How elastic innovation could help businesses thrive amidst adversity
A general investment in research on markets and global and local phenomena and repeated brainstorming can enable an entrepreneur to be better prepared for change
This is an era of relentless transformation, disruptions and surprises for the entrepreneurial universe. From the Covid-19 trouble to the widespread adoption of new technologies to the ebbs and flows experienced by markets and economies, stability is no longer a dependable idea. In such times, entrepreneurship and innovation must transcend their old limits and be open to continuous change. This is where the concept of elastic innovation and a culture of strategic adaptability become interminably significant.
As expert John M Brennan writes for Forbes, elastic innovation is a mindset that, amidst changing markets, disrupts innovation itself. It entails constantly expanding and contracting market response on a short-term, real-time basis, while remaining focused on managing longer-term innovation pipelines. Innovative businesses are most resilient when their cultures and business models allow them to pivot quickly, navigating market uncertainty and maintaining long-term vision. Using the elastic innovation mindset, leaders consider and prepare for multiple scenarios, effectively deal with complexity and ambiguity, manage paradoxes and balance opposing views, and see the big picture while effectively managing details.
This approach to innovation is certainly all about strategy. When external factors undergo unexpected changes, a business or an innovator's ability to respond favourably makes all the difference. Elastic innovation, then, is about planning to be flexible in response to unexpected events and upheavals, instead of succumbing to disruption. The examples from the Covid-19 times are many. As Phil McKinney documents, during Covid, perfume manufacturers transformed their manufacturing systems to make hand sanitizer. They leveraged their capabilities in a short-term effort to create an entirely new product. Restaurants shifted to using mobile ordering and curbside pickup to get people their meals safely. The gig economy saw a rise in its grocery delivery services. Musicians adapted and started doing virtual concerts for their fans.
With tremendous successes of these aforementioned examples, the elastic innovation approach is certainly worthy. The question to ask then, is, how do we incorporate it in our entrepreneurial ventures?
To start with, planning to adapt to changes is essential. It is, of course, impossible to anticipate or predict all transformations based purely on our limited insights. However, a general investment in research on markets and global and local phenomena and repeated brainstorming can enable an entrepreneur to be better prepared for change. For instance, if your firm sells summer products in specific regions, being aware of the impact of climate change and its impact on those areas and whether it can alter the period of summer can be crucial in regulating production and distribution and avoiding losses.
The second related mechanism, in the words of Neil Kokemuller is to establish a standard system or method to respond to change within your business. For example, as Kokemuller remarks, several companies plan for the unexpected in public relations by setting out whom to respond to when negative publicity occurs. This can be done for all expected disruptions, ranging from legal trouble to a predicted market contraction.
Administratively, elastic innovation shall require a significant degree of decentralization and involvement of all employees. Usually, the pace of implementing an idea is based on approval from bosses and senior executives. However, in the face of the unexpected, where quick shifts are necessary, businesses cannot afford to work at a slow operating speed. Thus, a firm's administrative framework has to be altered to involve large numbers of people and create a quick approval process to implement necessary decisions.
The final element of the elasticity to be achieved has to be finding new opportunities in the face of transformations. Just like the aforementioned instance of perfume companies manufacturing hand sanitizers when Covid-19 first began to loom large, strategic shifts can craft incredible success stories. With shifting customer needs and market demand, the existing capabilities of a company can be recalibrated to accomplish innovative strides. For instance, with a regime of social distancing, most businesses diverted their resources to form digital engagement with consumers. New offerings and business models in response to a dynamic world can turn all disturbances into renewals and that is precisely the elasticity needed.
To quote Jean M Auel, "Life is neither static nor unchanging. With no individuality, there can be no change, no adaptation and, in an inherently changing world, any species unable to adapt is also doomed." The same concept holds true for the world of business and entrepreneurship and it can safely be said that adaptability is more critical than ever. Elasticity is a path away from rigidity, a portal into empowering reorientations and evolutions and must be synergized with innovation efforts. To be elastic or flexible, is indeed, the need of the hour and to seek a glorious future, elastic innovation is the way to go.
(The author is Chief Impact Officer at Recykal Foundation)