The financial blow of the pandemic hit hard and fast. Despite enduring the initial blow, the business community is largely still in the recovery phase, with a focus on maintaining continuity and navigating the still-tumultuous economic landscape. For many, now may not seem like the time to take risks and invest in new ideas.

However, this mindset ignores the potential for innovative solutions that are born during times of crisis or recession. Now, more than ever, companies must make the most of the opportunities for innovation at their fingertips. They should invest in new ideas that set themselves apart from the competition and attract top talent. Here’s why innovation should be a top priority for every business navigating the post-crisis normal.

Innovation gives you a competitive advantage

During the crisis, many businesses faced a “make it or break it” situation: Either innovate and pivot to adapt to the changing needs of consumers, or suffer at the hands of the pandemic. This dichotomy is still relevant in the new normal. Consumer demands continue to evolve and are unlikely to go back to their pre-crisis state. For example, the consumer switch to online solutions and preference for reduced-contact channels remains in a number of sectors.

In past recessions, disruptive trends have thrived. During the last economic downturn post-2008, the smartphone market saw significant growth, as did software-as-a-service (SaaS), with Salesforce seeing an uptick in customers in the same period. History has shown that the most successful businesses have been disruptors, and with good reason. According to Clayton Christensen’s theory of disruptive innovation, disruptive companies are able to take market share in “low-end footholds” and in “new market footholds” -- making a newfound economic landscape a great opportunity to launch truly innovative products.

One example that evidences this trend is telemedicine, which has gained a foothold as a disruptive technology. While the technology was adopted primarily due to the necessities of COVID-19, many healthcare professionals and patients are now realizing how telemedicine can drive efficiency and improve access to healthcare, even post-crisis.

Breaking away from usual business models

Newfound situations require fresh solutions, which often means rethinking how you work as well as what you produce. While our instinctive reaction to change is often negative, this is often where the real opportunities for innovation lie.

With the advent of remote work, many businesses are realizing the benefits of giving employees the flexibility to do their jobs from distributed locations. In fact, Facebook and Twitter have both announced that their workforces will be able to work permanently from home from now on, should they want to. Not only will this bold move save the employers on overhead costs, but it will also give teams the flexibility to be more productive and creative in their preferred environments.

Innovating around flexible work policies and carrying this openness to change into other areas of the business will give your employees the chance to show their potential and thrive under new conditions.

Ultimately, you can’t know whether something works until you actually do it, but innovating means being willing to take the leap into the unknown - and reaping the rewards that cannot be found when playing it safe.

Innovation attracts talent

When businesses become known for innovation, they attract - and retain - top talent that wants to be a part of those efforts. In fact, 47% of Gen Xers and 42% of millennials say that they would leave their current job not only for a salary increase, but also for a “more innovative environment.” Innovation happens because of people, so attracting candidates that are committed to achieving the same goals will allow you to embed innovation into every aspect of your business strategy and culture. 

A strong part of this comes from having a diverse team that represents those from different gender, ethnicity, cultural or socio-economic backgrounds. Diverse teams that feel that they work in an inclusive environment have been proven to drive innovation as they feel safe to present new ideas, offer alternative perspectives, and represent voices that may otherwise go unheard. What’s more, evidencing a commitment to openness and innovation will help you attract a more diverse talent pool to build that vision further, creating a self-serving cycle between inclusion and innovation.

Be aware of the risks

With all that being said, innovation doesn’t come easily, and there’s no guarantee of success. Many of the most disruptive companies out there were able to take the market by storm only after they learned the lessons of multiple failed attempts. By getting comfortable with the idea of failure, businesses can set themselves up to be the innovators of this new normal. 

Understanding the importance of innovation - no matter the economic outlook - is vital for today’s modern businesses. Just because the market has slowed down doesn’t mean that innovation initiatives should too - in fact, they might be the very thing to help you thrive in a new landscape.

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