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Innovation in Crisis

The Drive to Overcome

Since the very beginning of our species, adversity has stimulated adaption and re-invention that eventually makes our lives better. It may not seem like it during the time, but history has shown that humans have the capacity to pick up the pieces, fight through insurmountable odds and provide society with advances we never thought possible. Some of our world’s worst crises have become the foundations for our greatest steps forward. Innovation in crisis has become one of our most intrinsic traits as a species. Just look at some of the difficult times we’ve faced throughout recent history alone:

WWI

Two major innovations came as a result of WW1 – the development of assembly line methods that improved production of wartime goods and scientific management techniques – that streamlined workflows, labor and economic efficiencies.

WWII

The “Big One” spawned a large number of technical innovations in crisis – radio navigation, radar, jet engines, space travel, nuclear power, computers, super glue, duct tape and penicillin. Highly advanced versions of a majority of these inventions are in use today.

Great Depression

My grandparents survived the Great Depression and the stories were unbelievable. It is a time in history I pray future generations will never have to repeat. However, they developed a new appreciation for life and forged ahead. The scarcity of the times spurred creativity, and today we are still using electric razors, car radios, tampons and eating chocolate chip cookies.

Vietnam War

Although this war lasted nearly 20 years, some of the most significant technical innovation in crisis came in the early 70’s: The first email was sent in 71, the mobile phone in 73, the first Intel programmable microprocessor, the Apple II personal computer, the Sony Walkman and the digital camera.

Hong Kong Flu

This 1968 Flu was our most recent pandemic (although nobody mentions it). It killed an estimated 1-2 million people worldwide and more than 100,000 in the USA. However, it forced many into getting a yearly flu shot. Perhaps, if our society had implemented more protective measures as a result of this event, we would be in a better situation for today’s pandemic.

9/11

This unprecedented tragedy has become an icon for Americans of standing in solidarity during a crisis. We let down our guard and terrorists found an opening. Never again. From CT scanners and robots to social media and translation software, we are now more vigilant and prepared to prevent another catastrophic event like 9/11. While some might argue that these innovations were made out of a sense of panic, it is clear to see that the drive to keep our people safe continues even into the present day. Add drones, crowd surveillance, wireless technology and bio-monitoring and we’re safer now than ever.

2008 Recession

Our financial landscape was turned upside down during this recession, but there were enough financially independent individuals who saw opportunity. What emerged successfully out of 2008 (unlike most people’s investment portfolios)? WhatsApp, Venmo, Groupon, Instagram, Uber, Pinterest, Slack and Square. Many of the modern conveniences we enjoy were kickstarted during this time by need and visions of a different kind of future.

healthcare workers offer solidarity and innovation in crisis

So What About the COVID-19 Pandemic?

If we compare the recent pandemic with many of the world’s major disasters – it will show us that a global restructuring immediately follows. And thanks to technology, it can happen even quicker than before. We are still deep in the midst of a technological revolution (digitization, data, AI and AR) and will move beyond the current pandemic with innovations we never thought possible. Look at the rapid innovations happening in medicine (research for a COVID Vaccine is happening with unprecedented speed), the revitalization of space exploration, electric (and eventually autonomous) cars, mobile communications, and so much more. We all should be very excited about the future – this pandemic will not last forever, and despite how it feels in the moment, we can be confident in one thing: Humans will adapt and overcome.

Here’s what we have to look forward to:

1. Resource Independence

Just as we saw in the Gulf wars, we cannot depend on the Middle East for oil. It was a kick in the butt for America and we have become almost non-dependent on foreign oil. Going forward, we cannot depend on China to supply us with medications and medical products. We should be able to produce them on our own soil and stock them for future use.

2. The End of Overworking

Americans are known for being some of the most overworked humans on the planet. Many are stuck to their cubicles for 50 weeks of the year – at least until they earn some seniority. Two things change as result of this pandemic: First, the number of full-time remote workers has increase, and will continue to remain high – thanks to technology that has been developed and implemented during this crisis. Second, many Americans have now experienced what Europeans realize each year – 3-4 weeks’ vacation with the family. Being cooped up in the house isn’t exactly ideal, but if we reflect on the experience – maybe we really do need more time off.

stressed out worker in crisis

3. A Check on Corporate Capitalism

There will be more companies prioritizing how they treat their workers over profits. We’ll never get away completely from corporate greed and excessive executive pay, but the groundwork that tech companies like Microsoft, NVIDIA, Salesforce, PayPal, Intuit, Facebook, Alphabet etc. have implemented will take hold, with many more companies jumping on board by the time we are done with this pandemic.

4. Solidarity in Charity

Companies are partnering with each other to donate money and resources to the health care industry. Work-from-home apps like Zoom and Microsoft Teams are saving the day. Food delivery companies like Blue Apron and GrubHub are providing a great service that will become mainstream for many. And, look what online educational resources are doing to change the face of learning, as the change becomes essential. We have seen how corporate innovation in crisis can be a positive thing, when driven by real necessity.

As depressing as the pandemic has been, it’s also an exciting time of innovation in crisis. As we stand in the face of this new threat and the uncertain future it poses, remember that Americans are resilient creatures… and we will be better than ever when this is over.

Gary Miller

Gary Miller

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