Stop Trying to ‘Bounce Back’ to Normal

By Scott Kirsner |  June 25, 2020

At a recent InnoLead online gathering, participants discussed what activities in our work and personal lives might “bounce back” to something like we knew before the coronavirus pandemic. Dennis Smith suggested that rather than trying to restore all of the activities that characterized February 2020 in the US, we should be thinking about how to “bounce forward” toward something new. After the gathering, InnoLead asked Smith to elaborate on the idea of “bouncing forward.” 

Smith is an Innovation Integration Manager at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Lab, a nonprofit research center that employs about 6,300 people in Laurel, Maryland. This contribution from Smith is part of Innovation Leader’s most recent research report, “What the Future Looks Like.” For more data and interviews on how the coronavirus pandemic is reshaping work and home life, visit the main report page

Dennis Smith, Innovation Integration Manager, Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab

Our current situation has forced companies to not only pivot, but also quickly adapt to new business strategies and tactics. This is happening in continuity-of-work manners, like shifting the work force to remote collaboration, as well as continuity-of-revenue streams, like curbside pick-up in the retail and restaurant sectors. Curbside pick-up is an opportunity to consider how business operations and customer engagement [will evolve] in the new norm.

Prior to quarantine, many stores had attempted on-line order/in-store pick-up. This experience was either lackluster, poorly staffed, or more of a reflexive add-on in response to competition. Furthermore, it went against conventional wisdom of, “People want to come in the store, they like it, they want to see products and touch them.” But the survival-mode move to set-up curbside pick-up represents a “bounce forward” in what we think customers will do, will accept, ultimately want. Post COVID-19, it seems that curbside pick-up will be a viable option, and one that a segment of customers will seek out.

Innovative organizations should…see this as an opportunity to make a transformative leap forward.

There is a strong pull to “return to normalcy,” which is in line with “bounce back” thinking. This is expected behavior and a traditional mindset, as a natural inclination is to steer towards habituation – find the way things “are” and stay there. Innovative organizations should consider how they not only let go of the past (in hindsight, nostalgia can taint your view and memory), but how they see this as an opportunity to make a transformative leap forward, or “bounce forward.” Become the organization, in practice, tactics or strategy, you aspire to be.

Back to the example of curbside pick-up – this may appear to be an incremental change to business. But it can also be considered as a way to leap past recent barriers, an entirely new way to engage customers. Meet them where they really live and desire to be – with the speed of on-line retail, but in accord with “living and shopping” in their community. Increased foot traffic in store isn’t the only way to build a profitable organization.