Businesses that resist change will become obsolete – by Pallavi Pinakin

The pandemic has brought a crucial question to the forefront: when unprecedented problems crop up, how do we unlock creative solutions? This isn’t a matter of choice in today’s world; it’s a question of survival since COVID-19 isn’t the only game changer out there.

In recent decades, new technologies have come along and upturned entire industries. Economic downturns have made their impact felt across the globe and political changes have reoriented the business landscape in previously unthinkable ways.

The fact is that the environment we operate in today is extremely dynamic and prone to disruption.

Ignoring or resisting change is a sure-fire route to becoming obsolete. So we must find a way to flow with the changing tide and even capitalise on it. After all, dramatic changes don’t simply present challenges; they also offer opportunities by creating space for reinvention.

Here are six strategies to help you generate innovative solutions and gain an edge.

EDUCATE YOURSELF To keep pace with these seismic shifts, you need to observe the world around you carefully. Listen to the discourse on digital and in-person platforms, and pay attention to newly available data.

What are your customers, partners and colleagues talking about? And how about your industry peers and wider professional network? From front line realities to boardroom discussions, leverage all available sources of information to identify key problems that are begging to be solved.

IDENTIFY ISSUES As some products and services start losing relevance, turn your attention to emerging consumer priorities. A 2020 report by McKinsey says that the pandemic “will fundamentally reshape how consumers perceive value and seek affordability in a post-COVID-19 world.”

In the US market, affordability is set to become the top priority along with health, safety, social purpose and environmental responsibility. Do you think a similar trend may be observed in your own customer base? Adding value around these new concerns is vital to creating breakthrough solutions.

CREATE ANEW For new ideas to take shape, you need to focus on the issues at hand. Block thinking time on your calendar for reflection and ideation, and push beyond the usual into new and unfamiliar zones.

It’s also a good idea to schedule regular brainstorming sessions with your coworkers.

BE IMAGINATIVE Many of us are working within a set of tight constraints from reduced budgets to resource crunches and a freeze on hiring. Does that mean we can no longer compete in the marketplace? Certainly not! In such a scenario, the trick is to reimagine what you already have.

How can you repurpose existing resources to meet new needs? How can you redeploy available finances and personnel? The mindset you need is one of frugal and agile innovation, which yields simple yet effective solutions.

CHANGE COURSE A focus on solving new problems may lead you into unchartered territory. If so, explore it! During a crisis, our inherent tendency is to play it safe whereas the need of the hour is to take risks. A willingness to get radical can lead to huge gains.

The story of Netflix offers an excellent illustration. In 2009, during the worst stage of the US recession, the then DVD rental company decided to offer customers a novel service – i.e. unlimited content streaming. Subscriptions jumped, soon touching three million. Today, Netflix has over 195 million paid subscribers globally.

Management expert Simon Sinek calls it “existential flexibility.” It means the ability to transform a business model to achieve your vision. The failure to do so will result in someone else seizing the opportunity.

As Sinek points out, the publishing industry didn’t invent e-books; nor did the television industry invent streaming. He explains: “It’s because companies can be so preoccupied with protecting the status quo that they don’t make these existential flexes until they’re forced to and then they’re playing defence the entire time.”

ENABLE TEAM Perhaps you’ve been setting out detailed procedures for your team or becoming closely involved with their day-to-day activities in an effort to foster new solutions. Since rigid processes and micromanagement dampen innovation, why not give your team members the space to experiment and play to their strengths?

Auftragstaktik (meaning ‘mission type tactics’ in German) was devised in the 19th century by the Prussian army as a way of enabling autonomy and agility on the battlefield. Essentially, the leader tells the team exactly what they need to achieve and why. The ‘how’ is left to the individual or group, allowing them to take ownership, operate flexibly and show initiative – all optimal conditions for creative problem solving both then and now.