The world is in the grips of an invasive viral pandemic and an economic crisis the likes of which we have not seen for nearly a century. It is impacting our daily lives and threatens our long-term prosperity. All the turmoil makes you want to take your ball and go home (which, apparently, is exactly what we are supposed to do). So, where is the glimmer of hope? Are there opportunities hidden in the current adversity? I say yes—for the innovative.
Think back to the financial crisis of 2008. The subprime mortgage market collapsed, sending a financial shockwave across America and throughout the world. The Dow Jones index fell from 14,500 to 6,600. Banks collapsed, and peoples’ fortunes were shattered. The situation was dire. Billions of subsidy and loan dollars were used to prop up everything from banks to automobile manufacturers.
Fast forward 12 years. Following a healthy recovery that elevated the nation and many individuals to new financial heights, we again face financial strains—this time brought on by a global virus outbreak. Hoping to starve the virus, we have withdrawn from our normal lifestyles to shelter in place. Our retreat has shuttered many businesses and constrained others, threatening our vital small business economy and paralyzing even the titans of global industry.
So where is the reason for optimism? We must look to our national heritage of resilience to find hope.
Let’s return to our history. In the years following the financial crisis, we learned, adapted and adjusted our rules and practices of commerce. We invented and implemented safeguards to prevent the reoccurrence of spiraling downturns on both Main Street and Wall Street.
Some entrepreneurs discovered innovation opportunities in the chaos. In a March article, Forbes cited Uber, Airbnb, WhatsApp, Square, Pinterest, Slack and Twilio as notable businesses that sprung to life in the months following the financial crisis. These low-capital startups are now household names. They rose from the post-crisis realities of business and capital constraints. They parted from traditional business infrastructures and created lean human capital models in what are traditionally employment-heavy industries. They reinvented the way people communicate, travel and transact business.
We have not yet seen the full impact of the pandemic on businesses. Among others, the list of changes to daily life will certainly include: the way we shop, the products we prioritize, and where and how we work.
Looking ahead, we need to analyze these changes and develop winning strategies. Stress experienced during the pandemic may reveal that our old models of customer management, culture, supply chain, operations and human capital are ripe for innovation. Insightful and timely innovations will give some companies the victory over both the virus and their competition.
When we look back in another 10 years, which innovators will we celebrate as the brightest business minds, who mustered faith and created something enduring out of the COVID-19 calamity?
Kendal Ross works in innovation and development for Insperity. He is also a professor at the University of Kansas, where he teaches management policy and strategy at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.