While our innovations during times of crisis often have some ethereal driving force behind them, the desire to fix something that would better our overall lives drives most successful innovations. An incredible outpouring of empathy that fosters innovation is key to success. If you want great design, you need to start with people and what they do, what they need, and most importantly, what they experience when trying to do things. The same holds true for innovation. To innovate, we need to understand people’s struggles, but also what they actually like about an experience. Empathy lets us create something that no one really even knew people needed. Ultimately, we want innovation to have a positive impact on people and the communities of which they are a part. Innovation can align disparate groups. The advantages of a crisis are that it aligns people in a common cause. We see this not just during health crises but also during times of war, political turmoil, or overall upheaval.
In addition to empathy, innovating in times of crisis requires having a strong will that is informed by empathy. To innovate effectively, we must harness the ability to fail fast. Some within the UX design community talk a lot about the concept of failing fast—and a lot of other communities have embraced the ability to fail fast. But I have seen that this idea often does not resonate with other parts of an organization or business. This relates to the same reason businesspeople never want to talk about problems, just opportunities.
The perception that we cannot fail or that failure is a bad thing is incredibly damaging to our ability to innovate. I have long worried about the impact that the perceived inability to fail could have on up-and-coming UX designers. However, in such times of crisis, there is a perceptible shift toward embracing the ability to experiment again. To resolve a crisis, taking action is necessary. If that action is not successful, the crisis still remains, so we have no choice but to try again and again and again, until the crisis is resolved.
The need to keep trying until you are successful should provide a safe harbor for the concept of failing fast, making it more widely accepted as part of the overall design process. The end result of failing fast is to be successful. We should normalize this as part of the overall process of accomplishing anything great in life.
In addition to using hibernation to recharge and reconnect, we should all be leveraging this time to prepare for the future. This is the time to recognize toxicity and how it clouds our ability to be innovative. What do I mean by that?
I am talking about people who, instead of focusing on what they should be doing, focus on building a perception regarding what others are not doing? That is toxic and gets in the way of empathy and innovation. Those who cannot focus on change and innovation see only the deficiencies in what people are doing. Might that be because something was never done that way before?
Take advantage of this hibernation period that COVID-19 has imposed upon us. In the next few years, we’ll see the successes we’ve initiated today, and the world will be a better place for it.