Where Should You Focus Innovation Resources?

September 1, 2020

Communities around the globe have been disrupted on an unprecedented scale. We are continuing to address the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact; we’re considering the damage done, contemplating recovery efforts, and thinking about lessons learned. 

Colin Nelson, HYPE Innovation

In some cases, the pandemic has widened cracks for companies that lacked agility and a digital strategy. In others, healthy organizations have found their main customer bases disrupted beyond recognition. 

During times of massive cuts, the building blocks for innovation are vulnerable — despite innovation being more important today than ever before. But what happens next, and how does this impact the adoption of innovation tools, processes, and culture? 

To help you determine where to focus your innovation performance efforts during the recovery, I suggest breaking things into four parts.

Strategy Building

Having the correct recovery strategy is critical, and it must go beyond tactical needs. During times of disruption, it is even more important to understand what the future may hold — whether changes to the economy, policy, or other trends will continue or come to a halt. The most progressive companies sanity check their strategy through the lens of disruption.

What you can do:

  1. Ask what new trends are emerging due to the pandemic.
  2. Engage with customers to understand their needs.
  3. Use the insights gathered to focus innovation strategy on a set of topic clusters or hunting grounds.

Harnessing Collective Intelligence

An organization’s greatest asset is its people. Leveraging their experiences dynamically to uncover new ideas, rediscover old ideas, refine existing ideas, and solve problems is key to moving quickly and making the most of what you have. Listening to customers, employees, and partners is critical to ensuring your offerings remain relevant and competitive. 

What you can do:

  1. Run idea campaigns to gather customer insights.
  2. Harness collective intelligence to look for new or emerging market opportunities.
  3. Refine existing offerings to make them more suitable for different operating conditions. 

Ecosystem and Partnering

Ensuring that you play to your strengths and allow partners to do the rest has a significant bearing on agility. Doing everything in-house is no longer an option if you want to change paths quickly. Consider your key competencies and strengths. Where are you going to need help? Smaller partners tend to innovate faster, and you may see opportunities for combining capabilities that they cannot. Partnerships help both parties during times of change.There is a vast ecosystem with a vested interest in your success, so consider including slices of that ecosystem into your innovation work. 

What you can do:

  1. Semi-automate the discovery of new potential partners.
  2. Engage segments of your ecosystem to work towards a common goal.
  3. Work with partners to get more value or reduce spend.


Look at your pipeline and consider what is active (assigned resources and money) and inactive (not currently being progressed). Is this the correct mix given the changing circumstances? Many organizations are moving towards globally-accessible pipelines, where all active concepts are tracked to avoid reinventing the wheel, and to allow for more dynamic portfolio choices. 

What you can do:

  1. Standardize basic reporting for developmental concepts over specific budget thresholds to ensure portfolio reporting is viable, aiding in decision-making and resource allocation.
  2. Harness collective intelligence to identify lost concepts that may be valuable given the changing market conditions.
  3. Review concepts that are on hold, ensuring that active initiatives are still the best way to spend resources.

Supporting your organization’s response with innovative thinking  will help ensure that your reaction to the pandemic is as effective as possible, and help prepare the foundations to be more agile and adaptable to future change — no matter what form that takes.


Colin Nelson is an expert in the field of collective intelligence, supporting complex organizations and communities on how to achieve efficient, effective, and sustainable innovation and business change using online tools and processes. InnoLead regularly publishes Thought Leadership pieces written by our Strategic Partner firms.

This piece is a part of the Fall 2020 special issue of IL’s magazine, which collects advice and insights from 25 contributors. Read the full “Innovation Matters More” magazine.