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Welcome to the Da Vinci Institute: School of Business Leadership

Innovation During Turbulent Times

A word from our Dean of Innovation and Technology and Head adjudicator for tt100, Dr Dzingai Katsamba on his thoughts on innovation during turbulent times…

Innovation has proved to be a messy process—hard to measure and hard to manage. Most people recognise it only when it generates a surge in growth. When revenues and earnings decline, during a recession, executives often conclude that their innovation efforts are just not worth it. Maybe innovation is not so important after all, they think. They may even think that their teams have lost touch. Some executives may even think that it is better to focus on the tried and true than to waste money on untested ideas. The global Covid-19 pandemic has left many leaders grappling for survival, as most organisations are suffering from acute financial hemorrhaging. The question is, whether innovation is important during economic turbulence?

The contrary view, of course, is that innovation is both a vaccine against market slowdowns and an elixir that rejuvenates growth. Imagine how much better off General Motors might be today if the company had matched the pace of innovation set by Honda or Toyota. Imagine how much worse off Apple would be had it not created the iPod, iTunes, and the iPhone. However, when times are hard, companies grow disillusioned with their innovation efforts perhaps because their innovation efforts were not very effective to begin with. Innovation is not integral to the workings of many organisations. The creativity that leads to game-changing ideas is missing or stifled. Why would any company gamble on a process that seems risky and unpredictable even in good times?

A good example of perpetual innovation is the fashion industry. Every successful fashion company essentially reinvents its product line and thus its brand every season. It repeatedly brings out products that consumers do not know they needed, often sparking such high demand that the previous year’s fashions are suddenly obsolete. A fashion company that fails to innovate at this pace faces certain death. Thus, fashion companies have refined an organisational model that ensures a constant stream of innovation regardless of the state of the economy.

This is what I am proposing that organisations consider – that they find ways to show up and redefine their innovation models ensuring ways that there is a constant stream of innovation regardless of the state of the economy. It is imperative to note that innovation should be ubiquitous throughout the whole organisation during good and during bad economic times. It is during turbulent or crisis times that organisations should be more innovative.