The time to innovate is now

It’s more critical now – more than ever – to lead the right innovation in your business. Here’s why…

While you may think that none of us have every seen anything like 2020 with its global pandemic, we’ve actually seen this all before. And that experience tells us how we should react now.

Out of the wreckage of the global financial crisis (GFC) of 2008 grew several interesting new businesses that would make dramatic impacts on their industries over the next decade.

The emergence of peer-to-peer sharing economy businesses such as AirBnB and Uber wrought severe disruption on the accommodation and taxi industries worldwide. Within a few years, these services had become ubiquitous.

In the 2010s, Netflix would create ructions in the entertainment and TV world, built on our insatiable desire for ‘on-demand’ everything. Facebook would take over the ad world, and make continued inroads into how people get their news, as became evident in the 2016 US Presidential elections.

(These 4 companies have a combined valuation now of just under US1 Trillion.)

Danger and Opportunity

A slightly mistaken western view is that the Chinese word for ‘crisis‘ is made up of two characters, one meaning ‘danger‘, the other ‘opportunity‘. It’s a nice idea, but not quite true.

However, the underlying sentiment is correct. Crises bring along danger (business fundamentals dissolve) and opportunity (new prospects emerge). In other words, disruption.

To the degree you look at a crisis as a chance to do something different, brought on by new opportunities (INNOVATE), or hunker down trying to keep as much of the old as possible (STATUS QUO), probably depends on your pre-disposition.

Are you a glass half full kind of person, or glass half empty?

You can, of course, do both. Look for how you can protect what is protectible and makes sense in the new reality, while also looking for the new growth opportunities out there brought on by the disruption.

Rabbit in the headlights

I ran a scalable (B2B SaaS*) tech business for 10 years, from startup through to exit. There were times, in those early days, when things happened such that, at that moment, I did not know we would survive.

One thing I learned was that if you got all hot under the collar, ranted and raved, the only thing you did was get your blood pressure up. The problem would still be there in five minutes’ time. And now you were stressed out.

Better to look at the problem calmly, allow your brain to settle and think. It can do amazing things if you let it.

There was always a way forward.

In a recent McKinsey survey of executives just after the global pandemic hit, 90% expected business to “fundamentally change” and make a “lasting impact” on consumer behaviour.

Yet, in the same survey, only 21% said they had the “expertise, resources and commitment” to pursue new growth opportunities successfully.

Two-thirds believed this would be the “most challenging period” of their career (DANGER) while three-quarters said there would be “growth opportunities.”(OPPORTUNITY.)

Seeing opportunities is not the same as grasping them. You can freeze with terror in the headlights, or bolt away. Both can be dangerous.

Perhaps an ‘intelligent rabbit’ would calmly hop to the side of the road, and find a new path.

While the the world waits

If 90% of execs know the world has changed (the car’s approaching), but only 21% are confident of taking advantage (the rest being frozen in the headlights), then you know what to do.

While investments in innovation suffer, now is the time to look to innovate, like never before. Not in some splash the cash, jumping at shadows approach, but in a diligent, discovery through to action manner.

The 1918 ‘Spanish Flu’ pandemic lead to the ‘Roaring Twenties’ built on the emerging technologies of electricity, cars and movies. Throw in jazz music and cabaret and it was heady times.

The 2020s can (and probably will) roar once we are past the pandemic, fuelled by the enabling digital technologies of AI, machine learning, robotics, micromobility, quantum computing, renewables and advances in medical health and genetics.

Like the 1920s, the 2020s has got off to a spluttering start. There was an 18-month recession post the flu pandemic, and the roaring bit didn’t actually start til mid 1921.

Perhaps history will repeat itself. It usually does. We’ve seen all this before. A few times. Now all that remains to be seen is: how will you act?


Photo by Anna Shvets.

* B2B SaaS businesses are ‘business to business’ organisations that operate a ‘Software as a Service’ (or subscriptions) business model.

About the author

20+ years in Perth’s business, tech, media and startup sectors, from founder through to exit, as CEO, mentor, advisor / investor, and in federal and state government. Originally an economics teacher from the UK, working in Singapore before arriving in Perth in 1997 to do an MBA at UWA. Graduating as top student in 1999, Charlie co-founded, running it for 10+ years before selling to REIWA, to run In 2013, moved to Business News, became CEO, then worked on the Australian government’s Accelerating Commercialisation program. In 2021, helped set up and launch The Property Tribune, and was awarded the Pearcey WA Entrepreneur of the Year (at the 30th Incite Awards). In 2022, he became Director Innovation, running the 'New Industries Fund' at the Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation (JTSI).

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