Innovation in time of Crisis

Updated: Apr 21, 2020

The future right now is very different than the future we were living into only a few weeks ago. There’s a cloud of uncertainty when things will go back to normal and how this new normal will look like. What was obvious before can no longer be taken for granted now.  

Necessity is the mother of invention

In the 2008 crisis, I was leading a team that created wireless chips for mobile phones. Overnight, the demand for high-end mobile phones dropped. Our customers stopped ordering our products and our revenues shrunk rapidly. We had hundreds of employees on our payroll and it was utterly terrifying. What should we do? Should we start letting people go and wait for the market to recover?

In the harsh reality of November 2008, we did the unthinkable and held an offsite meeting with my team to imagine what the future could look like and how we could capture it. We brought in guest speakers who provided us an outside perspective. One of them spoke about how one-day machines will communicate directly to the internet. That was exactly what we were looking for, at that moment, we saw how our existing technology could realize a new vision.

In the midst of layoffs, we formed a team to incubate the Internet-of-Things business. Looking back, this decision gave us the head-start that enabled us to create and capture a huge market. We partnered with the top companies in the world and were the first to form a high growth and a high margin business. What we created back then shaped our future for over a decade.

We were not the only ones. In 2008, a handful of young startups formed new business models: AirBNB, Uber, WhatsApp, and others. They rose from the ashes and disrupted travel, hospitality and messaging. Google, a search company, released Android for the first time and Apple, a PC company, released its first iPhone 3G. The rest is history.

The future of mobility

Today we face a similar challenge, COVID-19 took over the world and transformed our environment in unrecognizable ways. The conversation in the mobility industry moved from imagining the future of self-driving cars and artificial intelligence to discussions about cash-flow and runway. Autonomous vehicles and shared-transportation transitioned from growth opportunity to an impossible arena. How can you think about sharing a ride if you need to be six feet away from people and sterilize everything around you? Can companies afford to invest in expensive development of autonomous transportation if they can’t sell cars today?

Most companies, like many people, are focusing on survival. They will trim-down and do what they can do to make a living. They will reduce or stop investing in the future and focus on their core business. After all, right now, this is their main concern.

The thing that will set companies apart in these unimaginable times is their leadership. Survival instincts will bring you home safe.  On the other hand, creative and courageous leadership could create something new in the world. Companies that will be able to create new opportunities and outstanding possibilities will have a true shot in becoming the giants of tomorrow. Startups that will dream and envision the future, teams that will incubate and hatch ideas that they were too busy to focus on earlier, will be the outliers of ״the day after”.

Although the future of the mobility industry is foggy right now, it is not likely to slow down. Waymo (a Google Subsidiary) will continue to charge forward with autonomous shuttles and trucks. Amazon and FedEx will accelerate the deployment of delivery robots. Uber will continue to transport passengers. Tesla will continue to blaze new trails with electric vehicles. We’ve passed the point of no return.

Forging the future

The circumstances may be out of our control, but who we get to be in these circumstances is entirely up to us. Right now, inside the eye-of-the-storm of COVID19, is the time to dream. It is time to ask “what if”. It will be this period of time that will redefine our reality in 2030.  

Now, the question is what kind of future are you going to build?

What are you going to do today that will make your company breakout from what’s predictable to what is possible?

What will you be proud of when you look back from 2030?