In Greek Mythology, Hercules had 12 trials to overcome. These included slaying lions, 9-headed monsters, and cleaning the stables of immortal livestock. If the ancient statues are accurate at all, Hercules completed all of these trials without wearing pants. Imagine what he could have done in a pair of jeans?
Moving on to some recent (and perhaps more relevant) events. COVID-19's negative effects should never be underplayed or ignored. Having said that, there is one positive thing that shines out in the gloom: societal change. In the last few years, negative events have sparked the adoption of new behaviours. During the SARS pandemic, eCommerce thrived. The 2008 financial crisis sparked the Uber and Airbnb revolution. Can you guess what COVID-19 has sparked?
A dream come true
Working from home is now a thing. Prior to COVID-19, how many grouchy conversations did you have about working from home? If you're anything like me, quite a lot. What stood in the way? The ship doesn't sail until everyone's on board. So here we are, we're all on board. Guess what? It isn't the cruise we all thought it would be. Allow me to explain.
Working from home comes with a price. That price is a detrimental loss of innovation. Team cohesion, constant contact and communication, all drive inspiration. Without inspiration, there's no innovation. It seems that the only way to get innovation is to stop working remotely. That has one very clear ramification, we're still in the midst of a pandemic and people's health is at stake. There's another, less obvious ramification. Working from home has increased productivity.
Without the constant distraction of chatty colleagues, frequent coffee breaks, and ad hoc tasks, productivity has shot through the roof. The dilemma is, do you kill productivity to drive innovation or do you kill innovation to keep increased productivity? Increased productivity is a short-term win. It improves your bottom-line in the here and now. Innovation is a long-term game. It gives you an edge when it comes to penetrating new markets, optimizing processes, and building better products. You can't pick one, you need both.
What makes innovation
There are many hypotheses as to what drives innovation within a business. Some will tell you that it's a combination of smart people, process and policy. Others will tell you that innovation is about need, funding, and research. Clearly, it has something to do with being around people, else our isolation from one another wouldn't have made such an impact.
In its simplest form, innovation is born when your perception of an external situation is altered by an internal shift in perspective. The shift will help you see the situation from a different angle, which opens you up to different solutions. Think of it like a Rubik's cube. You're not going to solve a Rubik's cube if you just look at it from one side. What causes these shifts? Empathy. What causes empathy? A leading cause is listening to and understanding other human beings. There are outliers who seem to generate innovative ideas out of nothing, but it is very likely that they're just really good at understanding people's needs and shifting their own perspectives accordingly.
So where does that leave us? What's the solution? Is there some sort of killer app? The answer is no. But perhaps, now that you're aware of the innovation issue, you can make more of an effort to keep in touch with your colleagues and do some active listening. Video chats don’t need to be restricted to meetings.
2020 has been an absolutely devastating trial for everyone. There have been a record amount of retrenchments, economies have crashed, and things seem bleak. Like Hercules, we will overcome these trials. Most of us still have our pants and that puts us a step ahead of him.
*This article was originally published on Retailing Africa
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