Innovation Loves a Recession

Updated: Jul 12


Many of us have had “free time” on our hands. Especially, as of late. And not necessarily the kind of free time, we’ve wanted. The living room vacation has lasted a little longer than we’ve all expected. I reflect back to a blizzard year (’96) in PA where we had a surprise 5 day “snow day” …. awesome for 48 hrs. then….NOT. I did find out you can eat local dive bar food for 3 straight days and survive. Anyway, I believe (and if you believe) most social media, many of you spent the last few days or weeks spring cleaning, finishing home projects, getting super creative with that pantry of “forgotten foods” and super binging Netflix, Hulu and Disney+…I am fairly sure I could re-enact Frozen I and II. My 18-month-old has not taken to the idea of watching “all” the princesses, much to my chagrin.

What do you do?

Some might meditate, do Yoga, lock themselves in a bedroom, or…“you do you, boo boo” to quote a famous Deborah Davis. I just try to look at the big picture, how it’s going to affect everything (like I have a clue) and look through lens of history. And do you know what I’ve found? No, not a 2-1/2 paragraph set-up for some internet recycled wisdom but Hope and Excitement for the future. Yes, my friends…put on your rainbow-colored glasses. Here it comes. I have found “Innovation loves a recession.” It also loves pain points, serial entrepreneurs and business failures. Innovation is often the cause of business failures but out of those failures, further innovation, competition and reinvention is seeded, planted and watered. Some can look at failure just as a Monday Morning Quarterback, and lord knows I can do that with the best of them. But when you stop and take a look from 30,000 feet…you will see so much more. Maybe that’s why people climb Everest. Can’t see any other reason too.



Is IT here ?

Well, here’s a little exercise. Let us try to fly above and look at what many believe, including me, is a coming global recession. What are the causes and effects? Spend a little time down in the weeds, letting all the why and how-dids, bang around in your head. Give a listen to the talking heads (people on the boob tube or your favorite podcast) argue and debate. You will find something most people have in common. Someone much smarter than I called it the BCDs….or Blame, Complain and Defend. Many live there in BCD land, I often do. Lost in the arguments and rehashing. Solutions do not live there, and Innovators certainly do not. Or at least not for long. It’s a very hard exercise to practice. You will catch yourself blaming, complaining and defending all the time. Take that from me, a bankrupt failure. I must often remind myself, Innovators look at problems differently.

We can solve it !

But now, let’s look at any problem through the next lens. Someone, another great mind, simplified (or innovated) it with the IDS acronym. Identify the problem, discuss it (in your head is fine, if you lack a board of directors) then Solve the problem. The solution is the innovation. The solution to the pain point or what will make “it all better.” In a service business, it might just be what makes it “all better or cheaper” for the customer or a simplification they really want. In production, what makes it “faster, better and less expensive to make.” Think of all the recent disrupters in their individual marketplaces and you will see it was generally a simple and “now” obvious solution. We didn’t invent it, or think of it, but someone did, by simply looking for the solution to the pain point. Just looking from a different perspective.


History Repeats Itself...

I will site some recent examples & some history to illustrate. History and Innovations are my passion and why I am “excited” in an odd way about a recession. And I am not sick. I am not “excited” for the people it hurts, relationships it strains, the 401ks and safety nets lost, people losing their jobs and just plain old struggling. But it’s to see the best a little necessity brings out in people. Heck, this post might just be the push someone you know needs to innovate that great next something. To be that next great inventor or creator. Times like these are were greatness comes from.

Think Outside the Box

Out of the last recession, officially the period (December 2007 thru June 2009) according to the U.S. National Bureau of Economic Research, came Uber. Officially founded in March 2009. Since its founding, Uber has transformed the ride-hailing industry and become one of the most valuable companies in the world. It “innovated” the taxi and rental market. Around this same time, Airbnb (August 2008) innovated the home rental space and disrupted the market. They are now in 65,000 cities and more than 190 countries.

The prior recession saw the real launching of Netflix. Founded in August 1997 but constantly innovating, the changed the rental game. Not only did they survive and thrive after the “internet bubble burst and recession of the early 2000s, they went public in 2002 and the rest is history. Innovation is exciting. And yes, you can innovate your existing business. This isn’t just for the “newbies.” The Apple iPod innovation and game changer came during the early 2000s recession as well. Prior to that, they were just another computer company.

Let’s go back further, just because it fun and illustrates my point. The Car Radio came out of the Great Depression. The Motorola was born in 1930. Prior to that innovation, silence. The game of Monopoly, in 1935 came out of the depression. You didn’t have to get out of the house and spend money to be entertained. Worked with candlelight too. Scotch tape, the fluorescent light bulbs and the Supermarket were other amazing innovations of this time.


I love a quote by Louis Foreman, creator and executive producer of the PBS reality show "Everyday Edisons." He said “"generally speaking, recessions have been fertile breeding grounds for inventive minds." That is it, in a nut shell, for sure. And here I always was told, “idol hands are the devil’s workshop.” Well, some cool things have come out of his workshop. Okay, bad analogy.

So, let me end with a question. What are you going to innovate? Or just tell us what needs inventing so we can get the visionaries of this world on it!

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