A period of crisis can be a boon for innovation. Defined as “a time of intense difficulty, trouble, or danger”, a crisis is also an extremely effective catalyst for rapid ideation and decisive action.
The Apollo 13 moon-landing mission in 1970 offers a well-known example of successful innovation during a crisis, after an unexpected, in-flight explosion damaged the spacecraft. Under extremely tense circumstances, NASA engineers on the ground took quick action to improvise in-flight repairs that ultimately saved the lives of all three crew members.
Fifty years later, the global COVID-19 pandemic crisis has catalyzed many powerful innovations, some providing near-term relief and others offering long-term impact. For example, as the pandemic began exploding around the world, distilleries in multiple countries immediately pivoted to production of hand sanitizer to help meet an enormous spike in demand. Grocery stores re-tooled inventory management practices to keep food and supplies flowing to customers, even as panic-buying overwhelmed the system.
In healthcare, various telemedicine solutions were rolled out, practically overnight, as providers quickly rallied to offer alternative healthcare access supporting physical/social distancing protocols and allowing prioritization of hospital and clinic facility space for COVID-19 patients. Innovators in 3D printing – and even the Tesla car manufacturer – stepped in with emergency production of parts in need, such as components for face shields, ventilators, and test swabs. New AI algorithms were rapidly developed to assist with screening for and detection of COVID-19.
In contrast to Apollo 13, the COVID-19 crisis is not fully resolvable in a matter of hours or days. The return to pre-COVID conditions will be slow and gradual, and in some cases, will never occur.
The silver lining is that the immense amount of creativity and ingenuity catalyzed by this crisis is as unprecedented as the situation itself. It is resulting in an unparalleled mobilization of bold ideas and decisions that will positively improve the lives of global citizens for years to come, in future pandemic scenarios as well as everyday life. People and businesses will not be inclined to willingly part with new conveniences, efficiencies, or advancements, merely because the crisis that originally inspired them has abated.