Co-Founder & CEO of corporate venture-builder FoundersLane, a serial entrepreneur building business up to IPOs and author of ”Fightback”.
It’s hard to imagine the pandemic without digital technologies. In the West, how would we have made it through lockdown, both in a business and social sense, without Zoom calls, community support, WhatsApp, Slack, the latest Netflix docuseries and more?
These business tools, sources of entertainment and ways to stay socially connected have kept our lives together in the face of an unthinkable change. But while it is encouraging to see how technology has helped us deal with this unprecedented challenge, there is a massive delta between our technological possibilities and what we made of them to cope with this crisis. This gap is the result of inertia, of inefficiencies in the ways we orchestrate progress, and it is a factor in the human tragedies that are unfolding now.
To fight back against our current crises — including climate change and crumbling health care systems — we have to look deeply at what got us into this position in the first place, learn the lessons from the pandemic and reshape our organizations around sustained, impactful technological innovation at scale.
Where We Are Today
Covid-19 has shown clearly that ruthlessly efficient global collaboration, agility and innovation are critical when facing large-scale crises. Scientific efforts to develop a vaccine, gargantuan logistical work to ensure vital supply lines remained intact and the mass production of protective equipment have shown what widespread collaboration can achieve.
Before this, though, the early days of the pandemic were fraught with uncertainty. Western nations were unprepared, and the costs have been dear. The scrambling, due to a lack of preparedness, was compounded by innovation inertia. Western nations, particularly in Europe, which still accounts for approximately one-fourth of the world’s industrial R&D, lacked the ability to move, innovate and scale quickly.
So as we seek recovery, what are the key lessons to learn from the pandemic, and what can be done to ensure we bounce back stronger and more innovative than ever before?
Business Lessons From The Pandemic
Despite the World Economic Forum highlighting that we are in the midst of “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” focused on digital transformation, Covid-19 revealed a lack of tech-driven agility when it was needed most. This applies to both governments (who have long been subject to such criticisms) and large businesses.
A slow-and-steady approach to innovation continues to work well in corporate environments. But this steadiness comes at the expense of adaptability and flexibility, meaning corporations still struggle to display the level of agility required to address today’s ever-evolving global challenges in a meaningful and impactful way.
However, there are signs of change. Digital transformation at such large businesses has been massively accelerated by Covid-19. But the adoption of new remote tools alone is not enough.
Not only has the pandemic shown the vulnerabilities that plague our largest businesses — which we have to remember don’t operate in a vacuum and are the drivers of large swaths of the economy and creators of vast numbers of jobs — but it has also shown the fragility to respond to current and future threats. And those threats are growing.
Black swan events are likely to arrive in the form of extreme climate events. For economies already reeling from the pandemic, the impact of sustained flooding, fires, storms or heat waves could prove the death knell. And, as Covid-19 has shown, these events are not contained within national borders and cannot be tackled without global cooperation.
As such, business innovation needs to start thinking on a grander scale. It’s tempting to retreat in the face of crises or be distracted by the day-to-day, but now we must accelerate innovation to not only recover but also set the stage for continued, sustainable growth in the face of future challenges.
The Road Ahead
As we face greater uncertainty than at any moment in history, we have to make the most of all the skills, technologies and resources we have available. The pandemic has shown the sheer potential of mass innovation and global collaboration. In the face of impending recessions, we must recognize that this is the key to future growth and the establishment of necessary resilience to weather the next crises.
The urgency for innovation has never been greater. But never before have we had such a cornucopia of potential left untapped. It’s high time business and tech innovators come together to unleash it.
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