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The second wave of Covid-19 - a catalyst for innovation

Friday 20 November 2020

Edward Pollock
Writing in the Press and Journal, Edward Pollock, RGU Startup Coordinator and Lecturer in Event Management, reflects on the impact of Covid-19 on innovation and entrepreneurship.

In nine months, businesses in every sector have revolutionised their way of working. Offices have moved their entire workforce online, universities have transitioned to a blended delivery of teaching, and services have pioneered new hygiene and safety measures at rapid pace. As we draw closer to the end of the year, many leaders will marvel at their innovation and resilience in adapting to these ‘unprecedented circumstances’. Our response to Covid-19 has certainly been the catalyst for change and brought about many worthwhile enhancements. While our innovations to date have been responsive – focused on processes, systems, safety and survival, it’s what comes next that could be the ultimate disrupter.

Innovation is often a buzzword in organisations – cited in the value statements or strategy documents – but in practice industries are hard to change. Similarly, the world is full of ‘wantrepreneurs’ who dream of setting up their own business – but in reality, never make the time. The result of the Covid-19 pandemic is that the need to survive has pushed us to implement the changes we’ve been putting off for years. More and more entrepreneurs are setting up passion projects on the side, companies are finding new ways of working, businesses are launching products and services they’d never considered before. Now that we’ve found our way through these barriers, can we sustain this innovation?

In 2021, business leaders and entrepreneurs need to begin to evaluate the ripples of the Covid-19 pandemic on society and be prepared for changes we can’t see coming yet. Right now, there are subtle changes and trends shaping our society that will influence the expectations and desires of future customers for years to come. How will prolonged periods of isolation shape our relationships with others and our mental health? How will changes in hygiene practices influence the move towards a contactless society? What impact will rise in unemployment have on the economic prosperity and demographics of our population? There are big questions to ask and every industry needs to be asking them.

This past year has shifted society into an innovation economy. It is no longer enough to survive, in the next six months industries that have been around for decades will need to innovate to meet changing customer demands, solve new problems faced by communities or adapt business models to sustain themselves. Entrepreneurs have the opportunity to thrive in the innovation economy with the agility and creativity to deliver value quickly. In economic uncertainty, our innovations need to do more than make profit. In a world that is suffering, part of this disruption will be about playing a part in solving social challenges.

There are four critical challenges which all industries must reflect on and design innovations around. The first is our response to Covid-19 in the long-term and the wide-reaching impact it will bring to the population, working practices, implementation of digital technologies, hygiene behaviours, or use of space. The second is the health and wellbeing of our communities and the processes around keeping the public safe but also our approach to mental health and creating supportive cultures and promoting happiness. The third is tackling inequalities and designing our industries to be more accessible and ensure everyone in society has social, economic, and educational opportunities. This year has seen this challenge become more prominent in the collective consciousness of society with the Black Lives Matter movement, child poverty and debates around free school meals and rises in unemployment while the wealthy become richer – requiring every industry to be more aware of their impact on our society. The fourth challenge of climate change and becoming a net-zero society remains critical for the future of our planet.

As the second wave of disruption approaches, it’s time for organisations and entrepreneurs to look beyond survival and evaluate the opportunities the changing world brings. The innovation economy is upon us and this is the time to embrace new ideas. Launch that new venture. Ask staff for ideas. Pilot a new service. Discuss the key challenges. If we regress to the old ways of working or ignore the signals of the changing world, the next wave will drown us. If you give yourself the time and space to innovate, you will be ready to surf the next wave and tackle the challenges head on. The time is now. What will your next innovation be?

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