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Those of us that work in the innovation management sector need no convincing of the benefits that it can bring to businesses and government departments all over the world. Adopting an innovative culture and approach allows an organisation to survive and thrive in the highly competitive modern business world and helps prevent them from becoming irrelevant or even obsolete.

The world is changing rapidly, and innovation allows an organisation to look to the future with confidence, capable of surviving a whole range of different disruptions. One of those disruptions is taking place right now, across the world – coronavirus. It’s a situation that is on-going, virtually unprecedented in modern times and one in which no-one really knows what the long-term impact on our health and the economy will be.

What has been clear right from the outset though, is that coronavirus is a serious challenge for humanity on many levels and will require collaborative thinking and an innovative approach to address it. Just as forward-thinking businesses are harnessing the value of networks of people closest to them, to help generate ideas and solve challenges together, so must governments around the world and society as a whole.

Coronavirus Collaboration

Some of the language used around coronavirus is already counter-intuitive to the idea of collaboration, innovation and co-creation. Although ‘social distancing’ is important as a concept in flattening the curve of infection, it implies siloes and isolation. As we all know, innovation does not work well in silo – it needs to be embedded into the very fabric and culture of an organisation. Perhaps in this case, ‘physical distancing’ would be a more helpful and accurate description?

Maintaining social togetherness and supporting each other through telephone, social media and email will be hugely important and is a powerful example of grass-roots co-creation and collaboration. Perhaps there is inspiration to be taken from citizens at a local level. In my own local community in London, streets are coming together and forming WhatsApp groups over which people can share ideas, support each other and look out for those who really need it.

Innovation and Business Disruption

One of the really powerful benefits of innovation and co-creation, is that they allow a business to ride out periods of disruption. It does so by embracing the theory that no one person has all the answers. Businesses don’t always know what direction to evolve in, while customers don’t always know exactly what they want.

CEOs and business leaders can struggle to understand the impact that disruptive start-ups and powerful emergent technologies are having on their business. Meanwhile, many organisations are realising that the solutions they’re looking for may lie outside of the business. This has never been truer than it is right now during the coronavirus crisis.

Businesses all over the world are having to rethink how they deliver products and services, how they manage their employees and how they interact with customers, suppliers, partners and more. They may be facing cash-flow problems, the sales pipeline may slow down and many will need to pivot dramatically to stay open. This could be as simple as restaurants switching to delivery-only or something more innovative. A UK brewery recently started making hand sanitizer gel alongside its usual beer, for example.

Businesses are unlikely to get the inspiration for ideas that will help them by just focusing on their usual methods. An innovative approach is essential, as is canvassing the thoughts of as broad a group as possible, and the really smart companies will put together a process for managing the outpouring of ideas.

Collaboration for the Greater Good

While every country is at a different stage of the coronavirus pandemic, it is truly a global issue which requires a global response. This response will ultimately require widespread collaboration to address, comprising meaningful openness and co-creation at all stages, whether that is collaborating on ways to address coronavirus itself or ways to manage the aftermath.

This idea has already been kickstarted, but needs more involvement. During a call with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, China’s President Xi Jinping proposed the construction of a ‘Health Silk Road’ to help co-ordinate global efforts to tackle the pandemic. China has made a number of contributions to the global effort, such as a $500 million loan to help Sri Lanka combat the virus and sending 100,000 rapid diagnostic tests to the Philippines.

Such open collaboration has become the norm for many businesses, with firms willing to take ideas from employees, partners, customers and more, and also providing the ways and means for them to collaborate. World leaders must put petty political differences aside and work together on this one – if such a global crisis cannot get countries collaborating on solutions, what will?

Innovative Leadership

There is a need to put political differences aside at a country level too. Most people would agree that it is tough being a leader during a crisis such as this one. Every decision is analysed and questioned, and the stakes could not be higher.

That’s why it’s surprising that Prime Ministers and Presidents around the world are not calling upon the collective group that best understands what they are going through. Why shouldn’t the UK PM, for example, draw on the expertise of former PMs such as Gordon Brown, John Major and others? The input and ideas of elite politicians with experience of leading during previous crises would be invaluable, and the importance of such collaboration cannot be under-estimated in terms of how the coronavirus is managed and how the public are communicated with.

The world is in crisis right now and we need more collaboration than ever, in all parts of society. The innovation industry already understands the advantages that co-creation and innovation can bring – the coronavirus crisis has only heightened the need for more innovative approaches elsewhere.

About the Author

Simon Hill is the CEO and founder of idea management firm, Wazoku, working with organisations including HSBC, UK Central Government, Waitrose and many more around the world on award-winning innovation programmes.