Innovation, a survival instinct ?

L’innovation, un instinct de survie ?

Photo: Renaud Philippe The Duty
A prototype of the visor performed by the Hero Creation, and FabLab

With the shutdown of several sectors of the economy, the pandemic will force the reflection on options disaster recovery : restart or re-invent ? In a series that began Wednesday, The Duty is associated with the journal Management and publishing parts of a special folder on these crucial issues. Today, the third of four texts : the way in which companies innovate when their world rocking.


In just a few hours, life can all change. Companies that want to survive in a crisis, or should they be creative ? Management has benefited from the containment of health to maintain distance with Laurent Simon, professor in the Department of entrepreneurship and innovation, HEC Montreal.

Companies skilled know how to question their practices and demonstrate creativity. But what is meant by “innovative company” ?

An innovative company is an organization capable of producing novelty at the time where it is needed. Beyond the production of ideas, this is the ability to launch new products, experiment with new processes or even to rethink its strategic model. The central element is the actual ability to take steps and initiate the processes necessary to create something new, whether it’s a private company, a public corporation, a university, a hospital, a SME or a self-employed worker.

What is the special dynamics of innovation in times of crisis ?

During a difficult period, or even during a crisis of the magnitude of the pandemic COVID-19, two characteristics of innovation are changing radically : the time and the resources. The companies are then subject to constraints completely different from those to which they are accustomed in the matter of available time and access to resources. Thus, innovation in a time of crisis, it is to react immediately, adapt in the present moment : the relation to time is transformed, and it is unprecedented, if we think of the context of the pandemic. While organizations develop innovation strategies in the medium-and long-term crises require rapid adaptation and improvised, do-it-yourself, but that certainly has its virtues. The report to the resources undergoes the same change : from one day to the next, they are reallocated to more urgent needs.

An innovative company is an organization capable of producing novelty at the time where it needs it

— Laurent Simon

In Canada, this is exactly what had to be the federal and provincial governments from the beginning of the pandemic of sars coronavirus. One could extensively discuss the government response, but it is already garnering an innovation of an economic nature : the minimum income generalized. We will see what will be left after the fact, but we are in the process of rediscovering the State. However, the State, it is a great innovation in history we put ourselves regularly in question. It is great to realize, thanks to the pandemic COVID-19, that we could not get through this crisis without a State that plays its role with relevance ! The State and our governments to maintain institutions, orchestrate the social life, remind us that we are dependent upon each other.

A state of emergency, imposes conditions specific to the innovation ?

Yes. In such a context, it uses an innovation model similar to the hacking, in the sense of ” misuse of a feature “, which is often used in times of crisis. Also the innovation of the order of frugal, diy, the ” do it yourself “. Many are those who, in their basement, preparing themselves for their disinfectant gel or sew their protective masks. There is the case of the anaesthetist in the Ottawa region that has managed to operate two ventilators simultaneously from a single device. In normal times, the manufacturer of the respirators would have found unwelcome to such use, but in the context of a pandemic, when time is short and resources are scarce, the diy is perfectly justified.


See the complete file of the journal “Management”

Because of necessity, as the saying goes, the need for solutions urgent captures the attention of everyone in the organization, and the efforts are exclusively devoted to this momentum of innovation. While in normal times the innovation is passed to the second, third, or even tenth concerns, crises redefine the priorities. For example, consider the Ebola virus a few years ago, an epidemic that had led to the development of accelerated vaccine, supported by technological innovation, organizational and institutional. This race has legitimized shortcuts by by-passing certain regulations. The emergency allows us to take some risks.

But isn’t it dangerous to go too fast ?

In emergency situation, the relation to risk is also changing. It is true, some will say that it does not comply with the established protocols, but other clameront on the contrary, that we are going too slowly ! This way to measure the risks and to deal with them is without a doubt complex and encourages thinking outside the rules and ways of doing things. In short, it pushes them to innovate. An innovative company is a company that takes risks.

And when the emergency crops the priorities, arbitration can be an opportunity to accelerate the innovation work.

We can therefore understand that a crisis stimulates innovation ?

More importantly, the seizures sometimes give a sense of the innovations remained in the shadow, of which we have doubted the value and scope to a certain time. Think of the telework : the pandemic leads to a large number of organisations to learn to work differently. While there are still a few weeks of the employees were denied any possibility of teleworking, today they design routines efficiency to adapt to this new reality. It will be more difficult than ever for employers to object to the remote work after the return to normal.

Another example of innovation which was struggling to take off : home delivery for grocery stores. The pandemic has accelerated this new business strategy in a significant way. This option becomes almost natural, since it found its relevance. These new ways of doing things take root they ? I believe that a form of habit will be taken, at least to a certain extent.

The overall finding is that the major crises have almost always been the accelerator of innovation, as it is prior to any periods of break to balance. In absolute terms, the First world War was a great accelerator for medicine and for aviation. The Second world War, has truly propelled the fields of computers, aerospace and nuclear energy.


The dashboard on the evolution of the coronavirus in Quebec, in Canada and in the world

You mention the fact that many people will be able to take advantage of innovations already existing, such as telecommuting, in order to continue their activities. But all sectors are not equal in a crisis. Some will fare better than others ?

This is always the case. It’s terrible to say it like that, but there will be business opportunities.

Quickly, as we have seen from the beginning of the pandemic COVID-19, businesses have reoriented their activities more or less willingly. Manufacturers of hockey equipment are the point of the visors of protection against the virus ; contractors produce the disinfectant rather than the vodka, the gin or the beer. I also think the diving masks designed by Decathlon, the use of which has been hijacked by a start-up Italian, who has added a few pipes to use as a breathing apparatus, a lovely way to innovate-mode hacking.

Alongside these opportunities, there will be good number of terrible situations and several bankruptcies. But a bankruptcy, it is also a propitious occasion to the renewal, an opportunity to leave the market and return to it otherwise.

In fact, the real danger is not to innovate ! Are you an optimist for that crisis and innovation form a happy marriage ?

Yes, because innovate when nothing goes, it is to choose not to lower the arms. This is to avoid sinking into depression. That is to say : there is still something to do, there are opportunities to seize. Using the available resources, combining them differently to find new answers and relevant, we will tailor solutions to move forward.

It is a survival instinct ?

Yes, I quite agree with that. There is no life without innovation, finally.

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