Several years back I heard a talk that began with a thought provoking idea:  “Many of the rising generation have never known the blessings of economic adversity.”

Few of us think of economic adversity as a blessing, but perhaps we are missing a great opportunity now that we are living in it.

Alexander J. Field recently published a book, ‘A Great Leap Forward’ in which he posits that the period of the Great Depression was in fact “the most technologically progressive decade of the century.”

In the midst of the current economic adversity, has your organization decided to “hunker down”, or are you taking this unique opportunity to look for opportunities for technical innovation?

Alexander Field is not alone in recognizing the opportunities that are born out of economic adversity.  Here is a list of major companies, including companies like GE, HP, and CNN, that were born during significant economic downturns.

Not only are successful companies born of economic adversity, but great companies lay the foundation for significant growth during the recovery that is sure to follow.

This study published last year in the Harvard Business Review discovered that the companies that were most likely to excel in a recovery were those with a strategy of judicious operational cost cutting combined with comprehensive investment in marketing, R&D, and infrastructure.  The key was the combination of cost controls and investment.  Companies that focused on just one or the other were not as successful during the period of recovery.

Here are a few technical innovation ideas to spur your thinking about how your organization can be proactive during economic adversity, rather than just waiting out the storm.

  • Demand rigorous (and fast) project justification
  • Build success metrics at the beginning of each project against which it can be judged at each stage of development
  • Adopt rapid prototyping for proposed projects
  • Shorten innovation and development cycles
  • Quickly terminate failing projects and redeploy failing teams
  • Find and imitate successful projects and teams
  • Actively seek disruptive innovation
  • Make your organization safe for innovative ideas from all levels of the organization
  • Publish successes and failures to the entire organization to encourage additional thinking and cooperation
  • Develop aptitude for the so called “soft skills” in your entire team:  leadership, productive communications, accountability, innovation, etc.

So what is your ‘economic adversity’ strategy?  Are you taking the opportunity during the current downturn to make your operation more efficient?  To retool your organization to take advantage of the new opportunities that are born of adversity – and the growth that inevitably follows?  Are you really connecting with your customers?

I would love to hear specific tactics as well as your predictions for how your approach will impact your organization’s growth in the next few years.

 CXO Vantage Point Guest Blogger

Craig Adams, Virtual CIO