Continuing Innovation Post-Crisis


The pandemic caused forced innovation on everyone. According to research performed by MIT, COVID-19 crisis enabled new forms of innovation at a scale and pace that many leaders did not believe possible. A few examples shared by MIT researchers Elsabeth Johnson and Fiona Murray are; emergency room teams in Michigan rigged ventilators by adding a second tube to double capacity, multiple teams from Oxford, London, and Boston developed a potential vaccine and testing it in less than two months, and in the UK, the national health service built a 4,000-bed hospital in four days.

How is this possible?

According to researchers, there are five interdependent conditions that characterize a crisis and boost innovation:

  1. A crisis provides a sudden and real sense of urgency.

  2. This urgency enables organizations to focus on one single challenge and drop other priorities. This focus allows for reallocating resources as needed.

  3. The singular focus allows everyone to come together to solve the problem, bringing a diversity of viewpoints and perspectives.

  4. The singular focus legitimizes what would otherwise constitute "waste", allowing for more experimentation and learning.

  5. Because the crisis is only temporary, the organization can commit to a highly intense effort over a short period of time.

How can credit unions leverage these learnings and continue to generate innovation in "non-crisis" times? Here are four suggestions.

1. Blow up the status quo

One of the main reasons we can't replicate a crisis is because we have normalcy bias. The tendency to believe that future events will be similar to what we have experienced in the past.

ACTION: Create Opportunity/Doomsday Scenarios.

Once a quarter, leadership creates a moonshot goal or doomsday scenario and flushes out new ways to achieve the goal or solve the problem. The point here is to use prospect theory to counteract natural inertia, ultimately leading to new strategies and change.

2. Create a singular priority

The challenge every day is the ability to have a single focus.

ACTION: Focus on the Member

All actions in the credit union should improve the member's lives, not the credit union's performance. Many credit unions measure success with an internal lens, ROI, KPI, Financial ratios. If the organization shifts focus to externally, on the member and how they measure member satisfaction, engagement, and overall financial performance, it because the singular focus. Consider the focus shift in this way; if you solve member problems, you will also solve credit union problems

3. Work in Cross-functional teams, on a budget

Innovation has two general forms; the first is creating something completely new, the second is taking something that exists and using it in a new way. To be able to accomplish new ideas, there needs to be a diversity of new ideas. Idea diversity can be generated when teams of diverse people work to solve the same idea. In a credit union, this can be solved by creating teams from many areas in the organization that usually do not work together. Creating budget limitations allows for many to examine the tools they currently use but in a new way. Allowing for innovation of existing tools

4. Leadership engagement & focus

People work so intensely during a crisis is because leaders remain engaged in the problem until it solved. By doing this, leadership people maintain their enthusiasm and excitement for the project. By recognizing this leadership need for engagement and focus, leaders can extend their focus for the long tail win, not just the ideation.

Credit unions have accomplished so much in the past year; imagine what could be accomplished if innovation became a capability!

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