Pick any piece of software you have been using today. What version number is it… 3.1, 5,2, 10.1 perhaps? We think contemporary digital change is fast, but it is nothing compared to the pace of innovation during war. Over the six years of World War II an incredible 24 versions, or ‘marks’ of the Supermarine Spitfire aircraft were produced. Necessity is the mother of invention and when lives are on the line, that’s when we are really prepared to “move fast and break things”. Now we are in a new kind of world war. It is a war of humankind vs a pathogen. We will do anything and everything to thwart it, because we must. Every day brings news of policy changes that were unthinkable just a couple of weeks before. Even business leaders who experienced the great financial crisis are astounded by the sweeping severity of government interventions. Under such circumstances corporate survival becomes an immediate issue. How much cash in the bank? How long can we keep paying our people?
Within a matter of days, leaders have started to drive change on a whole new level. Gin and whiskey distillers are making hand sanitizer, automotive companies are making face masks, police are using drones to control public behaviour. The same people making these decisions, were spending hours in meetings debating minor department budget variances just a few weeks before. In four months, six months or a year – whenever the virus is beaten into submission – they will go back to their ‘day jobs’, forever changed. What seemed hard or impossible before, will feel easy and trivial by comparison. Deep, radical, revolutionary digital changes to products and services that previously seemed like sci-fi pipe dreams, will be tackled and delivered.
World war two ended almost before the earliest jet fighters got off the ground. However this profound new aviation technology and the innovation momentum behind it was unstoppable. It was only ten years to the first transoceanic passenger jet flight, and only twenty years until a supersonic passenger jet took off. We are already twenty years into this century. Looking back, we will wonder why we moved so slowly, when so much more was possible. In 2019 a new cohort of gen-X business leaders were already taking the reins, during the highest CEO churn seen since the millennium. Born in the battle of the virus, these corporate leaders will be immediately tasked by all of us to grow their businesses as far and as fast as possible, in order to repair the economic damage of a slump. I believe they will see no limits in their digital innovation quest.