Innovation: A Catalyst For Change

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When dealing with the aftershocks of the COVID-19 pandemic, organizations are finding that the post-pandemic business recovery is somewhat ambiguous. There are still critical business challenges that need to be examined. For example, during the pandemic, businesses had to pivot quickly and develop alternative approaches to cope with economic uncertainties.

Some of these strategies focused on reducing operating costs, reevaluating and realigning supply chains, overhauling their talent management initiatives and reorganizing their day-to-day office logistics to accommodate a largely remote and hybrid workforce. All of these initiatives have the potential to be catalysts for change. However, the catalyst I’d like to discuss in this article may be the most powerful and the most underutilized that an organization has at their disposal. That catalyst is innovation.

While most of us have a broad understanding of the importance of innovation, truly innovative ideas are often ignored when an organization is faced with crises of one sort or another, and that’s understandable. When your house is on fire, your first priority is extinguishing the fire, not buying smoke detectors. But times of crisis can often offer up windows of opportunity and open up space for innovative change.

What Is Innovation?

It may seem rudimentary, but I find sometimes it’s best to start off with a good old-fashioned dictionary definition when it comes to deconstructing seemingly abstract concepts. According to Merriam-Webster, the definition of innovation is simply a new idea, method or device, or the introduction of something new. Now, let’s add on to that by saying that the newer and more novel an idea, method or device is, the more innovative it is.

In a recent post on the Harvard Business School Online’s Business Insights Blog, contributor Kate Gibson breaks down innovation into three different types in order to simplify the concept.
1. Product or Service Innovation – This type of innovation focuses on creating a new product or service that improves significantly on an existing product or introduces a product or service that has never been offered to the public before.
2. Process Innovation – This type of innovation refers to any changes or improvements to business processes that make them better or more efficient.
3. Business Model Innovation – This type of innovation occurs when you completely transform the way a business or an industry operates.

The first step that business leaders can take when looking for new ways to be innovative is to look at these three types of innovation and evaluate opportunities in their organization for each one. Some businesses and industries are more suited for one type of innovation over the other two while others are ripe for all three types. Let’s examine some recent examples to see how this concept looks when we take it out of a theoretical context and apply it to real-world settings.

Product or Service Innovation

1. mRNA Vaccines – One of the most revolutionary and widely utilized new products to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis was the mRNA vaccine.
2. Zoom – Zoom is not only a product, but thanks to the pandemic, it is now also a place, a verb and a way of life for many people working and going to school across the globe.
3. Alternative Fuel Cars – Car manufacturers are currently working on the following types of environmentally sustainable automobiles: Biofuel, Steam, Kinetic, Heat, Hydrogen, Solar and Air.

Process Innovation

1. 3D-Printed Houses – The U.S. is in a housing crisis due to a shortage of homes available and high prices of homebuilding. 3D-printed houses are poised to help solve both of these problems.
2. Delivery Drones – Delivery drones have the potential to change home delivery as much as ecommerce revolutionized the retail industry in the 1990s.
3. Amazon Grocery Stores – Amazon Fresh stores offer “Just Walk Out” technology, changing the process of grocery shopping altogether.

Business Model Innovation

1. Ghost Kitchens – Ghost kitchens are restaurants that operate without a public-facing front. This innovation allowed restaurants to stay in business while serving their customers in a safe and contactless way.
2. Vertical Farms – In vertical farming, food is grown in rows that stack on top of each other, usually in an indoor building. They allow farmers to control for light, water, temperature and pests.
3. AI Powered Robotic Senior Care – AI-powered eldercare robots are being developed to take on many of the routine tasks of caregivers, revolutionizing the way we take care of our senior population.

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