3 Habits To Innovate During A Pandemic
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Shake Off The Past And Embrace The Change

Sitting here now in our 9th, 10th, or umpteenth month (at this point, I stopped counting) into our pandemic reality got me thinking, "Where's all the innovation that was supposed to happen?" Yes, we've all adopted virtual tools like Zoom, Teams, Slack, and whatever else; we've become more dependent on apps and cloud-based services; and of course, we've all stepped up our internet game and in-home connections; but is that all there is to our innovation during a time when we should see more?

I mean come on! While tragic, this pandemic is also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do things differently; to think differently. Prior to the pandemic, you know "normal times," you could have far-fetched innovations, but if they were too extreme, no one would give you the time of day. But guess what? We can now not only dream of far-fetched ideas but are actually encouraged to do so. You now have implicit permission to try anything even marginally viable and no one will hold it against you for trying to make it a reality. So why then are we not seeing more of these innovations?

You may be saying, "Chill out dude, you're overreacting there's plenty of innovation out there and it has only been X months. Give it time, things will eventually happen." You may be right. It could be I'm being too impatient. But here's a rare example, within 8 months of the pandemic two (possibly three) potentially successful vaccines have been created. This should impress you beyond belief. Under "normal" circumstances a vaccine, when prioritized as urgent, would take at least three years to develop. This example justifies my impatience. If two, possibly three, vaccines were created in a span of months, then why are we not seeing more innovation taking place in other areas (and Zoom or MS Teams doesn't count, they were already created despite the pandemic)?

Here's the thing, this aligned collective "innovation window" is stamped with a best before date. While you say, "chill out, it'll happen," the window of opportunity to dream and create without judgment is closing fast as the world solves this situation. Trust me, patience is not your friend. Thinking as you did prior to the pandemic is not your friend. Unpredictability, uncertainty, and change are now your friends.

You're now saying, "Well, this is nice, pie-in-the-sky talk, but what do I need to do to become more innovative?" Begin by applying these three points to your daily habits.

1. Shake Off The Handcuffs Of The Past

Every person is a collage of their collective experiences. This is a good thing, as it allows us to draw upon past experiences and situations to address the issue at hand. Experience makes us wiser...or does it? Experience, unintentionally, can also handcuff us to outdated thinking and notions that may make us believe a solution is improbable. It can subconsciously limit us from thinking beyond our current capacity of knowledge resulting from past experiences. Suffice to say, experience can have us subconsciously assume that if a problem wasn't solvable before then why would now be any different?

This experience paradox is insidious. On one hand, people pride themselves on gaining and leveraging their experience; on the other hand, it can also hold you back when you're not paying attention.

This "experience trap" is something innovative people avoid by recognizing it when it is happening. They incorporate a habit of always seeing possibilities rather than impossibilities. Doing so shifts the impulsive statement "It can't be done" to asking, "Why can't it be done?" This subtle and simple shift in your thinking opens up unlimited possibilities and innovative opportunities.

2. Embrace The Challenge

It's only human nature to avoid problems. This is part of our ancestral fight or flight instinct. When faced with a challenge or perceived insurmountable problem, many will simply throw their hands up and walk away. There are others with the same experience that rather turn and fight. They use their frustration to fuel their innovative capacity. These people refuse to be beaten and will always accept a challenge.

When faced with a problem or challenge the typical choices are to 1) seek other viable options to solve it, which usually leads toward a better path and one of lesser resistance, or 2) attack the issue head-on because other options are unavailable. Either way, you're addressing the problem or challenge at hand which implicitly means you're innovating to resolve or to improve the situation. But the answer is to never run away from any challenge.

It's within these moments when you discover your intrinsic problem-solving qualities. Fundamentally, all of us possess problem-solving and innovative characteristics. You can group people facing perceived insurmountable problems into three categories: 1) those who believe there's always a possible solution; 2) those who believe no viable solution is possible; and 3) those who can't be bothered at all. The third group is the one to worry about most.

Believing there is a solution to any problem is a bold statement. Many will challenge this thought saying it is unrealistic since a viable solution depends largely upon available resources. This is the wrong way to approach problem-solving and stifles innovation. If you wait for resources to be available, then you'll wait for a long time and possibly never address the issue at hand. Resources should never drive innovation, rather innovation should always drive resource availability. Don't believe it? Reflect on the last time someone presented a great idea at work. Guaranteed stakeholders were all over it and made the resources required available to make it happen.

Embracing the challenge is about acknowledging the moment when you recognize the problem is impossible to solve. This is the moment when you should ask, "Why can't it be done?" and never worry whether resources are available; your solution will sell others to find what you need to make it a reality.

3. Embrace Change

You would think that during the greatest pandemic of our history innovations would come flooding in when our world needs it most. Then why are so many desperately trying to recapture our collective past normalcy? Was our pre-pandemic world so perfect that we would want to return to it? Probably not. But it is more concerning than that.

Until the pandemic, the perception of innovation and progress was a convincing illusion; if not an illusion, it was a weak effort toward real innovation. The recent article, "The World's So Bright, Gotta Wear Shades," states that even though the pandemic is a tragic event, it also presents a unique opportunity to shake off our progress complacency that is or was shackled to an outdated infrastructure.

Complacency is the enemy of progress and change is the catalyst for innovation. Collective events, like this pandemic, show our society has been complacent in the face of change. Well, real change is now upon us which, whether you like it or not, you must embrace or be left behind. Embracing it requires an innovative mindset that facilitates progress.

Where Do You Go From Here?

If it wasn't clear, the world is in flux. Change is not only constant but more unpredictable than ever before. Yes, there will be some people who will resist and want to return to the way it was. But there will also be many others, like you, who will want things to change for the better.

Recognize, however, that preparing for the future new world is more than addressing these expectations mentioned, it's also about being observant, diligent, and curious. Unpredictability is something for you to leverage and use to your advantage. Doing so will demonstrate your value and build stakeholder confidence.

Always remember that true progress is never about looking to the past but rather looking forward to where opportunity awaits.

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