Guest Column | May 6, 2020

Innovation During A Pandemic

By Todd Danielson, Chief Utilities Executive, Avon Lake Regional Water


Many of us get comfortable in our routines. With the pandemic throwing routine out the window, life has become a little like it did for the characters in the parable, Who Moved My Cheese? For those who haven’t read it, Spencer Johnson’s book is a great lesson about adapting to change. Two characters in the book take their situation (a large pile of cheese) for granted; and, when the cheese pile disappears, they curse the world for its unfairness. Two other characters notice the pile dwindling, accept the situation for what it is, adapt, and immediately head out to look for new cheese. The story continues, where one of the two characters originally cursing the world realizes that the only way to survive is to try something new. That character overcomes the fear of doing something new/different, begins enjoying new challenges, and is rewarded by an even bigger pile of cheese.

The pandemic seriously moved our cheese piles, and all of us are learning how to adapt to new realities (or decide not to adapt and then waste away). To be successful, we must adapt quickly. To be really successful, we must come up with new ways of thinking, foresee where things may be going, try new things… In short, we must innovate.

Innovation does not necessarily mean coming up with some new widget that everyone needs. Yes, that is one aspect of innovation. However, focusing on the widget misses the point of innovation. Innovation is the process of coming up with something new/better to address a perceived issue. To properly innovate, the new idea/way/widget addresses the perceived issue, while also addressing all of the issues the previous way of doing things had addressed. Most importantly, one of the biggest benefits of innovation is opening people’s minds to look for new ideas that both continue to address all of the important things the old ideas addressed and to also address issues where the old ideas fell short.

There are plenty of examples of innovation during the pandemic. Look how quickly people/companies embraced video conferencing, working from home, and broadcasting public meetings over the internet. Some might not call that innovation; but in some of the companies where it was done, that could truly be considered innovative (or at least progressive). Others may consider this more innovative: People have constructed acrylic plastic partitions in vehicles and/or hung shower curtains to help with social distancing in commercial vehicles. There are even more innovative ideas being implemented where people are measuring the concentration of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater to predict where outbreaks may be occurring.

We all know, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” As we finally move past the pandemic, let’s hope that we do not all settle back into routine and forget the benefits of innovating. People and organizations have become much more nimble and open/responsive to change. The world is moving more quickly. To survive and, even better, thrive, we must all move more quickly, adapt, and innovate.