How Innovators Can Prepare for Tough Times

By Scott Kirsner |  December 1, 2022

How do economic downturns affect innovation initiatives? And what can you be doing today to put yourself in a better position should a day of reckoning arrive?

True market leaders know they need to invest in both exploiting today’s businesses, and exploring uncharted terrain to discover new ones, says Harvard Business School professor Michael Tushman. “But explore groups take money — you don’t explore for free,” Tushman says. “In a downturn, there’s more emphasis on the exploit work. That’s a dead-end, because the downturn eventually ends, and new opportunities come along.” But maintaining the right level of resource allocation between explore and exploit, he says, “is not easy, even without a recession.”

To help you plan for (and survive) challenging times, in 2020 and 2021, we collected advice from people who have guided innovation, insights, and incubation groups through difficult stretches, at companies like Starbucks, Whirlpool, Intel, and Levi Strauss & Co.