Written By: Rujeko Adlyne Bara

Thanks to the Covid 19 global crisis, firms have been pushed to the precipice where there is only one mantra: Innovate or Die! This then presents a dilemma of unprecedented proportions. If companies have been decimated by this crisis leaving them incapacitated, how then can they innovate? Are they then not just left with one option: Die? The prospects and opportunities to make a transformation through thinking and acting differently are existent but only for the ingenious rapid thinkers and actors.

An innovation is a generation, admission and realization of new things such as processes, ideas, products and services. Innovation must include original invention and ingenious use. There are many different types of innovations found in today’s world including Service, Incremental, Sustainable, Supply and Disruptive Innovations.

It seems Sustainable Innovation, also called Routine Innovation, is what most companies, especially the very large organisations, have been relying on for years. This kind of innovation occurs on an incremental basis. This is usually a result of improvements in technology or as a response to market and consumer demands. Famous examples of Sustainable Innovations include integrated steel mills, main frames and mini computers, fixed line telephony, four-year colleges, full service department stores and doctors’ offices. The ever-present threat is that these businesses tend to innovate faster than their customer’s needs thus ending up producing products that are eventually too sophisticated, expensive and complicated to many customers thus potentially leading to their demise.

In recent history, global trends have been pointing to a new innovation champion, more so now than ever before, because the Covid 19 pandemic has upended every aspect of our lives leading to a major economic shock. Businesses have closed, some are scaling down their operations, business activities have slowed down and some companies are seeing lower revenues. These harsh times have undoubtedly nurtured Disruptive Innovations.

Forbes Business defines Disruptive Innovation as an innovation that aids in the creation of a new market, value system and ultimately goes on to disrupt an existing market system, dislodging an earlier technology. In this perspective, the term ‘disruptive’ does not mean to cause disorder or to interrupt – it means to replace or to disrupt the status quo. At present, the term ‘disruption’ validates any and every innovation coming out of the technology sector. The term “disruptive innovation’ was popularised by Professor Clay Christensen in his iconic book, “The Innovator’s Dilemma”.

Potential disruptors begin by effectively targeting those ignored segments thereby acquiring a foothold by providing more suitable functionality at a lower price. These firms find a means to transform complicated and expensive products into simpler and more affordable ones, which appeal to consumers who hitherto lacked the money and the expertise to own and use the incumbent’s products. Incumbents chasing higher profitability in more arduous segments tend not to respond robustly. This gives the entrants the chance to move upmarket, delivering the performance that incumbents’ mainstream customers require, while protecting the gains that drove their early success. When mainstream customers start adopting the entrants’ offerings in volume, disruption has occurred and it will be too late for the incumbents.

A modern Disruptive Innovation example is the internet. It meaningfully transformed the way companies do business and at the same time adversely impacted companies that were unwilling to adapt to it. Iconic examples of Disruptive Innovations include steel mini mills, video streaming, online encyclopaedia and references, smartphones, radios, personal computers, retail medical clinics and photography. Recent disruptive technology examples include online news sites and GPS systems and e-commerce. YouTube is a disruptive medium but what is more fascinating is that it has become a stage upon which other disruptions are launched. Zoom, with over 300 million active participants daily on their platform, has emerged as a story of huge Disruptive Innovation across the whole world. Netflix is a disruptor that has changed how customers watch movies and TV shows. Amazon is a disruption marvel. It is seen as one of the world’s most disruptive companies, because people love it so much that they forget they are paying for the services. Disruptive technologies include social media platforms, robotics and Big Data. Not every new technology or innovation will alter the business landscape but some truly do have the potential to disrupt the status quo.

Africa has neither been forgotten nor left behind. M-Pesa and Uber are riding the wave of disruption. M-Pesa is a mobile money transfer system operated by Kenya’s largest cellular phone provider, Safaricom. This simple and effective mobile payment service’s strength lies in its simplicity and customer centrism, using affordable basic mobile phones rather and an extensive network of franchised M-Pesa agents where anyone can transfer money simply by texting. Uber used a simplified business model to disrupt the taxi industry. The founders were able to create a service no one knew they needed. Zimbabwe’s very own Ecocash mobile money platform is also a disruptor of the banking sector and it has moved in leaps and bounds in a very short space of time. Many African schools and colleges, especially here in Zimbabwe have been using various online learning platforms to ensure that students complete their curriculars and courses during this lockdown period. These online platforms, like Zoom are disruptive technologies. This indeed shows that this wave of disruption has indeed covered the whole globe.

From time to time, it takes a devastating event to force change and modernisation as we have witnessed in the healthcare industry due to the effects of the Covid 19 pandemic. Both patients and healthcare providers have been forced to make use of Telemedicine, where they are forced into live-video visits that have been surprisingly effective. In your business, inclining into these inevitable changes can be an effective way to stay profitable.

Communication and collaboration tools like Zoom and Facebook are an integral part of the communication process especially during this Covid 19 era where most people are working remotely. Make use of video conferencing tools to host workshops, conferences, virtual boot camps etc. Think how your company can offer its services virtually via videos, eBooks, product guides or the creation of interactive websites.

Rent pop-up offices for as long as you need them. Virtual office spaces are great for businesses that obviously no longer require big corporate offices. Consulting firm McKinsey, say in their recent article ‘Ready, set, go: Reinventing the organisation for speed in the post Covid 19 era’, companies must rapidly make decisions, continuously improve productivity and obviously use data and technology in new ways so as to accelerate the scope and scale of innovation.

Rujeko Adlyne Bara is the Sales and Marketing Manager of Avant-Garde Steel and is a Freelance writer. She is a member of the Marketers Association of Zimbabwe. She writes in her personal capacity.