Zoe Aitken17 August 2020

Why Plato can turn us into better innovators during a pandemic.

As we navigate through this challenging COVID period, I’ve found huge comfort and meaning in the words of some of our famous Greek philosophers. It’s crazy how relevant and insightful some of their words still are, thousands of years later. One of my favourite philosophers, Plato, famously once said that “Necessity is the mother of invention”, and never has a truer word been spoken.

Whether we mean to or not, we’re all becoming master innovators by necessity, in order to survive the current COVID storm. We’re having new challenges thrown at us almost on a daily basis, and are being forced to adapt, change and course correct.

With so many challenges coming our way, it’s hard to know where to focus innovation efforts for maximum impact. While it might seem tempting to work through everything, it’s just not sustainable or realistic. In reacting to every challenge, ultimately, you’ll end up diluting your impact and putting strain on valuable resources.

The first critical step to ensuring that your innovation has the biggest impact, is to get clear on your innovation focus areas, or ‘Innovation Missions’ as we call them at Inventium. Innovation Missions keep your innovation efforts laser-focused and less reactionary.

Some examples of Innovation Missions include:

  • Streamlining the supply chain for simplicity and efficiency;
  • Creating a seamless end-to-end customer experience;
  • Fostering employee collaboration to enhance effectiveness of remote working.

The best Innovation Missions are broad, but actionable i.e. they’re not solutions focused but rather lend themselves to lots of possible and creative solutions.

Innovation Missions are formed at the intersection point of ‘why this?’ (i.e. what is the customer problem you’re trying to solve?), ‘why now?’ (i.e. why is now the right time to action this?) and ‘why us?’ (i.e. why is your organisation the natural owner of this opportunity?), as illustrated in The Three C’s model below.

Your Innovation Missions shouldn’t change too much over time, but now is a critical time to review them. The current climate will have given rise to lots of new priorities driven by new customer problems and significant external changes.

The best approach for setting Innovation Missions, is to get a cross-functional group of business leaders together (virtually if need be) and work through the Three C’s by asking:

  1. What are the most critical customer problems that we need to solve right now? (Remember that your customers can be both internal and external);
  2. What external/ regulatory changes have taken place that have given rise to new opportunities or customer problems that we need to solve?

For any opportunities/ customer problems that come out of the above two questions, ask yourselves:

  1. Why are we the natural owners of this opportunity? What unique strengths can we bring to it?

These three questions will help you identify a list of customer-focused innovation priorities for the business. You can then use them as a filter for the daily innovation challenges that present themselves. If a challenge falls outside your Innovation Missions, then it’s questionable whether now is the right time to put resources towards it.

Taking a step back to get clear on your Innovation Missions upfront, will ensure your innovation resources go further and have the greatest impact. As Plato also famously once said “the beginning is the most important part of the work”. And when it comes to innovation, this is certainly true.

If you’d like help developing some Innovation Missions for your business, feel free to email me at zoe@inventium.com.au. Oh, and you can check out more of Plato’s wisdom HERE. Enjoy!