The Covid-19 pandemic has caused upheaval around the world, from the tragic human cost to extraordinary political and economic impacts whose magnitude it is impossible yet to judge. Alongside the damage, however, there will inevitably be enormous progress: Science and medicine, disaster planning, supply chain resilience, flexible working patterns. Even in the space of a few weeks, some huge steps forward have been made, and this is just the start. As the status quo is challenged, we are reminded that necessity is the mother of invention. Here we take a closer look at four examples of inspirational businesses that have been nimble, creative and ambitious to succeed in the face of turmoil.
#1 The YouTube celebrity with a mission
Disruption and unfamiliarity present new problems to solve; great innovators find ways to highlight their relevance to the prevailing challenge and satisfy new demand.
When the UK’s school closure began on Monday 23rd March, YouTube celebrity Joe Wicks (The Body Coach) had already been promoting his live-streamed daily kids’ workout sessions for a week. Launched on Monday to coincide with millions of housebound school-age children, by midweek, he was attracting over 800k viewers and by the end of the week had doubled the subscriber count on his heavily monetised YouTube channel. He has pledged to donate ad revenue generated during this time to the National Health Service, but the brand equity, additional reach and explosion in subscribers will provide long-term returns to The Body Coach far in excess of the £80,000/week reported in direct ad revenue.
Find your relevance to the situation. The Body Coach sells diet and training plans to adults. Switching focus to families isolated at home provided a route to rapidly reach parents within the target market
Act early and decisively. Wicks’ first promotional message went out speculatively on 16th March, two full days before the government announced schools were to close and a week before families faced the reality of long confinement. This strong early messaging allowed perfect positioning as the demand surged
#2 A Health Tech firm acts boldly
It’s great to be audacious when times are challenging. Ambition and optimism are the guiding lights for bold innovators facing a bleak outlook.
Amid the disruption of a wholesale move to home working and with sales prospects around the world shifting their focus from technology investment to more immediate responses, Health Tech firm Babylon Health made a bold move. They formulated a plan to adapt their digital patient assistant to support Covid-19 assessments and care plans, introducing new datasets, retraining AI models and creating a new coronavirus-specific user experience.
Moreover, they mobilised their product teams to deliver the new features in 9 days from start to finish. Within a fortnight of making the decision to act, they had placed a valuable new tool in the hands of hundreds of thousands of users.
Focus on what might be possible. Babylon Health recognised the window of opportunity was small and seized the chance to create a vital new product
Be ready to dismiss obstacles. Babylon didn’t allow the upheaval of remote working to deflect from their goal or distract their teams but focused everybody on a single bold objective
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#3 The firm that saw how best to help
People need more help in a crisis. Those who are strong in strategic vision and adaptation become valuable allies to those less familiar with an innovation mindset.
Boutique growth consultancy White Space Strategy realised that the things that they do every day for clients – modelling and assessing different outcomes to find an optimal future direction – are exactly the kinds of strategic planning activities that every business needs to do when facing an unprecedented and turbulent situation.
They created and published a scenario assessment toolkit taking input from dozens of senior leaders in multiple industries, highlighting how knowable events might impact business models. Launched on LinkedIn, their framework is helping dozens of SMEs and non-profits around the world understand and prepare for the risks, opportunities and uncertainty presented by unpredictable circumstances. Although White Space Strategy is choosing to make their work available for free, they have found a new audience for their value proposition and cemented their role as a thought leader in strategy development.
Recognise the value of your capability. White Space Strategy normally provides bespoke consultancy to blue-chip corporations. By sharing their approach and taking a generalist standpoint they are able to provide value to many more businesses and showcase their framework expertise.
Take a risk. White Space had no prior experience in creating general business planning tools. They decided to apply their methodology to a new domain and see if it could work.
#4 Investment bank stays future-focused
There is always a future beyond the turmoil of the present. Innovators will not allow their plans to be constrained by current challenges.
The prevailing climate for investment is hostile, with many investors opting to preserve liquidity until there is an end to the volatility in sight. This creates challenges for businesses large and small but disproportionately affects early startups who are frequently dependent on external capital to survive. One major bank (chosen not to be named) has committed to progress all their current investment deals as normal.
They have recognised that the risk profile of their portfolio is not materially changed by the short-term disruption and that the runways extended to these businesses extend far beyond the immediate difficulties faced. Their confidence comes from a desire to keep momentum in their investment activities, maintain a strong deal funnel and position their investee businesses ahead as the world moves out of lockdown.
Have a long-term mindset. By looking to the future, the bank will avoid delays and interruptions that otherwise might be felt years down the track.
Recognise what is unchanged. The bank’s need to secure a return on its investments has not diminished in the face of short-term disruption in the operating environment. If business activities can continue – even speculative activities such as early-stage investing – they should.
There are two common attributes that unite all four of these businesses:
Responsiveness: Having the ability to formulate ideas, develop them into plans and then move to execute those plans rapidly, without lengthy reviews or complex decision paths. This bias to action comes naturally to the strongest innovators but can also be implemented alongside corporate controls to maintain operational stability. The skillset required for innovation can be very broad, but by consolidating expertise in cross-functional teams, the overall agility of the organisation need not suffer
Flexibility: Being able to change plans, acquire new skills and commit to learning through doing. A culture of flexibility recognises that the experience gained on the journey is at least as valuable as the end result and views all innovation as an iterative process of refinement and expansion. It is impossible to know where the next challenge will come from, but with increased flexibility, there comes a corresponding probability that it can be tackled successfully
For many organisations, technology is a key enabler for innovation, and it is doubtful if any of the above case studies would have been possible a few years ago. Digital projects bring their own challenges. The most adept innovators recognise that there is a sweet spot to be found at the intersection of novel ideas, existing capability and risk appetite. Innovation strategy can also be influenced by partnerships, whereby the experience and capabilities of trusted partners can be leveraged to extend further and more comfortably into new territory. The innovation landscape is complex, and the outlook is extraordinarily unclear.
The one certainty is that fortune will favour the bold. There is no prospect of the world coming through this time without profound changes being felt for decades to come. The trajectory of virtually every developed economy has been altered. In order to prevail, every participant in those markets will need to make a corresponding adjustment. Organisations that are geared to innovation focused on continual optimisation, and with agility in the way they operate will be able to adapt, find new growth opportunities and come out of crisis mode the right way.
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