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Turning the crisis into an opportunity for innovation

Unprecedented times call for unprecedented change. Whilst a crisis has a negative impact on many levels, it is also the time of accelerated innovation. History has shown us many examples of incredible agility as people and businesses adapted to previously unseen events and circumstances.

Following the explosion of the oxygen tank on Apollo 13, NASA’s third moon-landing mission in 1970, engineers were quick to devise ingenious solutions to bring the astronauts safely back to Earth. The oxygen tank exploded 56 hours into the flight, damaging the spacecraft, but the crew were able to seek cramped shelter in the lunar module before returning to the command module for an uncomfortable splashdown. Today, the mission stands as an example of the dangers of space travel and the collaborative efforts of NASA’s innovative minds to save lives.

The current pandemic has already led to countless innovations, showing us how agile and quick to respond people and businesses are. Dyson was able to design a new ventilator model to save lives in ten days, an entire hospital in London was built in nine days and drink and cosmetics businesses were quick to start producing hand sanitisers – just to name a few. All this is happening, whilst scientists and pharmaceutical companies are teaming up to work around the clock in joint efforts to develop reliable tests and vaccines.

Accelerated speed

The speed of innovation depends on two key factors: the time required to work on the innovation and the time spent waiting on others, including approval processes or budgets. This often leads to more time spent waiting, than actually working on the initiatives. With the speed of change during the pandemic, teams often do not have the luxury of time. An effective way to reduce the waiting times and increase flow efficiency is to break the large innovation initiatives into smaller projects with rapid feedback loops. The speed is also critical for the business to be able to pivot as the pandemic evolves.

The pandemic is also accelerating changes to foster values such as collaboration, flexibility, inclusion, and accountability. For example, working from home and avoiding the commute makes work more accessible for people with disabilities. Remote working also means that companies have access to a much wider talent pool.

For agile teams, accountability in form of tracking and measuring set outcomes is as much part of their job as flexibility is. These teams are able to make most day-to-day decisions without complicated approval processes and extended waiting times, allowing the senior leadership team to focus on more significant decisions. By having the right people in a position to make and execute relevant decisions, leaders and companies can focus on greater innovation and productivity.

Even during these uncertain times, it is important to focus on the bigger picture – the innovation and new business models that are likely to emerge as people and businesses adapt. With the right approach, the current crisis can turn into an opportunity to move forward, build resilience and positive social impact. Businesses and people will most likely not be the same when we come out on the other side, but they will certainly be more resilient.

At Acumen we have over 21 years of experience in designing and delivering leadership development programmes that give leaders at all levels the practical tools to help solve real life challenges. For more information about our programmes please contact Simon at

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