Crisis – the catalyst for rapid innovation

by Pippa Bailey and Murat Demiral
Business & Finance

“Necessity is the mother of invention” – Plato

History has demonstrated that some of the most ground-breaking and enduring innovations have been driven by a crisis, be that war or pandemics. The invention of the food canning process in 1810 to preserve rations during the Napoleonic wars, geo-mapping applied by physician John Snow to uncover the source of the infections during the great Cholera pandemic of London in 1854, and not least, the work of Alan Turing and his team in breaking the coded German communications produced by the Enigma machine during World War II.

When strain is put on a system it can either adapt or become extinct – and the same is true of any organisation facing rapid disruption and change. As Darwin himself put it: “it is not the strongest of the species that survives, but rather, that which is most adaptable to change”.

Add to this the extraordinary acceleration of technology, and we have hyper fast innovation. There is no room in this world for complacency in any business, but instead the need to remain ever more attuned to the changing dynamics of society, culture, and competitor landscapes which drive the expectations of the public, customers and consumers.

To put this in context, the average global life expectancy 60 years ago was 51. This has since increased to 73. Inversely, the life expectancy of a large business 60 years ago was 75 years, but fast-forward to today and that figure is just 15 years.1 The downfall of companies like Kodak, Blockbuster and Nokia are all held up as examples of how even the mightiest brands can fall if complacency and ‘wilful blindness’ creeps in.

There is no room in this world for complacency in any business

Person training on laptop to boost their digital skills

COVID-19 has driven more people into a digital acceleration

In our survey of research and insight leaders, half believe there is a high level of disruption in their business context2 and that this is likely to be exacerbated further by the pandemic. Digital transformation is a key element in this disruption, and was summed up by Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, who said: “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months”. During the spring lockdown, 35% in the UK took action to boost their digital skills – or were forced to by circumstances – and over a quarter of UK consumers used online banking for the first time.3

Despite this high level of disruption, only 15% of the research and insight leaders we surveyed think that their business is responding to change fast enough.

COVID-19 has driven more people into a digital acceleration. This in turn is driving expectations for more frictionless and intuitive online experiences. Some of the notable adaptations we have seen during the pandemic are a move to virtual healthcare, the rapid growth of online purchasing, and the move by brands towards their own direct to consumer commerce. Brands and sectors have pivoted fast to support changing needs. As an example, distilleries making hand sanitiser,4 Zoom funerals,5 and local pubs and restaurants turning into takeaways,6 to name a few.

Colourful light representing innovation

The need to pivot is real for most businesses, both large and small, as fast, agile innovation has become a necessity more than just business as usual. For example, huge companies like P&G and Unilever renewing their bets on their portfolio, all the way to small tradespeople changing their business models.7

This pandemic has caused us all to fast-forward to be smarter, sharper and more focused on what needs to be done to move forward and thrive. The pressure created by COVID-19 has caused good solutions to rise to the top and older and outdated systems to fall away. But, in order to achieve better solutions moving forward there is a real need for things to change and to innovate more quickly. There is the universal acknowledgement in our survey that employing more agile principles and processes has the potential to drive product and service innovation. The only question is which businesses will be adaptable enough, and effective enough at execution, to thrive. If Darwin is right – it won’t always be the biggest companies – although Amazon is doing a good job to prove him wrong by being agile and adaptable.

Agile innovation has become a necessity more than just business as usual

Pippa Bailey

Pippa Bailey

Head of Innovation

Murat Demiral

Murat Demiral

Managing Partner, Ipsos Strategy3


  1. Steve Denning, Forbes. CBInsights. Richard Foster, Creative Destruction
  2. Ipsos Agile Survey – May-Sept 2020
  3. Ipsos Financial Research Survey – 13,685 interviews were conducted between May-July 2020 among adults aged 18+, 13,377 interviews were conducted between Jan-Mar 2020 among adults aged 18+ and 14,657 interviews were conducted between May-July 2019 among adults aged 18+