Field Reports Innovation and the economic crisis

Innovation during these hard economic times is not for the weak. Sure, it has become a popular term, but few understand it better than Darrel Rhea, CEO of Cheskin. For one simple reason: Darrel does not just talk and sell innovation, he actually walks the talk. He actually knows how to innovate, and he has a track record that would make most of our jaws drop. But what does “innovation” look like during these hard times?

Darrel and I spent the afternoon today in San Francisco, talking about design and the changing “innovation” landscape. It’s clear that companies are panicking, and with panic comes a nervousness and antsyness for immediate results. The appetite for the upfront investment, and the calm and focused mindset necessary to carry it out… well that seems to be all but gone. I think we should hand over our businesses to firemen. I’ve never seen anyone more calm and collected, than a fireman dealing with an emergency. Staying focused helps you make better decisions. Isn’t innovation about getting you to a better place? About making better decision? While I understand that companies are scrambling for cash, it seems foolish that they jettison their calm during the time that they need it the most.

So what will be the effect of the stimulus package on innovation? While undoubtedly it will help stimulate opportunities we also need to be mindful not to throw too much and expect that it will resolve our problems. In some places cash helps, in others it’s like fuel to a fire. There is no better way to kill early innovations than by throwing too much at it. What works in a small, informal setting will get obliterated when expectations grow too fast and too much; when there is more organization that content. It’s like overwatering a seedling. I’m starting to think that the stimulus package really needs a designer…..