Laser focus for innovation post-pandemic

08/05/2020 - 11:04

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The COVID-19 pandemic could spur the development of tech to provide authentic connection instead of superficial engagement.

Laser focus for innovation post-pandemic
Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, the word ‘innovation’ was ubiquitous to the point it was starting to lose impact. Even as far back as 2013, Wired magazine claimed that ‘innovation’ was the most overused word in America. According to the OECD, innovat

The COVID-19 pandemic could spur the development of tech to provide authentic connection instead of superficial engagement.

Long before the COVID-19 pandemic, the word ‘innovation’ was ubiquitous to the point it was starting to lose impact.

Even as far back as 2013, Wired magazine claimed that ‘innovation’ was the most overused word in America.

According to the OECD, innovation is “the implementation of a new or significantly improved product (good or service), or process, a new marketing method, or a new organisational method in business practices, workplace organisation or external relations.”

So, fundamentally, innovation is both a process and an outcome that is all about solving a problem in a new way.

Innovation’s new future

Now, in what’s being called a post-normal world, we are seeing a return to innovation in the truest sense of the word: being squarely focused on new ways to solve tough and pressing problems.

Antoine Musu teaches innovation and entrepreneurship at The University of Western Australia’s Business School, and is co-founder of the Commercialisation Studies Centre at UWA.

He believes the pandemic will prompt innovators and startups to ruthlessly focus on solving clear customer needs.

“I have a very strong feeling things are going to change,” Dr Musu told Business News.

“I think anything new is going to be more focused on a need, not necessarily ‘Oh I think it will work so I’ll try it’.”

Back to basics Dr Musu thinks it will also drive startups to become laser focused on responding to customer demands.

“I think we are learning a lot from this situation about how important the voice of the customer is. It will be about really coming up with ideas that are the need of the customer,” he said.

“Processes for innovation and startups will change, there is no doubt about it.”

This also seems to match the sentiment of consumers, who are reprioritising their spending on needs rather than wants.

In a survey from mid-April run by C|T Group for The Australian Financial Review, Australians report that they are going ‘back to basics’ with where they spend their money, prioritising their spending on quality time with friends and family.

Perhaps most symbolic of this shift back to basic needs rather than wants are gin and whisky distilleries pivoting to hand sanitiser production.

Like consumers’ return to basics, the way we innovate will need to be much leaner in the current and near future.

“I’d call it being more efficient about how you do things. It’s just doing more for less,” Dr Musu said.

Innovating human connection

As the C|T Group survey suggests, one pressing need is human connection, which is a huge opportunity for new, innovative solutions focused on pressing customer needs.

“I think there will be different opportunities, especially because of the rise of using technology for communication,” Dr Musu said.

This may seem odd, considering that pre-COVID-19 we often felt overconnected and overwhelmed by communication technology and social media.

But these technologies were designed to keep us superficially engaged rather than authentically connected, which is why research was finding that social media was causing anxiety and depression.

Now we are seeing an increase in usage of different communication technologies, such as Zoom, the user base of which has grown to 300 million subscribers from just 10 million users back in December.

Video chat in general has experienced similar growth since January, with the Houseparty app achieving a near 80 per cent growth in daily traffic, and Nextdoor.com more than 70 per cent growth.

Another example is Animal Crossing, a building and relationship game for Nintendo Switch console you can play with your friends around the world.

The game launched just as the world was locking down, sold out globally and broke a number of sales records for Nintendo.

In both cases, especially video chat, people are using these technologies as new ways to stay meaningfully connected with colleagues and loved ones, through conversations and shared experiences, rather than likes and views.

What’s next? A problem we haven’t yet figured out a solution for is porting the magic of informal and serendipitous meetings to the online world.

Think about bumping into someone at a coffee shop, or being able to walk over to someone at a networking event to have a casual chat. You just can’t do that with Zoom.

As I mentioned in last month’s column, virtual and mixed reality could be a solution, providing shared virtual spaces to host virtual mixer events, for example.

And whatever happens next, the increased demand for innovative communication technologies is not likely to dramatically decrease.

Our changed social and travel habits, combined with some experts predicting the demise of frequent, cheap air travel, will mean online communication is truly here to stay.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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