Innovation in crisis: ten ideas

In crisis times, most companies react by downsizing staff, projects, benefits – everything. No surprise: They attended the same business schools, they read the same books and they grew up in times where productivity was king.

If your ambition is to do better than the crowd, I suggest you consider this list of things you can do to turn crisis into an opportunity for more innovation and future growth. I attended Future Next in Copenhagen – a highly innovative and interactive work camp in Copenhagen in June to inspire business in Denmark to choose the path of innovation in response to the crisis. Here is my list of the best ideas that were discussed:

  1. Make customer complaints an asset. Respond promptly, understand the customer’s problem, solve it and create a database of customer complaints to serve as inspiration for product and service innovation. Turn complaints into assets!
  2. Involve customers to support each other. You know everything about your product, but customers know everything about how products are used. Form a community of customers to share knowledge about how they use your products and help them support each other in case of problems. Your customers will benefit more from your products; you will learn more from them and your hotline support will be complemented by customers with real-time experience.
  3. Invite customers to tell you both good and bad stories. Create a community (social network) of customers. Show them that you appreciate their stories, good and bad. Share good stories widely and add a happy ending to bad stories by dealing with the problems promptly and efficiently. Use the knowledge about customer experiences as input to your innovation process.
  4. Invite customers to innovate with you. They will gladly tell you how you could make your products more valuable and attractive to them. Show that you are responsive by sharing good stories with everybody.
  5. Drop Focus groups – make everybody your focus group. Why only base your product and marketing decisions on a few focus groups of, say, 10 people each? Why not involve everybody by posting your ideas in your customer community and asking for reactions.
  6. Invite suppliers to innovate products and processes. Conventional thinking is that you specify your needs towards suppliers, looking for the best supplier to deliver exactly what you want. Why not invite suppliers to innovate with you by suggesting how they could contribute to making your products better, more efficient, cheaper or more reliable?
  7. Invite suppliers to help sell your products. They sell more to you if you sell more to your customers. Invite them to partner with you, using their ideas, resources and contacts.
  8. Make former employees ambassadors for your company. If you fire people, they will normally be somewhat negative about your company and each has a network that will also be negative. Why not turn it around, making former employees your ambassadors? Create an alumni network of all former employees. Help them connect with former colleagues, give them interesting news stories, post new jobs in the network before they are advertised externally, invite their feedback and keep a positive relation.
  9. Involve colleagues in finding job opportunities. If you are forced to fire 10 % of staff, involve the 90 % that are still with you, to help their colleagues find new work. If everybody uses his network, former colleagues will get back to work much quicker, thus saving severance pay and other termination costs.
  10. Break the negative cycle. Cutting staff, projects and benefits in a crisis tends to take away happiness at work. Don’t let the negative mood take over. Celebrate small successes, praise good work and share reactions from happy customers.

Do you have other ideas? Write a comment!

7 kommentarer til “Innovation in crisis: ten ideas”

  1. Frank Calberg

    Great ideas involving customers and suppliers/employees. To what degree do the companies, you work with, write blogs, use Twitter and/or open innovation portals to communicate with / share ideas with people? How do they use Web 2.0?

    Thanks very much in advance for sharing concrete initiatives of the respective companies.

  2. Erik Ernst

    Hej Lars

    Det glæder mig, at du har taget ved lære af de unge pirater, samt organisationer som the piratebay:)

    Stive hierakalske systemer baseret på kontrol, udbytning, ågeri kan nemt og med fordel erstattes af kærlige intelligente netværk, til gavn for økonomien, helbredet og ikke mindst glæden ved at være til, en del af noget.

    Piraterne har bevist, at der findes bedre alternativer til den gamle ågeriske monetære økonomi, vi vælger selv, om vi vil sætte en dagsorden hvor vi alle kan spille en rolle, hvor alle kan blive rigere, eller vi fortsat vil lade, undskyld mig udtrykket, sure gamle mænd bestemme hvordan vi bedst udnytter døgnets 24 timer.

    Vi har hvad der skal til, som nation, for igen at kunne blive selvforsynende og bæredygtige, at vi sammen kan skabe et reelt overskud, men desværre lader hele randen af gamlepolitikkere til, at vælge forbud, overgreb og en generel fordummelse af gruppen/samfundet fremfor, at stole på deres medmennesker gode intentioner.

  3. Helle Munch Oldefar

    En ide kan også være, at få set på virksomheden helt udefra – med helt andre briller.
    Altså f.eks. få en humaniora uddannet til at se på en højteknologisk virksomhed, hvor 99,9% af de ansatte er ingeniører eller lignende.
    Det er ikke kun servicevirksomheder, der kan lære af LEAN og andre teknologiske tiltag – de teknologisk funderede virksomheder kan også lære af de humanistisk indstillede. Nok især inden og i krisetider ;-D

  4. Per Feldvoss Olsen

    Looking at what have been done about innovation in Denmark over the past 10-15 years anyone must admit that we have seen very poor results. While most of the initiatives are well meant, they are also designed to be both “innovative” and short-lived. (There is also a contradiction in the idea that everyone running through these ten steps will be any different from everyone reading the same business books?)

    The key problem is that our view on innovation is still stereotyped, that is we generally think we need to do something very “creative” to be creative and innovative! This meta-creative myth is effectively preventing the success of the ten items on your list. All of the points are excellent, but without the necessary “creative-maturity” the same ten exercises will be one-shot attempts to be creative, with non-lasting effects for your organisation. If you really want to be efficient you need to raise maturity-level within the organisation, for the users involved etc. before you start doing any of these.

    I will thus claim that these attempts are designed to fail….. simply because no normal organisation would bennefit from these without having a high level of innovation know-how – without that you would need help from external experts. And then, even with a successful execution, your organisations would not gain any general advantage regarding innovation. So what you are gaining through most of these items are a quick-win – that looks like innovation, but in general the organisation is not getting specifically better at creativity and innovation by doing just this..! (In general you could probably get the similar results using a general checklist, say the SWOT analyses).

    The key point here is that ‘learning’ to be innovative is very different form ‘being’ creative. So reproducing specific creative moves may result in some insight, but this will not build an lasting skill – for the organisation or the people. Thus if you took this list one point after the other, you would have to invent a new “expert technology” to do this – while if you had the creative-knowhow you might very well be able to do several of the items at the same time – internally in the organisation – or even do something completely different, that would bring even more value to your business or organisation.
    In short – if you want innovation, start by learning the basic know-how.
    Regards Per

  5. Sarah Gram

    Fine pointer.. Vi har tilladt os at referere idéerne på vores hjemmeside. VH Sarah

  6. Stephan E


    Agree entirely – understanding the problem is 90% of innovation. When you understand the problems, the needs and the causalitie, solutions are often almost a given.

    Innovation is then to transform this insight into action remembering that testing your assumptions is everything.

    And remember that Innovation is creative destruction – you cannot innovation without breaking something down.

  7. Anita Wong

    This is very inspiration to me. I am from a totally different culture and will keep reading your ideas and see how I can apply in my part of the world.

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