6 tips for innovating through a crisis

Whether innovating for survival or planning for a post-pandemic comeback, CIOs may find conditions ripe to challenge the status quo, remove barriers and make change

6 tips for innovating through a crisis
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For the past five years, Marquette University’s faculty and administrators have had many serious conversations about how to take the classroom online. Marquette has been offering some online learning opportunities for several years, but progress was incremental at best. They lamented that such a major undertaking would take years to implement on a large scale.

It took one swift-moving pandemic to overcome any reluctance. In one week, the decision was made to take the entire university from providing predominantly in-person, lecture-based education to virtual education overnight.

“The technology was already there, but no one was willing to overcome the hurdles there would be,” says Chuck Swoboda, innovator-in-residence at Marquette University and a board trustee until 2017. It might not be perfect at first, he says, but “because the only alternative is canceling classes altogether — and temporarily going out of business — the university will figure it out. In the end, they'll make more progress in the next two months than they have made in 10 years.”

A crisis creates enormous problems, not to mention a lot of fear and uncertainty, but a crisis can also remove boundaries normally part of business and allow for innovation, Swoboda says.

History provides many examples. During the Great Depression, GM and Chrysler survived thanks to their understanding of how to adjust to their new realities and their ability to look for advantage. For instance, GM expanded aggressively into the low-priced car market by shifting production from its high-end brands to its high-volume discount brand Chevrolet. The company also used the same engine and parts across different brands to further reduce inventories and create flexible capacity.

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