The current global crisis is shaking up everyone. Everybody’s life and every business is affected. While most people are still overwhelmed by the speed and diversity of related news and countermeasures, for some theorists these reactions already prove mankind’s ability for radical change based on scientific anticipation, values of solidarity and a primacy of politics and multilateralism over short-lived interests. However, will it allow us to look beyond the day into our common future?
The management view
Corporate managers are well aware from previous crises that new profits, but also heavy losses in market share, arise in phases of economic downturn, more so than in phases of growth. Most of them anticipate that many of these losses and gains will outlast the acute crisis situation, and that innovation is their best vaccination against such a crisis. Some suspect that today’s customer concerns and desires make tomorrow’s business models, and look for ways of their sustainability-oriented renewal.
The customer view
Likewise, many customers take a crisis as a chance to review their routines, and to reflect upon what is important to them, what they are missing most during a lockdown, and what they care about in any case. Even though some individuals are seeking to turn back time and suspect evil forces behind the situation, many are dealing with the crisis creatively, as any crisis pushes our readiness to change and innovate.
The social researcher’s view
Social research points out that the resulting shifts in behaviour and values are tricky to detect. Close observation and well-informed interpretation are required to see how and why customers do what they do: Which previously weak signals now turn into mainstream? Which new behaviours and values emerge that lead to a depreciation of taken-for-granted routines and push the adoption of innovations? And which customer insights can be derived from what we have been missing most?
Beyond the new normal
Most people are now striving to get back to what is called the “new normal”, and imagine it like the life before the crisis, just with a few acceptable handicaps. However, we need to get beyond just going back to get in touch with what we care about. Along with an increased readiness for change comes the risk of seeking innovation primarily in crisis management mode. Already managers and politicians are negotiating which types of (combustion, electric, hydrogen) car engine purchases should benefit from state funding to overcome the economic downturn due to the crisis – instead of clarifying a shared vision of sustainable mobility first. According insights (e.g. from Agora) and scenarios are already available. Such foresight might keep them from state funding of generic categories of economic actors (e.g. small versus mid-sized companies) and interest groups independent of their environmental performance. Based on this it would be easier to see that recovery plans for combustion engines are not the way forward, but that whole ecosystems involving new services, regional planning and infrastructures, legislation and tax models are crucial parts of the agenda. However, moving towards a desirable future, it may not suffice to meet minimal environmental requirements and thresholds. Instead, we should agree upon and strive for a positive impact in each industry and each firm.
Advancing from coping to caring for our common future
The conference theme of values-based innovation and the headlines of the global innovation conferences – ISPIM 2020 (Innovating in Times of Crisis) and ISPIM 2021 in Berlin (Innovating Our Common Future) – indicate this shift in perspectives. They also point to a major challenge we are facing over the next few months: How to proceed from coping with the current crisis to caring for our common future. Accordingly, this question will guide closing panel this year (with Allen Alexander of University of Exeter, Joana Breidenbach of betterplace.org and Klaus Fichter of Oldenburg University & Borderstep Institute for Innovation and Sustainability). What distinguishes coping from caring? Would you agree to the following contrasting juxtapositions?
Actually, coping and caring are not either or, nor a sequence of activities – as this table may suggest. Instead, the ways in which we cope with crisis already reflects the ways we care for our future – the second perspective is just more comprehensive.
Upcoming isses for innovators
Moving on from coping to caring, how can we include sustainability-oriented goals into normative directives for companies and economic stakeholders, and transfer them into domain specific challenges, goals and innovation projects to achieve? How can we succeed with new business models that foster sustainable development? How can we continuously assess related activities against our normative goals? And how should we engage the stakeholders (especially customer and employees) in the process? The upcoming conferences 2020 online and 2021 in Berlin (both co-hosted by UXBerlin) address these and related questions. We will be happy to have you join us!