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Agility, empathy, collaboration, and real-world problem-solving, the new key values

The new key values | IE Building Resilience

Although we are living in challenging times, the history of past crises suggests an eventual recovery plan for the world that involves innovation. Agility, empathy, collaboration, and real-world problem-solving are the keys to meeting this challenge.

By Maya Kumar, Professor of Entrepreneurship at IE University.



The past few weeks have seen a burst of creativity and initiative aimed at solving the COVID-19 pandemic. After all, necessity is the mother of all invention. In particular, I have noticed three inspiring phenomena:

Agility in research, experimentation, and innovation

Stakeholder engagement worldwide shows that society is capable of tackling real-world challenges rapidly. Global scientific research efforts on COVID-19 continue to grow. Healthcare workers are heroically saving lives while changing the face of healthcare delivery. Rapid testing kits for virus detection—including some based on machine learning—were developed in a matter of weeks, and vaccine development is already underway.

In a manner reminiscent of World War II, supply chains have been swiftly repurposed. Last month, the luxury goods manufacturer LVMH modified their perfume factory to produce hand sanitizer. Foxconn, the Taiwanese electronics giant, began making masks. Fashion designers pivoted from evening gowns to medical gowns, automakers are learning how to produce ventilators, and so on.

Individuals and organizations have shown the necessary motivation and mind shifts to research, innovate, and act quickly. Supermarkets and logistics operators have developed safety protocols to protect their employees and customers while keeping the world running. Restaurants are feeding at-risk communities, educators have created online classrooms within days, and information resources to track viral spread using big data have been developed overnight.

Empathy and real-world problem-solving

Devastating situations like the COVID-19 crisis highlight issues such as inequality in access to healthcare, food insecurity, and homelessness, both globally and in our local communities. For most people reading this, staying home is merely an inconvenience. For those less fortunate, however, these are extremely challenging times.

COVID-19 has inspired innovations based on empathy. Through concepts such as design thinking, systems thinking, and lean startup, organizations in numerous sectors are using their human capital to solve problems. Look no further than the engineers using 3D printers to create plastic shields for healthcare workers. These efforts suggest that innovation will enable us to tackle other real-world challenges with a similar sense of urgency.

Collaboration for change

Creating big solutions requires a diverse range of skills and knowledge. Globalization helped spread COVID-19, but global co-creation can help eradicate it. Experts across the globe have collectively responded with open-access research findings on the virus. The Open Source Ventilator community is working with engineers, designers, and medical practitioners to design low-cost ventilators. The startup ecosystem StartupBlink developed a Coronavirus Innovation Map to share initiatives related to COVID-19. And here in Madrid, a community-wide hackathon has been organized to combat the virus.

These are challenging times, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel: the clear sense of priority, urgency, and community shown by individuals and organizations that have sprung into action over the past few weeks. Like all startups, these initiatives are not perfect; they are works in progress. However, through collective effort, they are starting and growing at an unprecedented pace, suggesting that innovators have the capabilities to mobilize for collaboration, experiment, and implement solutions—today, more than ever. Hopefully, we can maintain this mindset and continue to drive innovation for our collective well-being long after this crisis is over.