We are in the middle of a disruptive time period. For many businesses, sticking to the status quo is no longer an option – innovation is an imperative. Businesses that find ways to adapt in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic are the ones that will come out ahead as quarantines are lifted and people return to work. There will most certainly be a future, albeit one with a ‘new business-as-usual’ to which people will return.

In this shifting landscape, business leaders who are focused on creating new and unprecedented futures for their organizations will position themselves ahead of the curve. There is no easy answer on how to get there. However, a powerful question to ask is, ‘what do we want our organization to be, or where do we want to go, when we come out of this?”

Part of the challenge is that most businesses were not prepared for a disruption of this scope and magnitude. What’s a reality now was unthinkable to many a few weeks or months ago. And, if resources for research and development were scarce before, they’re even scarcer now.

That said, innovation doesn’t have to be a now or then imperative. Innovation may occur as a flash-in-the-pan and sometimes it is, though often it’s the result of sustained focus in several critical areas. As my colleague, Jon Kleinman, notes, “we studied clients that successfully grafted innovation into their organizations’ DNA, uncovering four critical traits they all share.” These organizations are always focused on innovation. It’s in their bones. The four critical factors are:

  1. Strong leadership mandate – often through resources and engagement
  2. Innovation infrastructure – such as appointing a CIO or innovation team
  3. Proprietary innovation process – system of elevating ideas and moving them through the innovation pipeline
  4. Supportive culture – that empowers team members to ideate without fear of criticism or failure

 We’ve already seen companies with innovative DNA quickly fill gaps in the market for desperately needed medical supplies. A good example is luxury clothing companies such as LVMH and Kering shifting production and pledging to provide 40 million surgical masks to France. Or, there’s Pernod Ricard, the French spirits company, retooling its corporate distilleries to produce industrial quantities of hand sanitizer. Now, we’re seeing GM and Ford shifting production to desperately needed emergency ventilators.

These companies are doing the business equivalent of stopping an aircraft carrier on a dime, only to quickly accelerate in another direction. The ability to rapidly innovate, in a time of crisis, also puts businesses in a position to come to the rescue and meet the needs of the market (people). There’s no guarantee that the risks that come with seeking innovation will yield a sufficient return on that investment. Still, it’s a bet on a bigger future, full of greater possibilities.

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