The innovator’s mindset — often characterized by its agility and ability to work with little resources — is coming out on top during the COVID-19 pandemic. Innovation leaders are jumping in to help their senior leadership, companies, and each other during a crisis. In many large companies, innovation teams are doubling down on developing new ideas.   

This past month, we were pretty busy working on new content, too. With the help of our sponsor KPMG LLP, we published the first part of our “CxOs & Innovation” research report, where we asked innovation leaders about how the pandemic forced them to re-shape their innovation strategies. We also announced the finalists for our annual Impact Awards. 

We’ve gathered the best pieces of recent advice we’ve been given by innovators in our live show, report, and other online coverage.

1. ‘Innovation isn’t sexy. Results are sexy.’

In our first-ever anonymously published piece, a former corporate innovator answered the question: “What is Innovation Really Like in the Trenches?” 

 “While pretty much everyone wants to be known as an innovator, innovators know that very few of their ilk actually succeed. When innovators do succeed — when they see the things that no one else does, and build things that no one else can, and blow everyone’s minds in the process — they will have done it against incalculable odds.”

So, how do you set yourself apart? Avoid ambiguity. Under-promise and over-deliver. Don’t get carried away by the flashy title. Read the full story for more on what it’s really like to lead an innovation team in a large company.

2. Turn the Challenges of Remote Work into Strength 

While remote work limits serendipity, it also has some benefits, according to Alex Sion, the Co-Head of D10x, where Citibank’s venture arm incubates new ideas. “In some ways, the discipline of having to work in Zoom and more structure to some of the environments has been a net good thing,” Sion said. “We’ve been more efficient at essentially project management.”

As part of our “Charting the Future of Corporate Innovation” event, Mona Vernon, Head of Fidelity Labs, discussed how the financial services sector has reacted to a global pandemic. Watch the replay to learn more about how Vernon and Sion began looking on the bright side of remote work and found some surprising benefits.  

3. Make Sure That Your Messaging is Clear and Your Role is Visible in Your Company

If you are an innovation leader, then your job encompasses much more than rolling out disruptive ideas and products and creating change. It’s your responsibility to constantly prove the ROI and value of your team, too. This is one lesson that Michael Keogh, President of Stanley Black and Decker’s innovation arm Stanley X, learned during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“In times like this, people need to believe in the vision, and they need to feel good about where they’re being led to the future. … There’s absolutely the need for this role to be very thoughtful, and very visible,” he said.

Read the full interview to learn more about how Keogh managed to grow his team during COVID-19, and to find out what other lessons he learned this year. 

4. If a Problem Seems Too Big to Tackle, Bring it Outside the Company

It’s no secret that solving the problem of the COVID-19 pandemic is at the forefront of innovation across industries right now, but especially in healthcare. When it comes to answering big questions like “How can we test people more efficiently for COVID-19?” or “How can we develop new technologies to keep people safe and spaces sanitized?” partnerships are crucial.

In late July of this year, healthcare company Anthem joined with six Blue Cross Blue Shield plans and the XPRIZE Foundation in a joint effort to explore rapid testing for COVID-19.They put together a $5 million prize competition, where the intent was to come up with a solution that is affordable, rapid, and easy to use. In an episode of our  web show One Quick Thing, VP of Innovation Mariya Filipova dives into this challenge, as well as other important partnerships that are helping the company tackle today’s problems. 

5. It’s Time to Turn Tradition on its Head with Digital Solutions

In an industry as old as life insurance, disruption may not seem possible. But COVID-19 made it necessary.

To meet the demand for life insurance while following social distancing guidelines, Peter DeFrancesco’s team at life insurance and financial services company John Hancock accelerated an existing project in their digital portfolio. As of mid-April, customers were able to search for policies online and receive instant decisions. Changing everything about the way the way the company interacts with its customers wasn’t easy, but it was an integral part of John Hancock’s pandemic response. Read our full story to find out how DeFrancesco’s team managed to digitize within their traditional industry whiling in tune with customer needs.