friendly products and sustainable practices. For example, in the context of Covid-19, single-use plastic products help prevent the spread of bacteria and viruses – but also damage the environment. During the pandemic, design studio Pentatonic and singer Pharell Williams struck up a collaboration to produce Pebble, an eco-friendly reusable cutlery set from recycled materials that is designed to stop people from eating with disposable plastic utensils.
     

All in all, innovation is a fluid concept that will continue to evolve. Therefore, organizations that recognize how it can be applied to other areas beyond the creation of a new product, technology or service to increase capital gains, will be more agile and successful in the long term.

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