A crazy year is drawing to a close. Nothing was normal this year – at least not since February. COVID-19, a mere snippet of DNA, has turned everything upside down. There is hardly anything smaller in nature. Yet a greater impact on our world, people, economy, and political systems is barely conceivable. Long before COVID-19, I, like many others, expected that the booming global economy would eventually cool down at some point. Triggered by overheated markets, the collapse of a very large company, or political turmoil. Nothing of the sort.
A tiny virus is responsible for the world as we know it coming to a standstill, at least temporarily, thereby shaking and transforming its very foundations.
Suddenly, many of our everyday habits and things we take for granted were no longer an option. Travel bans, working from home instead of at the office, shopping restrictions, contact bans – many of the things we once regarded as commonplace and sacrosanct just a year ago were abruptly forbidden.
The self-explanatory suppression
Habits and conventions give us a sense of certainty. We rely on things happening the way we planned them, and when they do happen, we feel reassured – as if we are safe. This was true for many areas. And for many areas, it no longer applies. External certainties are suddenly not there anymore. Rights are restricted (e.g. freedom of travel), basic human needs are infringed upon (e.g. social contacts) and our governments seem (in some cases) to be overburdened and uncertain in how to deal with the situation. Companies notice this when long-standing customers are suddenly filing for bankruptcy, supply chains break down and employees (have to) suddenly work from home instead of at the office. In 2020, little remained as it was.
A need for a sense of security and routines
We human beings a sense of security, routines, and habits. And so do companies, for that matter. Organizations cannot exist without structures and processes. Without routines and habits, people would be cognitively overwhelmed. Our brain is not designed to have to make new decisions all the time. We avail ourselves of tried and trusted patterns of behavior and reasoning. Companies do the same. They establish structures and processes that enable them to be successful. What happens when these fail and no longer function? Chaos arises because the members of an organization no longer know what they should be doing nor how to do their jobs. For people, this means that they can no longer rely on external factors, that external factors no longer have any value and no longer provide a sense of direction.
Confrontation with ourselves
If certainty or a sense of direction are among the most fundamental basic needs of we humans, where can we find them when they are no longer available on the outside? We must turn our attention to ourselves. Who are we? What can we do? What do we need? And what do we want? COVID-19 forces us to confront our own selves because we have to find a sense of certainty within ourselves again, rather than in outward appearances. COVID-19 forces companies to examine themselves in the light of constantly changing conditions and to question what their real raison d’être is.
Who am I? What are my core values? How do I define myself?
What do I stand for based on my inner convictions?
What am I capable of? What are my abilities, skills, and experiences that make me who I am?
What do I want? In the depths of my heart, what do I really want to achieve for myself? What kind of work makes me happy and fulfills me?
What do I need? What are my primary needs in terms of autonomy, social ties, and self-efficacy?
The best conditions for innovation
In a world gone mad, so many things are no longer in the same place they used to be. COVID-19 forces us to slow down, to reflect, and reorient ourselves. These are the best conditions for innovation.
During the initial shock in the spring of this year, many people wished that we would get out of the crisis back to “normality” as soon as possible. Understandably so. But was this “normality” really that great that we all wanted to return to it? This year has forced many people, entrepreneurs, employees, politicians, scientists, etc. to slow down and reflect on how COVID-19 could lay the foundations for a better, healthier, fairer, more climate-neutral, happier world.
Innovation is not an end in itself. Rather, it serves to remedy acknowledged errors and shortcomings in companies and in society, in technology, and in us humans. It is up to us whether we seize the opportunities offered by these times and their disrupted and crazy structures so as to create a better and brighter world.
Also interesting: Corona, leadership and failure in Germany
About this column:
In a weekly column, written alternately by Wendy van Ierschot, Bert Overlack, Eveline van Zeeland, Eugene Franken, Jan Wouters, Katleen Gabriels, Mary Fiers en Hans Helsloot, Innovation Origins tries to figure out what the future will look like. These columnists, occasionally joined by guest bloggers, are all working in their own way on solutions to the problems of our time. So that tomorrow is good. Here are all the previous articles.