The Pandemic Is Driving Innovation

Now is the perfect opportunity to focus on innovation and creativity

While 88% of CEOs say that innovation is essential to their top line and their profitability, only 22% of companies have a formal system of innovation. “It’s outrageous,” says author Jim Harris who writes on disruptive innovation.

“Innovation doesn’t just magically happen,” Harris says. “Leaders need to ensure employees are provided with the tools for innovation: training, access to time, funding, and support. Companies and entire industries are being disrupted at a faster rate than ever before and the majority of firms still don’t have formal innovation systems in place.”

“People tend to conflate disruption and innovation,” adds Lee-Anne McAlear, the Program Director of The Centre of Excellence in Innovation Leadership at the Schulich School of Business. 

“Many executives think they have to be disruptive to be effective. But innovation exists along a continuum– from incremental to radical to disruptive. Any company can begin by playing in the incremental space. This creates a healthy creative environment that leaders can leverage when they need to progress to radical and disruptive innovation. Leaders can then strategically align resources, thinking, and people to deliver new value. Innovation can be defined as applying creativity to add value; it is creativity with purpose.”

When it comes to innovation, creativity is the input and technology is an enabler. “People tend to think that technology equals innovation, and that if they don’t work in tech, they can’t be involved in innovation,” notes Harris and McAlear. “Leaders need to dispel that myth and to harness the full creativity of all employees. Everyone, everywhere can play a role.” 

Leaders need to support innovation in all parts of the organization, even ones that seem more traditional, like Finance and HR. “Interestingly,” says Harris, “while product innovation gets the majority of focus in most organizations, it’s not where the greatest value lies, instead it’s in business model innovation, process innovation and customer experience innovation.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has, turbocharged the rate of change for many companies and industries. Executive need to ensure employees are thinking about new ways to work, new business models, new ways of engaging customers, and new products or services to offer. Innovation is no longer a ‘nice to have,’ it’s now a ‘must have.’ 

“If you think that the pandemic is all about hunkering down and doing things the way you’ve always done them, you’re not seeing the opportunities,” Harris says. “We’re entering the second year of the pandemic, and things aren’t ever going to go back to ‘the way they were.’ We will all have to continue to adapt, pivot, and innovate.”

“This is the optimal time to be innovating, by mining peoples’ creativity. People who thought they couldn’t change or innovate now know they can. It’s the perfect time to fire on all organizational creative cylinders!”

Lee-Anne McAlear is the Program Director of The Centre of Excellence in Innovation Leadership at Schulich School of Business at York University teaching executive how to put in place the organizational systems to drive innovation. Jim Harris is an international bestselling author on disruptive innovation, working with Fortune 500 firms. He also speaks more than 70 virtual conferences a year.

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