School of Business

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When the COVID-19 pandemic caused the VCU School of Business to cancel its annual, onsite “VCU Innovation Summit” scheduled for April 17, Senior Associate Dean Ken Kahn immediately began reimagining the event as a two-hour, virtual summit with a new theme: “Innovation Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic.”

Kahn, who founded the summit 10 years ago, quickly assembled a panel of six innovation experts he believed would be most adept at discussing current challenges. “The School of Business has strong relationships with business leaders and innovation gurus around the globe. Reinventing this as a virtual event allowed us to bring in panelists from New York, Florida and as far away as the Netherlands.” Panelists included:

Each gave a 10-minute presentation with their thoughts on the summit theme, then fielded questions during a lively and fascinating Q&A with summit attendees from across the U.S. and Europe.

Top Ten Takeaways

  • Don’t expect global businesses or cultural activities to ever “go back to normal.” Anticipate a “new normal” where customers have different behaviors and expectations. (Several panelists spoke on this topic. Paul O’Connor’s April 16 blog post details why he believes “We’re Not Bouncing Back.”)
  • Lingering effects of the pandemic could result in offices having reduced occupancy (select employees continuing to work from home to foster physical distancing), modified floorplans (a return to cubes vs. open, collaborative spaces) and new hygiene protocols.
  •  Business should not rely solely on their most experienced people to get them through this, but should turn to their best and brightest. CarMax uses the line: “It’s not roles, it’s skills.” If an employee has the skill to do something, it’s time for them to use that skill and not concern themselves with their role.
  •  Consumer product companies should put all planned innovation on hold and deploy their best innovators to pivot their core products to match up with newly shifted consumer needs. Speed, creativity, resiliency and flexibility are critical. Companies will need to move people and process (what they do, make and ship) to adapt to where the business is going. (Several panelist spoke to this topic but, last week, O’Connor blogged in detail about “Products and Innovation in the Covid World.”)
  •  Leadership must be laser focused on getting everyone headed in the same direction. There currently is a great deal of collaboration and creativity, but coherency is one area of particular concern. Coherency in leadership to push forward means taking a common thread and amplifying it within the organization. This is very hard to do right now.
  •  Most good companies have deep backlogs of ideas that are not out in the public yet. Now is a time when businesses should repurpose innovations and resources already in their pipeline in order to fast track new, pandemic-related efforts.
  •  The COVID-19 pandemic and its impacts (including lockdown, isolation and grim news coverage) could be such a strong emotional experience that it actually reshapes personality traits. Preliminary research by Weerd-Nederof suggested that “COVID19 Worry” is significantly negative related to organizational and individual resilience. It also is positively related to “burnout.” Her team is testing to determine if there is a mediation effect, with COVID19 Worry decreasing resilience which in turn decreases innovative work behavior.
  •  This pandemic is an opportunity for leadership to come from alternative sources. Our empathy and ability to listen are growing. Zoom engagements, including public meetings, give people the opportunity to be listeners in new and different places. Hence, it’s a great time to think about inclusion and diversity in a different way. Find opportunities to be a listener in a room where you wouldn’t normally be. In addition, understand that virtual technologies like Zoom can and should be used to create and foster closeness during this time of social distancing and isolation, especially for employees not living with partners, families or others.
  •  Many industries and corporations, such as pharmaceutical companies, are foregoing profit and openly collaborating for the greater good. Johnson & Johnson is developing manufacturing capabilities, partnering with other companies globally to be able to make vaccines available in the billion-dose level by early next year.
  •  Companies positioned for post-COVID-19 success and survival are those with strong core values, purpose and methodology. Culture is also key. Organizations that have developed strong cultures and cultures of creativity are able to embrace and adopt the necessary measures right now.

Join Open Ideo Richmond Chapter & win $10,000 for COVID-19 ideas
Forrester invited participants to join the Richmond Chapter of OPENIdeo. A current “COVID-19 Business Pivot Challenge” offers $10,000 in seed funding to up to five selected submissions that best answer the question: “How might businesses of all kinds rapidly adapt to support the immediate needs of the COVID-19 response, and enable a more just and resilient future?” The three-week “sprint” launched on April 9, 2020 and will be open until April 30, 2020.

Resources to strengthen creativity during crisis
Mica and Noah Scalin from Another Limited Rebellion invited participants to use social distancing as an opportunity for creative connecting. Visit to sign up for a week of daily practice activities to strengthen creativity during this crisis. 

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