Skip to Content

Why innovation is crucial during a crisis

October 18, 2020

The word “crisis” originates from the Greek word “krisis” – which means “decisive moment.” It is a moment that is critical, especially now. Yet, it presents us with a choice.

COVID-19 has brought about an unprecedented period of uncertainty in our lives, from how we live and work, to how organizations interact with their clients. The way consumers purchase goods and services and how supply chains deliver them have also changed drastically.

In our research note, Fast-Forward to the Future, 42% of organizations were adversely affected by falling customer demand due to the pandemic, and more than half of the organizations have started to prioritize digitization as a competitive advantage.

In response to the pandemic, we have seen several innovations: new medical devices, telehealth technologies, improved healthcare processes, and novel ways to collaborate remotely. How then can we turn crises into fertile innovation momentums?

Focus on problem-solving

Innovation is the act of creating immense value. At the heart of innovation, it must focus on solving a problem. Innovators in a crisis look to bettering the lives of others, connecting with other people, and being part of the solution when the going gets tough.

The nature of this crisis is more than an opportunity to make a difference or be part of the solution. It brings us closer towards the lean methodology of build, measure, and learn at a rapid pace with greater impact. This environment allows for growth not only at the leadership level but also for our teams to perform their most innovative work in service of the organization.

Drive a purpose-led organization

One of the challenges in organizational leadership is employee engagement and inspiring new ideas from the ground-up towards the vision of the organization.

In a crisis, employees’ role in generating new ideas should not be underestimated. Leaders who can inspire a growth mindset towards managing and innovating in a crisis will typically find fresh perspectives and new-found energy in staff, as people feel more compelled to offer insights they normally would not.

For instance, the CEO at Zoom, Eric Yuan, was able to rally 40 Cisco engineers to join his team at Zoom during the Global Financial Crisis in 2008. When Zoom finally launched in 2013, it reached a million users within a few months, 10 million users in a year, and 40 million by February 2015. The 40 Cisco engineers believed in Yuan, and more importantly, the purpose of building a video-first, cloud-based, and user-centric platform which is worth more than USD70 billion today.

Crises can create opportunities for an organization to work together towards a purpose-led initiative, with the organizational courage to support a belief that would otherwise be unlikely in times of calm.

Adopt open innovation processes

Leaders often leverage open innovation processes to get fresh perspectives on their organizations to innovate.

The scale will be needed to draw the wisdom of the crowd – a large number of participants will often come up with many more, high-quality ideas than a small team of smart people.

Coming back to problem-solving, organizations can also create innovation challenges for its participants. These challenges create a safe environment for anyone, anywhere to generate more ideas to solve a challenge meaningfully. What Capgemini has achieved with the Architects for Positive Futures program is a great manifestation of that.

Evaluation of these ideas then becomes essential. In the Applied Innovation Exchange (AIE), we thrive on the Discover, Devise, Deploy, and Sustain framework. In deploying ideas, it is a cycle of Test, Measure, and Iterate. Leaders can use this feedback loop for any innovative solution participants co-develop.

Diversity is key in open innovation – we’d expect business analysts to understand problems best. We’re often wrong. It takes contributions from the entire organization, especially staff who experience these problems first hand.

Innovate to drive creative destruction

In a crisis, we can leverage ideas that solve salient problems, rally teams towards a common purpose and adopt open innovation to drive creative destruction. Only then, we can think about how better we can move the organization forward, together.


Ryan Chong

Senior Analyst – Applied Innovation Exchange

Capgemini Singapore