Finding answers during hard times requires creativity – Pallavi Pinakin

While the COVID-19 pandemic appears to be on its way out thankfully, life in the 21st century continues to be volatile and unpredictable. Each year seems to bring new, unprecedented challenges – both local and global. From contagious diseases and climate change disasters to geopolitical conflicts, the blows keep coming.

At a professional level we must accept that adversity is here to stay – that we have entered an era in which stability will only be enjoyed in fits and starts. Since the journey will be punctuated by fresh obstacles, adaptability, flexibility and a willingness to make big pivots will become essential for success.

There is also innovation to consider. Italian diplomat Machiavelli famously advised: “Never waste the opportunities offered by a good crisis.” Indeed, we have seen that adversity often births game changing ideas and creative reinventions, giving entrepreneurs and businesses the chance to edge ahead of their competitors.

In times of extreme constraint and complexity, those with a visionary mindset can create out of the box solutions to challenges. We saw many examples of this during the pandemic. For example, breweries and distilleries began making hand sanitiser. An engineering business used its 3D printers to create ventilator parts and shoemakers repurposed their craft to make medical sliders.

Harnessing adversity to breed innovation isn’t easy. The human tendency during upheavals is for people to dig in their heels and play it safe. Since trying out new strategies in an already risky landscape can feel overwhelming, these suggestions may help you tune into new opportunities in trying times.

BE REALISTIC In the face of disruption, people may react in two extreme ways. At one end of the spectrum, we have the doomsayers – those who imagine a catastrophe during any crisis and perceive it as an ‘end of the world’ scenario. At the other end, we have the deniers who refuse to acknowledge the changing reality and insist that ‘life must go on as usual.’

Neither of these mindsets is helpful for innovation. The need of the hour is realism: a clear-eyed view of things as they truly are... no better or worse.

DON’T FEAR This is easier said than done but it’s worth our best efforts. Fear is creativity’s nemesis because it paralyses the mind, and makes it impossible to think and act boldly.

Unfortunately, a crisis creates large amounts of fear and self-doubt, which can be tough to overcome. At an individual level, mindfulness, healthy routines and even therapy, can go a long way in managing anxiety and cultivating fearlessness.

In the business context, leaders set the tone. If you are in a position of authority, don’t let daily meetings and discussions be ruled by worst case scenarios. Strive to infuse your team with grit and resolve, hope and imagination.

START NOW Don’t waste precious time and energy thinking about how you will begin the process of innovation only when you have certain things at your disposal. In crisis mode, it’s vital to do what you can when you can, and use what you already have.

The best time to start is now! Once you get the ball rolling, it will keep in motion and take you through uncharted territory, which is the best place for fresh ideas.

Another factor is to match unmet needs with unused resources. Adversity creates unmet needs – be it among individuals or communities, short or long-term, local or global. At the same time, it also releases certain resources due to changes in market patterns. Here’s an opportunity to reroute surplus resources to filling unmet needs.

IDENTIFY GAPS Volatility leads to inadequacies at crucial junctures – whether it’s in the form of insufficient capital, technology, vendors or resources. Identifying these gaps in the market landscape creates an opportunity for you to fill them in new and unlikely ways.

So ask yourself: what are the missing elements in your business chain? Who, apart from the usual suspects, could help you close those gaps?

THINK SMALL There is a tendency to think of innovation as something huge and comprehensive – a lightbulb idea that solves the entire problem in one brilliant go. But that’s not always the case.

In a world that’s filled with large and intricate issues, small solutions can make a significant difference. In addition, minor innovations are more affordable and easier to implement from a business perspective. So don’t overlook the little things in your quest for creativity!

EMBRACE CHAOS Those who seek to innovate without setbacks and too much chaos may as well give up before they start. Creativity isn’t a simple linear process. It’s messy, imperfect and frustrating. To create and implement brand-new solutions, we must be willing to deal with many obstacles along the way.