Rapid innovation proves capability in the face of crises

Recently, businesses, governments and entire industries have been quick to adapt and innovate in order to survive COVID-19 in the short-term while maintaining a view of long-term recovery.

09 July 2020

Amidst the tumultuous times of recent months, businesses, governments and entire industries have been quick to adapt and innovate in order to survive COVID-19 in the short-term while maintaining a view of long-term recovery.

We explore how some companies are innovating to stay afloat during shutdowns and others are rising to the medical challenges. Does this give hope to those who would like to see greater action and innovative thinking towards other global problems like climate change?

Exploring our innovation in the short-term

Recently, we have seen this wide scale advancement in two forms: 1, to save businesses, wider industries and livelihoods and 2, the health sector adapting to save lives in the face of the novel virus.

Looking at businesses, those with innovation at their core such as Big Tech (e.g. Microsoft and Alphabet) have a competitive edge during crises. Other smaller companies striving to solve problems with disruptive new technologies and business models are also staying afloat with some even transcending the crisis. Innovation has been their lifeline.

Across many sectors, companies have been quick to adapt with digital technologies changing the way they conduct business from employees working from home using video conferencing tools, collaboration software to attending digital events and webinars.

When global supply chains were disrupted and demand for certain goods spiked, many businesses adapted their products and services such as alcohol producers and perfumeries making hand sanitiser, retail moving completely online and restaurants, cafes and bars offering delivery services and new customer experiences.

We have also seen innovation in terms of upskilling and the transfer of skills. Nurses have upskilled to treat COVID-19 patients, and successful sectors piggybacked struggling sectors. This was seen recently with Woolworths’ hiring of Qantas staff and as part of economic survival packages such as Working for Victoria designed to connect workers with new opportunities.

Legislation has been quick to adapt with the fast tracking of changes to tenancy laws for retail and residential tenants, while general practitioners have implored legislators to adapt laws to remove the ‘red tape’ inhibiting them from treating COVID-19 patients.

The healthcare industry experienced fundamental development in the form of changes to medical diagnostics, biotech research and drug development, data led connected medical devices and the launch of Telehealth; the use of telecommunication techniques for the purpose of providing telemedicine, medical education, and health education over a distance.

Community groups utilised social media to solve problems such as ‘adopt a health care worker,’ an online campaign provide solidarity with frontline healthcare workers.

It is clear that this wave of innovation, with adaptation at its core, has been unprecedented in the short-term.

The speed of decisions Australia has been forced to make has resulted in widespread innovation that will be implemented over and above the pandemic.

So what does the long-term look like? Have we evolved?

The recent stalling of international travel and supply chain disruptions has opened up increased opportunities for Australian businesses; we may see an increase in localised trade and manufacturing with greater domestic storage.

The way we travel may change in the long-term due to the increase in virtual events and conferences voiding the need for international travel. Due to the longer-term shut down of borders our ‘nation of travellers’ will generate a resurgence of domestic travel.

James Cook Chief Investment Officer at U Ethical furthers this in terms of investing, explaining that ‘we’ve already learned lessons from the pandemic that will guide us well into the future’.

“If we look at the fossil fuels industry which is inherently terminal, investors are moving out of oil and gas exposure and into sustainable funds which have seen recent out-performance over mainstream funds.

“As oil is transitioned out and more sustainable energy phased in, the economy can work towards mitigating issues such as unemployment in ‘fossil fuel’ industries by adopting rapid innovation, such as the transfer of skills, retraining and fast-tracked changes to legislation.

“We’ve proven we can join forces and solve problems with the speed of advancement required in the face of the pandemic – could we apply the same rigour to the pressing issue of climate change?

“I think we’re more capable than we give ourselves credit to tackle major crises - rapid advancements seen in recent months is our proof.

“Positively, investors are becoming privy to this and redirecting their capital to sustainable, clean-energy options,” said Cook.

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