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Innovation in times of COVID-19

These days, it’s easy to focus on the negative. The spread of COVID-19 is having a devastating effect on the economies of countries and the health of their citizens. The novel aspect of this pandemic involves several unknowns and is likely to have a persistent impact for years to come. However, despite the current climate, […]

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These days, it’s easy to focus on the negative. The spread of COVID-19 is having a devastating effect on the economies of countries and the health of their citizens. The novel aspect of this pandemic involves several unknowns and is likely to have a persistent impact for years to come. However, despite the current climate, I am somewhat comforted that the history of past pandemics and crises suggests an eventual recovery plan for the world.

Necessity is the mother of all invention. New creations emerge from disruption. I feel more optimistic seeing the massive creativity and initiative of people coming together to solve the problem through innovation. In particular, three inspiring phenomena have caught my attention.

1. We can research, experiment and innovate quickly

While we cannot solve complex problems overnight, the involvement of businesses, universities, governments, non-profit organizations, and individuals around the world has shown that society can very quickly focus on addressing the challenges that the world faces real world. The first investigations arising from universities and health agencies in China helped the rest of the world to understand the impact of the COVID-19 and scientific research efforts continue to increase worldwide. Healthcare workers are our lifesaving heroes, but they are also changing the way healthcare is delivered. Rapid test kits to detect the virus were developed in weeks, which detect COVID-19 in fifteen seconds. Meanwhile, development of the vaccine is underway.

2. There is a greater focus on empathy and real-world problem solving

With COVID-19 we are seeing emerging innovations based on empathy for those around us. Organizations from multiple sectors are applying concepts such as design thinking, systems thinking and lean startups with the aim of using their human capital to solve problems quickly. This effort suggests that, in the future, other big real-world challenges could also be addressed with a sense of urgency through innovation. I have no doubt that if we keep this focus on customers and real world problems, we will start to see better products on the market and live in a better society.

3. We need – and can – collaborate for change

Solving complex problems is not easy. A diversity of skills and knowledge is essential to creating great solutions. While globalization has led to the spread of the virus, global co-creation can help resolve this crisis. We are fortunate to live in a time when the Internet is available to facilitate collaborative initiatives.

Work in progress

In these difficult times, the way individuals and organizations have acted with a clear sense of priority, urgency, and community in recent weeks gives me hope that there will be light at the end of the tunnel.

Are these initiatives perfect? No, they are work in progress, like all startups. However, through collective effort, specific innovation initiatives are emerging and growing at an unprecedented rate.

These efforts suggest that innovators have the ability to mobilize for collaboration, experiment quickly, and implement solutions. Not only can we optimistic and believe that this challenging time will pass, but we also believe that it suggests that as a society we have the attitudes and mindset to face significant challenges. Fortunately, we can continue to drive innovation for our collective well-being long after this crisis is over.

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