Innovate, Hibernate or Liquidate – Leaders choose carefully….

The global pandemic and related economic downturn is a personal, organisational and economic shock of seismic proportions. For business leaders there are only 3 stark choices, innovate, hibernate or liquidate. Of these the most productive response by far is to innovate. This choice is however far from straightforward…

The challenge is that for many organisations who have spent years honing and polishing their operating models so they are hyper efficient, and cost effective, finding the capacity to innovate on the scale required is proving very difficult. For other organisations who are used to a constant stream of innovation, they are finding they can pivot their business models and quickly adapt to the new circumstances.

I am proud to live in one of the most innovative regions of the UK, the North East of England. We have a long heritage of innovation stretching back to the Industrial revolution. Innovators from our region gave the world the Light Bulb and the railways. It was no surprise to me that Barbour, one of the North East’s most iconic brands, with a 125 year heritage of innovation in the fashion industry, has within a few short weeks, pivoted its production facility in South Tyneside to produce PPE for the Royal Victoria Infirmary in Newcastle. Itself the first hospital in the UK to treat a Covid-19 patient back in January 2020.

There are many examples of organisations raising to the innovation challenge however as many, if not more, are languishing in the queue to receive Government hand-outs to get them through the shock of the lock-down. Their hope appears to be for a return to the BC (before covid) normal, I fear for the survival of such organisations the liquidation option is moving relentlessly towards them.

I do not underestimate the challenge of quick, agile innovation within and across organisations that are honed to deliver cost effective products and services. The challenge is multi-faceted. Innovation requires a ‘Game Changing’ mind-set, and such mind-sets are rare in high efficiency operations. People who rattled the prevailing paradigm, challenged the status-quo and scanned the horizons for new thinking, were at best seen as slightly ‘odd-ball’ and at worst were simply not tolerated. As a result they usually vote with their feet and move on.

The ability to tune into and begin to understand the PLD (post lock down) landscape is going to be a key attribute of success in the coming months. Those leaders who are past the shock and denial phase of the change challenge, who have moved into experimentation and who are busy working on PLD scenarios are the ones who have the best chance of to survive and indeed thrive on a PLD world.

One sobering thought is that the chaos the pandemic has unleashed is not unique, but rather an iteration of a familiar story that occurs time and time again in a highly competitive capitalistic world. The economic environment is always propelled forward by cycles of disruption and innovation that have the capacity to create new industries, products and services and destroy old ones. This pandemic is of epic proportions but, like an Australian Bush fire, it will cleanse and clear the ground for new organisations to flourish and thrive.

In a phrase made famous by the film ‘Mission Impossible’, your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to develop ideas, insights and innovations that enable you to survive the harsh reality of the here and now and then thrive in the new PLD world that is beginning to take shape before our eyes.

If you need any help with this thinking then please do not hesitate to get in touch, we are here to help.  

On a more personal note, my thoughts go out to those of you who have a personal challenge that transcends this organisational issue. This is a cruel virus that threatens us, our families and friends. I am acutely aware that we need the courage, perseverance and personal resilience to get us through this lock down period. It will end and we will meet again.

For now I want to join the cacophony of voices to thank those who are putting their lives at risk protecting us and our loved ones. A big shout out to all critical workers who, for many different reasons, have no choice but to face the danger head on. You are doing a fantastic job and we are grateful for your courage and endurance.

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