How To Innovate When Times Are Tough. Harnessing Your Pandemic Response For a Better Future

How to innovate: Harnessing your pandemic response for a better future

By Andy Green – 20Twenty Leadership Programme Tutor.

The pandemic has provided Welsh business leaders and managers with more than a degree, masters’ degree, or even PhD in business survival. The disruption has provided the equivalent of a complete business makeover.

It is crucial you listen, listen harder and celebrate your experience to provide a repurposing of who you are, your becoming more antifragile, and your story of the future.

The profound disruption has tested to the limits your resilience, lean thinking and agility to adapt to new environments. It has tested your resourcefulness, social capital and narrative of who you are, and what’s your story of purpose.

The future offers brilliant potential, but only if you listen, listen harder, and celebrate.

Lean Thinking

You may have heard of ‘lean thinking’ or even be an expert in its theories and techniques. Yet all business leaders and managers have had to employ, consciously or unconsciously, its principles to survive the traumas of the last twelve months.

The disruption broke many assumptions and ways of doing in how you run your business.

Established supply chains and routes to market were disrupted or even blocked. Many couldn’t even sit together in the same physical room. Connecting with customers became a minefield of overcoming obstacles and rapidly finding new ways of overcoming or getting around unexpected roadblocks for delivering product, service or customer satisfaction.

The story, for example, of the Welsh motor trader who faced with having an acquired stock of 2,000 cars reclaimed from owners who could no longer afford to pay their leases, then faced the problem of nowhere to store them, as the garages where they would have been stored, were furloughed and closed.

The solution? A friend who worked in the construction industry had large sites that, like the garages were furloughed and closed. What were building sites became temporary car warehouses.  

Confronted with the critical and urgent need for new solutions, tested the ingenuity, guile and resolve of all Welsh business leaders and managers.

Listening: Post-Pandemic Lessons

So what are the lessons going forward in the post-pandemic world?

Firstly, you need to listen. Don’t just blindly revert back to pre-pandemic ways of doing. Listen to what you did in response to pandemic. What did you do different? What of the different ways of doing, forced upon you by the pandemic can now become your ‘new normal’.

And many have not realised it but guiding their responses to pandemic were the principles of lean thinking: your goal is to deliver customer satisfaction. Anything not working to that purpose needs to be regarded as waste and eliminated from the process.

Secondly, listen harder. The motor car dealer who resorted to using dormant construction sites cannot use that option going forward as building work recommences. Yet, it does provoke the idea of exploring new alternative arrangements for storing cars.

It inspires new thinking of instead of tying up a valuable land asset with hundreds of cars, are there flexible alternatives, the unused capacity of others that could be used?

Alternatives that could provide benefits in terms of cost, opportunity cost, flexibility and meeting customer need?   

Also, listen harder to who were the unsung heroes, the relationships and people who were steadfast, supportive or even superlative in being full square with you in your moments of crisis?

These relationships, your social capital is critical. What ways can you give back? What ways you build upon the shared experience? Who is out there who now recognise you need a relationship with?

You need to harness anti-fragility, a concept was developed by Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book, ‘Antifragile’. It is a profound yet simple idea: you take on board what doesn’t destroy you to emerge stronger, fitter and more capable in the new environments you find yourself in.

The pandemic has provided a Tsunami of new stimuli, a host of provocations to challenge existing assumptions. How can you through your listening, and listening harder, become more antifragile?

Celebrate Your Successes

Lastly, you need to celebrate.

Disregard the motto in life that you ‘Can’t expect a salary and a round of applause’. At the very least, quietly reflect on your achievements, how you proved yourself and others wrong, and in particular, the forces of disruption. As the soul singer Gloria Gaynor, once sung ‘I will survive’.

Yet your new song is more than one of resilience. It is also about how you can thrive, walk taller, enriched with a greater sense of pride, a renewed sense of purpose.

This is not about being smug. Rather, it is about replenishing your personal energies, your equivalent of rocket fuel, your narrative of who you, what you stand for, what you are capable of, and where you are going.

It’s about creating the optimum narrative, a better more powerful script of how you can innovate even when it’s harder to survive.

Give yourself a medal for what you have gone through the last year. Equally, give yourself a better runway for a more antifragile, more lean thinking, and more innovative future.

The 20Twenty Programme looks in depth at different processes and tools for being more innovative and using Lean principles to improve your leadership skills.

Further Reading

  • Taleb, N. (2013) Antifragile: Things that gain from disorder Penguin
  • Liker, J. (2004) The Toyota Way McGraw-Hill
  • Ries, E. (2011) The Lean Startup: How Constant Innovation Creates Radically Successful Businesses, Penguin
  • Rather, M. (2009) Toyota Kata: Managing People for Improvement, Adaptiveness and Superior Results McGraw-Hill


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