The ongoing pandemic has forced us to rethink the future. Our goal: to ensure our actions make an impact and lead to transformation.
The plane shook. Then the shaking got worse, better, and worse again. The plane had clearly entered a turbulence zone and passengers were feeling stressed. Then the plane made a sudden dive, oxygen masks dropped down, and stress gave way to terror. Hands clutched seats, bodies tensed up, and screams multiplied.
“Dear passengers, this is your captain speaking. We’re going through an unexpected storm and are changing our flight route. While this happens, I ask that you remain calm and help those who may have been hurt by the turbulence. Thank you for your cooperation.”
For many companies and organizations, last year was much like this hypothetical plane. In light of Covid-19 and the ensuing global crisis, they had to refocus their organizational model. But this isn’t always easy. It implies discarding recipes that have worked for a long time, unlearning decades of suddenly irrelevant experience, and changing behaviors that have brought plenty of success in the past.
They key is to approach the situation with the right mindset. And this is true for organizations, too. And 2020 has taught us anything, it’s that our former organizational mindset is no longer useful.
Those who dared call their mindset into question have gotten proactive about it. They embraced experimentation and learning. And today they can enjoy a bounty of opportunities and relationships: with their clients, their allies, and their markets. Moreover, they can now look boldly towards the future, having liberated themselves from the certainties of the past. As we developed in our recent workshop at the Singularity Summit Mexico - The Next Frontier, questioning our mindset, as an organization, has little to do with magic and much more to do with distrusting “common sense.”
To get through a crisis, companies have to rethink themselves, innovate, alter the status quo, or transform themselves. And how can they do this? By incorporating a mental model that facilitates innovation in complex times -- and beyond. The pandemic, and the struggle it entails, has shown us that adopting the right organizational mindset means reflecting on the following:
As human beings, it took us 496 million years to develop a neocortex and become the first living things capable of complex thought, reasoning, and long-term planning. Words developed into writing; rudimentary spears into bows and arrows. Resilience and creativity are in our nature. If there’s a problem to solve, we’ll solve it through dedication and sheer force of will.
In times of plenty, we can sometimes feel overwhelmed, with no idea of where to start, how to take advantage of the resources at our disposal, and find solutions for the problems facing us. In times of crisis, the need to do something different, new, creative, and innovative is obviously even more urgent. Except now our resources are far more limited. It’s like going back to prehistoric spears and stones.
We must focus on the resources we have, not those we lack. That is what allows organizations to seize their opportunities instead of lamenting their roadblocks -- and be what they can be instead of pining for what they used to be.
Return on investment is one of the most common performance indicators. Most organizations obviously want this return to be as high and quick as possible, especially when the situation calls for immediate results.
However, short-term thinking and innovation don’t get along too well. That’s because innovation requires us to make mistakes, to learn, to iterate, to test, and then make even more mistakes. True insight takes time, even as the pace of global change shows no sign of stopping. And even when we chance upon spectacular ideas that can shake up the market, they may still need time to mature and find their place.
Companies that think only about their ROI tend to interpret this process as one riddled with mistakes. They’re impatient and never bet on long-term goals and eventual innovation. Faced with a crisis, in which long-term prospects seem dire, they put all their money into the short term.
Experience shows this is not ideal. Those companies that have done their homework and created long-term plans are the best equipped to persevere through turbulent times.
Those companies that have always focused on short-term goals will, in the current context, have to learn fast, play aggressively, and take bigger chances. They will have to seize the moment because they never planned to have a choice. In doing so, however, and in seeking innovation in a time of crisis, they can start planting the seeds for tomorrow -- or suffer the consequences, once more, when the crisis comes to an end.
Organizations are reevaluating innovation. Once considered an expense, it is now viewed as an investment.
The pandemic has accelerated this change of heart. It posed a challenging but equalizing context: every company, big or small, faced the same challenge. This allowed innovation teams in organizations to position themselves as key business actors. In the best cases, they were able to prove their worth by reimagining their industries. From one day to another, they were tasked with essentially saving their companies, as top management realized innovation was not nice-to-have but need-to-have. Production chains had to be reworked, extended, rerouted. Teams had to adapt to home office protocols. Logistics services were interrupted. In this context, innovation and digitalization not only provided solutions to these problems, but became excuses to question how things were done before, how they were communicated, and how teamwork was organized.
The pandemic gave innovation teams a justification to attract more resources and investment in research and development. Meanwhile, company leaders came to understand why their organizations need cultures that encourage regularly breaking the mold and leaving behind old habits and assumptions, so as to move more confidently towards the future. They saw that the keys to success in the years ahead are agility, flexibility, versatility, broad-mindedness, and a focus on clients or customers.
The pandemic made it obvious, to many organizations, that fostering the right culture and mindset is essential to bringing about change, maintaining growth, and inspiring innovation in a continuous and organic manner, and in both good and bad times.
In a mature organization, the top management understands the true value of innovation. Indeed, innovation becomes routine. It is given a framework, a role in the overall business strategy. The organization nurtures a culture that can leverage innovation. And innovation teams are no longer supporting squads but the most valuable business players and protagonists in the company’s growth.
If the pandemic has revealed anything, it’s that the road to success has little to do with an organization’s strength or size. Its mindset is what helps it face the present and define its future.
By GABRIEL WEINSTEIN, Olivia partner