Innovation Amid Crisis



The global current situation may have many of us tethering at the edge of our seats - perhaps pondering when will we see the light at the end of the tunnel or better yet reasoning what can be made out of it. Where did I put that flashlight?


Let’s break down the linguistic of ‘crisis’! The word crisis was borrowed from the Latin, which means discrimination, decision. But in English, the word crisis was first used in a medical context in the development of a disease when a change indicates either recovery or death, that is, a turning point. Sounds very familiar right? But by now it has taken on the figurative meaning of a "vitally important or decisive stage in the progress of anything", especially a period of uncertainty or difficulty, without necessarily having the implication of a decision-point.


Let us take a look at some of the success stories in bad times:


Monopoly, the best selling board game in the world, was created by Charles B. Darrow in the early 1930s. In 1934, he introduced the game to the Parker Brothers, a global gaming giant but his proposal was rejected. Darrow then decided to produce and sell several thousand copies of the board game by himself, which eventually caught the attention of the Parker Brothers who offered to partner and mass-produce the board game we all know of today.


The fluorescent light bulb was invented by General Electric during the recession in the 1970s due to the oil crisis; oil prices were quadrupled by OPEC which led to severe stagflation in the United States. General Electric was initially concerned with the need to create new manufacturing facilities for a bulb that they thought was not much different from existing incandescent bulbs. The design however was leaked to other companies who realized the energy-saving potential the fluorescent light bulb has and it has become a staple in our lives today.


What about global innovations that have transformed the way we live today? Take a look at these 3 key innovations which are playing a prominent role in our lives today:


New Zealand surgeon Harrold Gillies established the first hospital specially dedicated to the treatment of facial injuries in 1917 after being horrified at the extent of disfiguring facial injuries soldiers had during the first World War. He invented ways of grafting skin, muscle and bone which developed into the modern plastic surgery we know of today, rising in popularity particularly over the past few years.


One of the world’s most important inventions; the first programmable, electronic, digital computer was designed by Post Office engineer Tommy Flowers in Dollis Hill, London in 1943. The Colossus Mark 1 was used to crack messages sent and received by the German High Command during the Second World War. Today, most of the world’s population have access to computers which are deemed necessary for businesses to function and have made communicating with people across the globe now plausible with applications such as Zoom, Skype etc.


The Internet developed due to the rising concerns of the Cold War as the US military wanted a computer communications system lacking a central core to defend against the Soviet’s cyber attacks. The US Department of Defense created the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) in the late 1960s which evolved into the internet we know today. The Internet is commonplace in our lives today; we can obtain any kind of information we need on the Internet with just a click.


Many businesses and organizations across different sectors started to embrace digital, data and analytics functionality that hasn't happened before due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Most of them have to adjust accordingly to overcome the challenges posed by the pandemic; innovating new capabilities, products and services in the shortest possible time to cope with the huge pressure from all their relevant stakeholders.


One great example would be the team at Warrington and Halton Teaching Hospitals, who modified the Black Box (initially used to treat sleep apnea) to treat COVID-19 patients due to the rapid rise in the number of these patients resulted in them facing an international acute shortage of ventilators. This recombinant innovation in a time of need without delay means that there is less need for more intrusive and invasive ventilators and patients experience a quicker recovery rate, making a hugely positive impact on people’s lives.


So what can we look forward to in these unprecedented times? Crisis forces people to rethink and reinvent their way of thinking; focusing on the short term challenges that they will face in order to stay relevant, tide through these tough periods and come up with quick, innovative and practical solutions. These unprecedented times put us in precarious positions at times, however, they bring about many positive outcomes such as bringing different groups of people together to help each other.


Last year, a Singaporean freelance lifestyle photographer


Tan offered a one-time free food photography and styling service to F&B businesses locally during the circuit breaker period since many of the office workers had work-from-home arrangements, leading to a decline in their sales. The hawkers were also not tech-savvy and their stalls have a weak social media presence but with Mr Tan’s photos, their orders increased by 50-60% after using them on Facebook and delivery platforms. Looking forward, we must be proud of ourselves for thinking on our feet and reacting quickly with all the innovative solutions we have managed to come up with. Just remember we are not alone in this battle with COVID-19.


Much success in innovation has been found amidst a crisis as seen from our very own history as part of mankind; many of them even attaining global recognition and are still very much in use today. As we are still in the midst of one, we must strive to maintain relevance in such a complex and volatile world while looking for new, viable solutions to upcoming problems and challenges that we can possibly foresee in not only the short term but also in the longer run.

Innovation isn’t just a tool to help us navigate through this period, rather it evolves and manifests into something viable from the experiences of each individual, for the betterment of the world.


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