How to inspire innovation during uncertain times

Between managing concerns about global markets and conflict to navigating new ways of working, climate change, and more, we’re living in a world where instability is one of our only constants. Our global innovation survey showed that this uncertainty has made enterprise leaders question how practical it is to actively focus on innovation. But we know the worst thing a company could do right now is to stop innovation entirely. Instead, it’s crucial that enterprises learn how to persevere — making do with what you have in terms of budget, staffing, and time until the future is more clear. 

Below we’ll cover why innovation feels so challenging during uncertain times — and three strategies that enterprises can employ to ensure creativity and dreaming big don’t fall by the wayside as you navigate the current climate. 

Why uncertainty stalls innovation

When we are beset by problems, especially the ones that seem the loudest or feel the most urgent, it’s easy to go into putting-out-fires mode. Indeed, according to 57% of leaders and 47% of information workers in the Miro survey, innovation feels more like a luxury than a necessity during uncertain times — and 62% of leaders and 52% of information workers say it’s easy for innovation to be sidelined at their companies under those circumstances. 

But staying in this mindset only addresses today’s problems when companies still need to address future challenges, too. Because in changing times, innovation is more important than ever to prepare us for what comes next.

Strategy No. 1: Keep innovation in conversations

No matter what’s happening in the world, it’s important to maintain a culture of curiosity and openness to change within your organization — and regular discussions about innovation help keep it at the forefront of strategic planning, ensuring it remains a priority even when immediate challenges seem overwhelming.

We asked decision makers and information workers what the top strategic challenges are to product or service innovation at their companies. Approximately 28% of leaders said poor communication of vision and strategy and about the same share of information workers, 27%, agreed.

That’s why leaders should encourage open dialogues about innovative ideas, creating an environment where all employees feel empowered to contribute. These conversations can be structured around identifying new opportunities, exploring potential solutions to existing problems, or brainstorming improvements to current processes. They shouldn’t be limited to formal meetings or specific departments, either. Innovation can come from any level of the organization, and it’s essential to have mechanisms that capture and explore ideas from diverse sources. 

Encouraging informal discussions, setting up cross-functional teams, and implementing suggestion schemes are practical ways to integrate innovation into daily conversations. This approach ensures a constant flow of fresh ideas, keeps employees engaged, and fosters a collaborative culture where everyone feels their input is valued.

Strategy No. 2: Use uncertainty as inspiration for innovation

By embracing the challenges and unpredictability of the current times, companies can turn potential obstacles into opportunities for advancement and encourage employees to see the moment as a playground for creativity and experimentation. 

Innovation in times of uncertainty requires a willingness to take calculated risks, so companies should create an environment where failure is seen as a part of the learning process, not a setback. This is why psychological safety is so important for innovation. Encouraging employees to test new ideas and approaches, even if they don’t always succeed, fosters a culture of resilience and adaptability. It also allows teams to explore various avenues, learn from their experiences, and continuously improve.

Moreover, using the realities of the world as a backdrop for innovation ensures that solutions are relevant and responsive to current needs. It allows companies to address real-world problems, aligning their efforts with market demands and societal challenges. This alignment not only enhances a company’s competitiveness but also boosts its reputation as a forward-thinking and socially responsible entity. By channeling the conditions and times into their innovation strategies, companies empower employees to contribute meaningfully to both the organization and the broader community.

Strategy No. 3: Meaningfully support worker wellbeing

Stress and risk of burnout and disengagement grow during uncertain times, and when people are worried, it translates to their output, which in turn impacts innovation. 

Supporting worker wellbeing is crucial for fostering an innovative environment, especially during uncertain times. Employees who feel supported are more likely to be engaged, productive, and creative. That said, companies should focus on holistic wellbeing initiatives that address physical, mental, and emotional health, like flexible working arrangements, access to mental health resources, and programs that promote work-life balance. 

In addition to physical and mental health support, emotional and social support systems are essential. Creating a sense of community and belonging within the workplace can significantly boost morale and motivation. Regular check-ins, team-building activities, and open communication channels help employees feel connected and valued. This sense of belonging fosters a collaborative environment where employees are more willing to share ideas and support each other’s innovative efforts.

Finally, leadership plays a key role in embedding wellbeing into the company culture. Leaders should lead by example, demonstrating a commitment to their own wellbeing and encouraging their teams to do the same. Transparent communication about the importance of wellbeing, along with consistent actions to support it, reinforces its value within the organization. Leaders who do this set the tone for an empathetic and innovative culture.

Uncertain times are opportunities, not roadblocks

Innovation during uncertain times is not just possible; it’s imperative. By keeping innovation in everyday conversations, using uncertainty as a springboard for creativity, and supporting worker wellbeing, companies can navigate challenging periods with agility and resilience. These strategies create an environment where innovation thrives, ensuring that enterprises not only survive, but also grow and adapt in the face of adversity. 

Ultimately, the key to inspiring innovation in uncertain times lies in embracing change as an integral part of the journey. It’s about harnessing the collective strength and creativity of the workforce to turn challenges into opportunities for development and progress. By continuously fostering a culture of innovation and supporting employees, businesses can emerge stronger and more competitive — setting a precedent for future growth and establishing themselves as leaders in innovation, regardless of external circumstances.

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