2020 was quite a year. It started out like any other year, but by March, a global pandemic threw the economy—and almost every other aspect of our society—into a tailspin. I still remember meeting with our leadership team in early March to discuss contingency plans, and wondering whether or not we were overreacting. However, within days, our fears became reality as lockdowns affected businesses throughout our region.
Those lockdowns, which occurred right in the heart of our profession’s busy season, forced us to rethink almost every aspect of our business. We suddenly had to find ways to perform fieldwork even though we couldn’t work in the field. We had to find ways to recruit and develop employees who we couldn’t meet in person. We had to find ways to fill the new business pipeline in an environment where we couldn’t meet with prospects. The good news is that many of the changes we implemented have been beneficial for both our clients and employees and, as a result, will likely remain in place long after this pandemic ends. I imagine the same holds true for almost every business.
As we turn to 2021, how can we maintain the pace of innovation?
Years ago, I read The Innovator’s DNA: Mastering the Five Skills of Disruptive Innovators, a book by Clayton Christensen, one of the world’s leading experts on innovation. In that book, Christensen argued that, contrary to the widespread belief that breakthroughs come from unrestrained, free-flowing thought, innovation often results from the need to overcome constraints. In order to generate new ideas, he recommended asking “what if” questions that either imposed or eliminated constraints. For example, what would you do if you lost your largest customer? What would you do if you lost your largest supplier? What would you do if your largest plant closed? What new products or services would you develop if money were no object? This relatively simple, but powerful exercise can result in extraordinary breakthroughs.
Making time for “what if” exercises can help you maintain or, better yet, increase the pace of innovation in 2021 and beyond. Most importantly, the insights you gain can help you plan for previously unforeseen risks and identify breakthroughs to enhance long-term growth and profitability.
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