Back in 2009, Business Week ran an article, “10 Worst Innovation Mistakes in a Recession.”

At the time, I was busy with a number of global companies helping them to focus on strategies to accelerate through the downturn. With that in mind, I wrote in the comments section of their article: “It’s easy to point out mistakes. It can be harder to indicate what you should be doing.” I then wrote an article, “10 Things You Need to Do to innovate in a Recession.” It’s shared below.

Here’s the thing: as the Covad-19 crisis spreads and economic volatility rears its ugly head, you are probably starting to go through what I call “The 7 Stages of Economic Grief.” I used this screen a lot from late 2008 to 2012….

I was busy pointing out that innovation winners are those who concentrate – early on in an economic downturn – to prepare for the upturn. I’ve got a lot of written and video guidance that I will be sharing in the coming days.

The fact is, I’ve been out speaking to organizations about trends, the future, innovation and creativity for 25 years. Often this has involved rapidly adjusting my theme to one of “how you can innovate during a recession” – I nailed it on stage after the 2001 dot.com collapse, and again with the global economic meltdown of 2008.

And so as enter a new era of volatility, what should leaders be thinking about?

Staying out in front!

Over those years, I’ve had the opportunity of seeing first hand quite a few very innovative strategies from CEO’s and others in a wide variety of events, and I keep modifying my message at rapid speed to incorporate a vast variety of ideas. In that context, here’s a video clip I was spinning on stage, moments after I was introduced by David Novak, CEO of Yum! Brands – KFC, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut – as I opened their global leadership conference a few weeks before in Las Vegas, March 2009!

Stay in front! While volatility rocks our world, winners pursue the future while uncertainty reigns!

10 Things You Need to Do To Innovate in a Recession
Futurist Jim Carroll, April 2009

So I just took a few minutes to post a comment to the Business Week site, and I’ll post my quick thoughts here too. Here’s a list of 10 off the top of my head:

1. Focus your team — relentlessly — on growth. I keynoted a global organization in Las Vegas in February. The CEO got on stage before me — and spoke about the recession for one minute. He then spent 19 minutes speaking to the growth opportunities that the organization could pursue. That’s what everyone needs to do right now. There are growth opportunities in every industry. Focus on them!

2. Respond faster. When I keynoted a food industry summit in New York, we spoke of the need to respond faster to the fact that consumer preferences were changing more rapidly than ever before. More people eating at home, sensitive to dollars, looking for food-comfort. Reformulate new brand and product options faster. Just do it. Don’t study — do.

3. Invest in the brand. Brands can become weaker in a recession, particularly as consumers scramble for value. Decide where you want to reposition your product/brand, and act fast to do it rather than studying it to death.

4. Mix it up. Don’t assume that worked before the recession will work now. Try out a lot of ideas, particularly around value. “I’m experimenting rapidly with price points and product mix.”

5. Invest in experience. Lots of your staff will be down in the dumps, and are spinning their wheels. Get a message out that NOW is the time to invest in experience. Try things out, to build up the collective experience of your team.

6. Kill off the innovation killers. Reframe your team, so that they are thinking “what a great idea,” rather than viewing with suspicion any new ideas. Remember — everyone is worried about being laid off, and paranoia sucks the life out of innovation faster than anything else.

7. Collaborate within the industry. When I keynoted the American Nursery and Landscape Association recently, I stood in awe of the blog they were running that was offering practical, on the ground, easy to implement ideas that retailers could put into their stores NOW.

8. Seek ideas. Go knowledge farming once a day, looking for ideas on customer service, operations, IT strategies, and just about anything else. There’s a flood of ideas out there — now’s a great time to chase them down and do things.

9. Partner up. Sure, resources are scarcer during a recession. That’s why you can speed up innovation with anything — from advertising, to customer service, business model implementation, IT strategy, opportunities for operational excellence or just about anything else — by seeking partners to help you out. That will help you achieve key goals faster.

10. Get over it. Lots of organizations are still stuck in the anger and denial phase of the Seven Steps of Economic Grief. Make a decision to get into the acceptance stage, and move on. This will recession will pass, just like every other one.

There are dozens more…..


THE FUTURE BELONGS TO THOSE WHO ARE FAST features the best of the insight from Jim Carroll’s blog, in which he
covers issues related to creativity, innovation and future trends.