Lightbulbs Demonstrate Innovation During Covid

Innovation During COVID-19

“How can I be innovative during COVID-19?” It’s a question you have either thought about or been told you should be thinking about ever since the … erm, coronavirus hit the fan earlier this year. This article has three practical tips to help you be a source of innovation during COVID-19, starting today! Before we get to the ‘how’, first let’s see what does innovation mean…

Related article :
Creativity in the Time of Coronavirus

If we boil it down, innovation means to make changes to something established (in our case: life before the pandemic). So if we are to innovate, we need to come up with new methods, products or ideas. If we are to innovate, we may need to come up with new ways to leverage our skills.  If we are to innovate, we may need to come up with new new ways to use our time. Let’s be honest: if you want to increase your chances of getting through the pandemic, you need to innovate. It’s great to see what people have done already so let’s look at that next…

•  Examples of Innovation During COVID-19

I have already seen so many examples of innovation during COVID-19.  The trendy way to say it is ‘to pivot’ into something new. Before I give my tips of how you can be more innovative, let’s look at some great examples of innovation in business I’ve found…

A few years back I was a guest speaker at an Arup creativity salon for the cutting-edge engineering firm. I see they have been involved recently in designing ‘parklets’ to help restaurants with pleasant outdoor dining on the street. And here’s an Indian company that has come up with a touchless lift or elevator control panel so you don’t have to push the button of your desired floor.  Or what about the Italian tram operator that overhauled its fleet to make COVID-friendly streetcars?  Or the chic restaurant in London’s Primrose Hill I performed at last year that pivoted to delivering exquisite dinners direct to their customers’ home dinner tables during lockdown?

online zoom magic show

And hold on a minute! How can I forget? In fact my entire industry of speaking and performing has had to pivot as well.  Since COVID-19 I have created a video studio to deliver my innovation talks and magic performances in a virtual format.  That means I had to revise my talks and shows to be interactive and relevant despite the new format. They suddenly had to be effective when reaching through a Zoom webcam into the home offices of my audiences around the world. But you tell me: ‘these examples are all fine and good, Christopher, but what’s necessary for me to pull it off? …

Creativity is thinking up new things.
Innovation is doing new things.

– Theodore Levitt

Mr. Levitt’s quote here makes the point clear.  In order to innovate, you must ACT.  But in my experience with being creative in my field, I wouldn’t say that creativity and innovation are quite as separate as he makes them sound. I think instead that they are more like two parts of a wonderful feedback loop.  Think of creativity and innovation as being the yin and yang of fearlessly going where no woman or man has gone before. Some people still may wonder ‘why bother?’ Well here’s bare truth why…

• Why is Innovation Important in Business?

Innovation in business means a business can survive in a changing landscape. It means your business can reinvent itself. It means you can suddenly create new paths forward that may not have been evident before. Innovation will help a business diversify when the old ways aren’t cutting the mustard. 

Now for the sign of hope. Wouldn’t it be a cruel world if I told you that some people are born innovative and some are not? Well take the covers off your head because fortunately that isn’t true.

Innovation is a habit that anyone can cultivate.  You can start today. It will help you with innovation in business or in your personal life. Here are three fun ways to up your COVID innovation game today. 

Picasso innovated:
drawing with light on long exposure film

• Three Ways to be More Innovative

So I hope I’ve made my case for the importance of innovation. Now more than ever! Here are three simple tips that you can put to work to help flex your innovation muscles. They are the same as with any skill: you make more progress the more you practice. Without further ado, here we go!

1. Ask Better Questions

In my talks and workshops I cover this a lot. As a magician, my job is to dream up supposedly impossible situations. Then I have to figure out how to make them happen for an audience. This dreaming state of mind is incredibly useful for generating ideas.  

Here’s a powerful exercise that I strongly recommend to help you start thinking like a magician. It’s called ‘The Magic What If…’ What if… there was a way to change how we deliver our service? What if… we could do this in a whole new way? What if… we transform this COVID catastrophe into the greatest opportunity our business has had in the past decade? Do you see just how inspiring it is to slip into that way of thinking?

I show participants how to examine the questions they ask.  The questions we ask directly inspire and inform the answers we will get (or don’t!)

2. Find New Uses for Old Stuff

Go to your disaster drawer in the kitchen or bedroom and dump out all the crap onto the table.  You may see a coin with a hole in it from that trip to China in gap year, or the annoying wire spring puzzle from a Christmas cracker that has a ring on it that you never figured out how to release. 

Look at that pile of wonderful, banal, curious random stuff and pick five of your favourite objects. Set them in front of you and write down as many uses for them that they were NOT designed for.  The more you do this, the better you’ll get at it. 

Play this game every evening for two weeks. See if anyone else in the household is better at it than you. Then ask yourself how this way of thinking could spill over into your work as well? Or if you’re looking for work, how could that skill help you think in new ways to find something different?

I could tell you right now about an amazing experiment NASA did employing this same sort of game to test ‘genius.’ Children are naturals at this game. And the same children get worse at it as they get older.  I could tell you more, but your time is precious so just trust me. Yes trust me when I tell you that our rigid ways of seeing the world ‘as it is’ are learned.  Just as we learned it, so too can we unlearn it.

3. Experiment and Refine

This is the action part of things that good old Theodore Levitt was talking about in the quote above. Dreaming up ideas is one thing, but we have to put them out into the world if we stand half a chance of being innovative. 

Do you know what that means? We’re going to encounter the F word! No, I mean FAILURE will come from our prototypes (yes, provoking, perhaps, the other F word).  We’ll need to evaluate the feedback and make revisions. We’ll need to have multiple deadlines to keep throwing our experiments out into the world to make them innovate better than the last time. But first, failure is a necessary ingredient of innovation.

Magicians face this all the time with new material.  When a magician comes up with a  new routine, the first time it gets put in front of an audience can be terrifying! The audience will invariably correct you about any number of faults in your grand design. It’s then that I have to retreat back to my magic cave licking my wounds and make the necessary adjustments to improve it.  

Yesterday I read an interview with David Copperfield. He has had his own theatre at MGM Grand in Las Vegas since 2000. When he was rolling out a new illusion recently, he sent his associates into the lobby after the show to ask the audience if they believed that the woman really had been teleported to that tropical island in the show. At first, the answers turned up more nos than yesses. They kept going back and revising the illusion. They kept asking the audience until the overwhelming response was yes. 

So to recap, remember:

  • Ask better questions
  • Play with new solutions for old things
  • Experiment and refine

I hope these ideas have inspired you to try something new with how you relate to innovation during COVID-19. And as always, let me know how you get on!

POST SCRIPT: Thanks for coming along on the adventure. Drop me a note in the comments below and I hope to see you again after a few more turns in the trail.

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