Innovating in the face of the unexpected can stretch the most decisive innovation leader. COVID taught us that flexibility and adaptability is the name of the game. This is especially true within an organization’s innovation efforts. A new capability is needed to respond to these disruptive shock situations effectively. I call this capability “elastic innovation,” or the ability to innovate in the short-term while still managing innovation efforts in the long term.
During these unexpected times, it is often necessary to innovate within a 0-48 hour timeframe. I became aware of this concept in 2015 when I read the Elastic Innovation Index. This index looked at the financial tech world and focused on how quickly companies could adapt to sudden changes. Recently, John Bremen wrote an article called Elastic Innovation related specifically to COVID. Today, I will be combining thoughts from these two articles with my own.
Impacts of Elastic Innovation
Elastic innovation impacts different practices companies use. Firstly, it impacts an idea pipeline. Most companies have some form of Idea Management System (IMS). Forced to take an idea from your pipeline, you skip standard processes and immediately implement it. Elastic innovation may also impact your people.
To succeed with elastic innovation, you need to have a culture that allows for a high decentralization of decision-making and resources. The best ideas usually don’t come from senior executives. When in an elastic innovation situation, you need to empower your team to move quickly and create a diverse approval process. Approve it, fund it, and get moving.
Thirdly, elastic innovation impacts your operating pace. Typically your process and pace are set based on approval processes. Significantly accelerated, this is the pace in the case of an elastic innovation. Things are tested and launched to respond to disruptive shocks adequately.
Lastly, elastic innovation impacts the framework a company is following. It would be best if you were willing to drop some elements of your framework. Keep in mind; you should maintain your quality and safety standards and protect your brand.
Examples from COVID
During COVID, perfume manufacturers transformed their manufacturing systems to make hand sanitizer. They leveraged their capabilities in a short-term effort to create an entirely new product. Restaurants shifted to using mobile ordering and curbside pickup to get people their meals safely. The gig economy saw a rise in its grocery delivery services. Musicians adapted and started doing virtual concerts for their fans.
If you keep an elastic innovation approach, you will deal with complexities and balance response tradeoffs. Most importantly, you will react quickly and decisively, which will lead to your organization’s success.
To know more about this needed innovation compatibility, listen to this week's show: Elastic Innovation – A Needed Innovation Capability.