The COVID-19 innovation challenge: Keeping the golden goose alive

by David Matheson and Ralph Morales III

We all know COVID-19 is disrupting everything, including innovation-driven growth.  What should we as members of the innovation community be prepared for?  What can we do to keep innovation alive or maybe even help it thrive in these surreal times?

SmartOrg’s survey on the impact of COVID-19 on innovation-driven growth suggests interesting and encouraging paths forward.  Now is the time to come together and support each other through what is likely to be a long and significant disruption.

The most acute and impactful issue is to maintain sufficient innovation resources so that your company will be able to develop the opportunities created by the disruption and continue to grow after COVID-19 subsides.

With that overview, on to the survey findings and some suggestions for how to keep the golden goose of innovation alive.

You are not alone

Seventy-nine percent (79%) of respondents have experienced Moderate Disruption or worse to their innovation efforts.

Chart showing answers to the Degree that COVID-19 disrupted your company's innovation efforts?

79% of respondents have experienced Moderate Disruption or worse to their innovation efforts.

Be prepared for a long disruption

Sixty-one percent (61%) of respondents anticipate 6 or more months of disruption.  It is probably a scenario you should consider.  These scenarios are long enough that disruptive effects on corporate growth could last well past when COVID-19 disruption itself subsides.

Chart showing answers to How long do you anticipate COVID-19 disrupting your innovation efforts?

61% of respondents anticipate 6 or more months of disruption.

Don’t lose hope

Forty-seven percent (47%) of respondents see more opportunity than threat as a result of COVID-19. And even among those who foresee a long COVID-19 disruption, many still see opportunity.  While there is clearly a high level of threat (29% see more threat than opportunity) and the situation is serious, it is a challenge we as innovators can rise to.  How can we develop this opportunity and ensure that our companies continue to grow?

Do you see threat or opportunity for innovation-driven growth in your company?

47% of respondents see more opportunity than threat as a result of COVID-19.

Don’t kill the golden goose

We also asked about what part of innovation was most disrupted:  execution or getting resources.  Seventy-four percent (74%) of respondents see a disruption in innovation execution. While a major issue, we see the implications occurring largely within the duration of COVID-19.  As we all find new ways of working during this time of social-distancing, our ability to execute will improve across as the board. And once the restrictions are lifted, these new skills will likely continue to serve us well.

Seventy-six percent (76%) of our respondents see a disruption in the allocation of resources to innovation.  It seems to us that this issue will have the most serious long-term implications: if innovation loses its resources, growth may be disrupted well beyond the duration of COVID-19.  In other words, while companies are cutting costs they may also be cutting their future.

Half of the respondents saw both execution and resources as disrupted, so many are facing both issues simultaneously.

Pie chart showing answers to What do you see as most disrupted?

76% of our respondents see a disruption in the allocation of resources to innovation; 74% of respondents see a disruption in innovation execution; 50% of respondents saw both execution and resources as disrupted.

Is your company in danger of cutting its future?

This survey suggests that many of you face an acute need: how to ensure resources continue flowing to innovation, particularly in light of the new opportunities and threats created by COVID-19.

In our extensive work on innovation portfolios, we find that about 30% of projects simply don’t need to be done because they have limited prospects for driving growth.  Today, there is potential for an even higher percentage of unneeded projects because some innovation has been mooted by COVID-19. These resources can be put to better use focusing on opportunities that truly have potential.  We see the COVID-19 disruption as an opportunity to prioritize, focus, and get ahead.

Since many of you are facing severe pressure on many fronts, we at SmartOrg would like to do what we can to support our friends and colleagues in the innovation world.

We are offering a 90-minute online version of our two-day innovation portfolio assessment workshop at no charge    

Let us know if you are interested. We are all in this together.

dmatheson@smartorg.com