Innovation in a Crisis: The Key to Business Continuity


March 12, 2024

Life’s like a rollercoaster. And in the business world, you have to be the one riding the front seat, eyes wide open. It’s no longer about survival of the fittest. Instead, it’s about survival of the most adaptable. And understanding how you can tap into innovation is your superpower in times like these.

A lot of people look at crises as time to hunker down and wait for the storm to pass. But that’s the worst thing you could possibly do. The best path is to look at how you can innovate your way out of the crisis. These are unique opportunities to rethink and reinvent your approach. 

Quick Takeaways

  • In a world where crises are becoming more frequent, embracing unpredictability is about turning challenges into creative opportunities. 
  • When you change how you look at problems, seeing them as opportunities, you unlock a world of innovative possibilities. Be resourceful and smart in every situation.  
  • Innovation is often the small, clever tweaks that make a big impact, setting your business apart in meaningful ways. 
  • Post-crisis, it’s key to maintain your innovative momentum. Ingrain innovation into your everyday practices instead of just using it as a crisis management tool.

Embracing the unpredictable

Life has a funny way of throwing curveballs just when you think you have it all figured out. And, let’s face it, the past few years have been hard just to get to bat, much less swing at the ball. 

A study from McKinsey says that about 90% of executives think they’ll face a bigger variety of crises more often in the next five years. That’s huge! And it shows that we’re all in this together.

graphic shows man standing with hands on his hips brainstorming ways to apply innovation in a crisis

Image Source

The unexpected will smack you in the face, and when it does, it’s not the time to back down. Take businesses during the pandemic, for instance. Many found themselves facing uncertain futures. But instead of sticking their head in the sand, they relied on creative thinking. Restaurants turned into take-out joints overnight, fitness trainers moved classes online, and companies that had never dreamed of remote work made it the new norm. 

When you realize that unpredictability is the only thing you can rely on in business, it gives you a different outlook. 

The power of shifting perspectives

Let’s talk about perspective

When’s the last time you faced a hurdle? Maybe it was a project that didn’t pan out or someone you depended on didn’t come through. Ask yourself:

  • What can I learn from this?
  • What’s the opportunity I’m missing?
  • How can I turn this around?

Shifting your perspective isn’t just about being unrealistically optimistic. It’s about being smart and resourceful. And it works. Your mind always answers the questions you ask it. And when you shift your perspective, you’ll ask different questions. That’s when you’ll discover answers that were right in front of you all along.

Here’s a fun example. Remember when you were a kid, and a cardboard box was more than just a box? It was a fort, a spaceship, a time machine–anything but a mere container. 

illustration shows comic of two children playing YouTube with a cardboard box

Image Source

Adults often lose that ability to see beyond the obvious. But imagine if you brought that childlike creativity into your work. A product launch that went off the rails could turn into an opportunity to overhaul your marketing strategy. You may even open doors to partnerships you hadn’t considered but now see how they make perfect sense.

Small innovations count

When people talk about innovation, it’s not always about big, earth-shattering changes. Sometimes, it’s the little tweaks that really make the difference.

Innovation isn’t just for the tech giants or the design thinkers. It’s for the software company that releases a new customer service bot, making customer interactions smoother than ever. It’s for the remote worker who finds a new way to organize virtual meetings that actually feels engaging. It’s for the recruiter in HR who needs to find, hire, and onboard talent quicker.

The next time you’re racking your brain, trying to come up with your super-genius idea, remember to look at the small stuff too. Maybe it’s a new way to make your customers feel extra appreciated or a tiny twist in your service delivery. 

People love to rave about why they do business with a company. And when they do, it’s rarely the big, grandiose gestures. It’s the constant stream of little things that continue to surprise and delight them. 

Keeping the momentum post crisis

When you finally see the light at the end of the tunnel and the crisis starts to fade, do your ideas fizzle out, too? Or have you managed to create a constantly burning fire that just needs to be stoked?

During a crisis, we’re thinking on our feet, coming up with answers on the fly. It’s adrenaline-pumping and, let’s be honest, exhilarating. But when things settle down, it’s easy to slide right back into our old habits. That complacency is the kiss of death.

How’d you figure out that work-around when everything seemed to be falling apart? Or connect with your customers in new ways? These aren’t just crisis strategies; they’re gold mines for innovation that can propel you forward in the calm times too.

History gives us a beautiful track record on this. A McKinsey report said that companies that focused on innovation during the 2009 financial crisis didn’t just come out of it stronger, but also outperformed the market average by more than 30%. That turned into faster growth for the next three to five years.

graph shows that organizations which maintained their focus on innovation during the 2009 financial crisis outperformed the market average by more than 30%

Image Source

It’s about making innovation a habit, not just a survival tactic. 

Keep asking yourself, “What can I do better?” even when you’re not under pressure to change. 

Encourage your team to keep bringing fresh ideas to the table, no matter how small. And most importantly, keep celebrating those wins, big and small, because that’s what keeps the momentum alive.

Innovation isn’t just for the hard times

Innovation in a crisis isn’t just about getting through tough times. It’s about setting the stage for future success. It’s about seeing the world not just as it is, but as it could be. 

Whether it’s tweaking the little things or pivoting in big ways, every step you take towards innovation paves the way for a brighter, more resilient future. Keep feeding your innovative spirit, and there’s no telling what you’ll achieve next. 

Ready to master innovation in a crisis? As the world’s leading Innovation Architect, I can help. Let’s talk about how I can inspire your team or work with them directly to nurture their creative thinking.

About Carla

Carla Johnson Innovation Creativity Speaker Author

Carla Johnson helps leaders who are often paralyzed by traditional thinking. They suffer from slow growth, an eroding competitive advantage, low employee engagement, and depleted investor confidence. Their teams lack purpose and progress and constantly battle a resistance to change and new ideas.

As the world’s leading innovation architect, Carla’s spent 20 years helping leaders shatter limits and discover undiscovered possibilities. Through years of research, she’s developed a simple, scalable 5-step process that teaches people how to consistently produce inspired ideas that lead to uncommon outcomes.