#OB2022ThoughtLeadership: Can crisis inspire innovation? Finding the opportunity amidst the hullabaloo

  • ‘Innovation is the unrelenting drive to break the status quo and develop a new where few have dared to go’ – Steven Jeffes

The above quote practically sums up what businesses around the world have had to do in the last 2 years to survive the global crisis that is COVID-19.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought the world and the global economy to a standstill at some point. The aftereffects are still being felt and we are still learning to live with the new normal that Covid19 has presented to us. At the moment (end of January 2022), it is reported that there are over 375million global cases and counting and 5.66million deaths. The world has definitely experienced an unprecedented health and economic crisis.

It is almost two years since the first COVID-19 case was reported in Ghana on March 12th 2020. A lot of things changed and organizations not just in Ghana, were forced to innovate and think outside the box so as to remain in business. However other businesses were not able to survive the harsh realities that came with the pandemic and had to shut down.

Crisis and not limiting it to the COVID-19 pandemic, presents us with opportunities that need people, organizations and businesses to think and move more freely to create rapid, impactful change that will enable them go above the said crisis. If there is anything innovation teaches us it is that humans are at the core wired to solve problems. Indeed, a problem does not go away just by virtue of ignoring it but instead by looking for viable solutions to address the problem.

There are four key shifts that help every organization needs to sail through crisis and give them the opportunity at innovation:

Uniting around the focal purpose

In the midst of a crisis it is important that organizations work together in finding the best way to deal with the matter at hand. It may be a difficult matter to deal with and looking at the crisis at hand which is the pandemic that is COVID-19, many of us had never had to deal with such a situation that required people and businesses as a whole to innovate in order to survive because things were changing at a very fast pace.

At one point, you are so used to working 9-5 in the office and the next day you are expected to still be productive however carry out the daily work routines virtually. It is at this very moment that organizations needed to not only work together but also unite around the purpose of survival for the business and therefore these made it necessary to keep innovating and keep being productive despite the changes. In this manner therefore, crisis creates the courage to take actions in support of a purpose that would be unthinkable in times of calm.

Seeing the system differently

Crisis puts the spotlight on vulnerabilities and problems either big or small that had either been ignored or were just not known. These vulnerabilities create opportunities for innovation. For the past two years, a lot of time has been spent on virtual meetings. And even now when there are some in person activities allowed, some organizations have seen the need to balance between in person meetings and virtual meetings.

The COVID-19 crisis may have enabled all of us to see the system differently and weigh therefore which activities have to be in person and which ones can be tackled faster without inconveniencing parties involved and still go ahead virtually. When we refuse to see the opportunities that tough situations may bring our way, we may end up being far removed from the developing world and in this case the developing world of meetings and other virtual engagements.

Unfreezing the usual way of work

Routines are hard to break especially when they have been followed for a long time and have become a habit. When people are used to work processes as well, it is usually very difficult to introduce change. As organizations grow and they find the processes that work for them, their structures are hardened to create predictability, efficiency and stability.

However difficult situations do not give notice on when they would occur. The adaptation to the change may be difficult but it also gives businesses the opportunity to unfreeze the usual way of doing things and think outside the box. Crisis, though not usually welcomed as it does distort the normal, tends to create an avenue for fresh thinking to be applied quickly to address the challenge and this can lead to ideas that make the organization flourish.

Creating an action mentality

Crisis due to the fact that it is usually unseen demands quick movement and change. In the face of crisis, organizations need to be able to come up with various action scenarios on what to do, when to do it and even create options of how to do it. Organizations should be able to experiment different ways of thinking, in case an option does not work, learn how to fail fast and move forward to the next viable way to perform. In a nutshell, during crisis the idea is that there has to be varied actions to the different thought processes and the need to move quickly and adapt to various scenarios.

Looking at the above, they are not easy close your eyes and do tasks. They can be daunting. Finding opportunity during crisis can be overwhelming however not impossible. The following simple but yet not so simple factors can be considered on a personal level in looking beyond a crisis:

  1. Acknowledge and process all feelings when crisis happen but move quickly to finding the best solutions to the matter at hand that needs attention.
  2. Accepting and knowing that crisis is bound to happen will allow you the opportunity to turn it into something meaningful.
  3. Get out of the comfort zone. Growth and levels of change hardly occur when we are comfortable. Being out of our comfort zones will help us see the said crisis as more of an opportunity to innovate and create something new as opposed to keeping focus on the negative aspects.
  4. Look at the bigger picture. Training yourself to look at the bigger picture and think long term will help you to be innovative enough about difficult situations. Turning a crisis into an opportunity often requires unpacking it and looking at the situation with a different mindset.

If we have learnt anything in the last 22 months, it is the importance of being open minded as a brand in order to set yourself apart as a business during difficult times. We have been told that we have to accept and in this case embrace our new normal and live with COVID-19. Which means as businesses we still have to continue innovating and coming up with out of the ordinary products and services that will keep us ahead of others in the industry and in the end stay relevant to our consumers. Here’s to keeping our creativity and innovations hats on for the long haul.

>>>The writer is a Communications Professional (Public Relations, Digital Marketing, Project Management and Events Management) with over 10 years’ experience working in different capacities at Senior Management Level in mainly Consulting and Media Firms.

She currently oversees the Communication Units for Global Media Alliance Group as its Chief Director leading her teams in providing strategic and objective advisory services to the clients they work with. The team currently works with and services clients in Telecommunication, Banking, Agriculture, Non-Governmental, Nutrition, Government, Technology Industries among others.

Ms. Wenani is passionate about communication, personal development, mentorship and coaching. She often engages in coaching and mentorship programmes with young people in areas of career and personal development.

Emma is an Executive Committee member of the Executive Women Network (EWN), a non-profit organization of women in senior management and executive positions in private institutions/organizations as well as women entrepreneurs. She is an avid reader; she enjoys watching football and one of her favorite past times is travelling.

Emma graduated with an MBA in Human Resource Management from the University of Ghana in 2014. Prior to this, she graduated from the University of Nairobi with a Bachelor of Arts combined major degree in French and Sociology. LinkedIn: Emma Wenani


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