COVID-19: The BIG In The Bad & The Ugly

Plato famously wrote: “Our need will be the real creator”, and true to that, the Covid 19 crisis has boosted a ‘Big’ amongst the bad and ugly. 

History shows that innovation often thrives during times of crisis. Take the financial crash of 2008 which led to the widespread adoption of cloud computing. Cloud had been around since the early 2000s, but it gained a new footing as the economic slowdown took hold. Companies were reluctant to try cloud computing and they thought it was not secure until they tried and found that it was much cheaper and more secure. Since then, cloud computing has expanded rapidly. Along with accelerating the adoption of developing technologies, crisis can also foster the development of entirely new ideas. A good example of the crisis that led to loads of invention would be the second world war when the first digital computers were used for code breaking. The use of jet engines paved the way for mass air travel. Nuclear technology was used as a weapon of mass destruction but also used to generate energy and launch the first rocket.

The loss of lives and livelihoods caused during COVID -19 has been beyond the world’s comprehension. While this period has been a wake-up call for nations to invest more in emergency health care solutions, it has also been a wake-up call for many to adapt to newer solutions to make the most in times of an economic slowdown. From new technology to vaccines being developed in cutting edge time, the pace of development has truly surprised the world.  

Drone technology has been here for a while, the drone-laden skies during the pandemic have been testimony to how this sector has started to realize its true potential. With social distancing as the new normal, Zipline, a drone manufacturing company came to the aid of health systems to explore new ways to deliver products such as blood, cancer treatment, and even vaccines! Every health system on earth was suddenly trying to reconfigure itself to a new reality to extend the reach of the hospital system directly to patients who could suffice on home care. The pandemic also pushed countries with strict laws of aerospace to open themselves and make amendments in laws to open airspace restrictions to adjust to the needs of the world suffering from the pandemic. For the first time, America amended its rules to allow drones to fly over towns at night. This approach certainly accelerated the delivery of medical supplies to people in need in a client-friendly way, much unusual than the more regulated way of working. Therefore, from witnessing a hospital system that previously did not even have a timeline to evolve in this manner, the world has seen it adapt and try to change drastically in a period of less than a year and a half.

 It surely has been easy for people to understand the value of innovation to fill the gap to give a boost to work and the economy both. This has been done with a sense of civic pride around leading the way in terms of showing how this technology can save lives and livelihoods. This kind of rapid adoption of emerging technologies has been called “tech-celeration” and it’s the type of innovation that has been given the biggest boost around the world by the pandemic. A classic example of tech-celeration was what happened in the national health services in England, where a system to make video-calling possible was effectively built over a weekend and then rolled out to doctors across the country. Tech-celeration is pushing companies further and faster into the future. Exactly how many years into the future we’ve been pushed by this crisis, depends on country to country, but it does seem to be the

sort of order of the next five years because when it comes to new ideas, the consumption and production pattern adopted during Covid-19 has left its mark in various sectors of the economy.

In most industries, the pandemic has boosted innovation by forcing companies to adopt new ways of doing things purely as a matter of survival. We have innovated for necessity. As businesses throughout the hospitality business have been forced to adapt, the pandemic has fueled the rapid growth of the meal delivery industry. Globally, the revenue of this industry is now expected to reach $182 billion by 2024, an increase of more than a third from the projected level in 2020. When the pandemic recedes, many businesses which have been forced to embrace the extraordinary will benefit by catering the new normal. But while the pandemic has made innovation a necessity for some companies, it has also restricted opportunities for others. Amidst the huge economic downturn, companies have been consolidating. The third quarter of 2020 was the busiest for mergers and acquisitions in three decades. A trend that is likely to tilt resources for new thinking and new ideas further towards big companies who can continue to invest in difficult times. These biggies continue to take market share in a way that small companies can’t and so generally this leads to the sort of greater inequality between companies. It’s a sort of big-gets-bigger phenomenon.

History also suggests that successful companies tend to start living more often in good times than the bad. In America, 80% of startups were formed during the crisis. During economic downturns, life can be much harder for startups which are so often the engines of innovation. This crisis has been a boom for startups by many hungry investors like food delivery apps- Zomato & Swiggy. For many large and small companies working from home has been the most significant innovation to economically sustain during the pandemic. So much so that in 2020, Covid-19 turned a little-known tech firm into one of the greatest success stories of the pandemic. At the start of the year, about 10 million people were part of meetings over zoom each day but this had shot up to 300 million by April 2020. From every small business like conducting virtual parties to learning skiing in the snow mountains, the widespread adoption of remote working during the pandemic can only lead to further innovation in the future. More companies may be inclined to take risks and embrace new ideas in the coming years. They’ve discovered that working from home can work well and doesn’t seem to make people less productive.  That will mean that during the crisis, companies will be willing to test different work permutations. Maybe have less business travel, more working from home and maybe even dare to try other things that they were reluctant to do. 

The crisis has certainly accelerated our growth in innovation way ahead of the ordinary.  This upsurge in innovation will bring lasting change for both good and bad, but what lessons can be learned as the world looks towards the post-pandemic era, is a question whose answer only time will tell. Because mind you, trying out of the box, or even bizarre in these testing times is something that has been done with confidence.   Because if companies can rope in flyers to pay for circling the skies and land back from where they took off, believe me, the sky is the limit to what more the economy can witness if the pandemic continues to have its way.

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