Crisitunity: How some innovation and research teams are responding to the Coronavirus Outbreak.

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VP, Client Experience

I was perusing my LinkedIn feed recently and stumbled upon a post. A gentleman had spent over a year organizing a major industry conference in the US. Now, due to the Coronavirus Outbreak, it has been postponed. He was writing about the high volume of messages he was receiving from companies that were serving up “plan b” scenarios that he should consider, that didn’t involve the traditional human interaction required for the conference scene.

What I appreciated about the post, is that it captured both the emotional and rational journey that this person was going through.

Emotionally, he was disappointed (if not outright heartbroken) that things were not going to go as planned. He was being forced out of his comfort zone. But rationally, he still had KPIs that he needed to hit and the conference being cancelled was going to leave a major void.

Emotionally, he was a bit frustrated that sales people would take advantage of this misfortune. But rationally, he had a budget that he needed to spend on some sort of solution. And they were serving up some really interesting, and innovative solutions.

The gentleman did a beautiful job laying out both sides of the equation.

But most importantly, he ended by saying that despite these unfortunate and unforeseen circumstances, this wasn’t just a crisis. It was an opportunity.

Naturally, this reminded me of two people. Political economist Joseph Schumpeter. And Nuclear Safety Inspector Homer Simpson.

Joseph Schumpeter said that crises were the most fertile ground for innovation and evolved thinking. Innovations developed during crises lead to a wave of creative destruction that can help launch new technologies, transform existing industries, and give birth to entirely new ways of solving business problems – thus creating new ways to drive economic growth.

And, of course, when Lisa Simpson asked her father if he knew that the Chinese use the same word for ‘crisis’ as they do for ‘opportunity’, Homer Simpson said “Yes! Crisitunity’.

Over the past week, we have witnessed two interesting examples of ‘Crisitunity’ present themselves as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak.

Both are stemming from the harsh reality that companies across the US (and the world) are scaling back business travel.

As a result, innovation and research teams that normally rely upon traditional models like focus groups, home visits or in-field ethnographic research are having to rethink how they are going to maintain their research efforts, access the insights they require to support their design thinking process and support their internal stakeholders.

Travel may be going away. But questions about consumer culture remain. As a result, we witnessed the following.

Leaning in to technology
We have a client that is a major CPG. They are somewhat traditional in their general approach to research (they have always had a way of doing things) But their SVP Insight has been trying to push the organization to be more forward thinking.

So we have been playing a bit of a balancing act with this client. Each year, for the past two years, we have done 5-6 overarching consumer culture reports per annum identifying emerging demand spaces in relevant categories. The SVP Insight and his team have then taken our work, and gone into field “validate” the findings with one-on-one interviews and home visits in order to help other parts of the organization buy in. The SVP has been trying to push the organization to be more agile, and to reduce the added expenditure of having to go into the field. Now, given the current situation, this SVP has asked us to upgrade the client’s license to an Unlimited. And he is using the budget that they would have used on travel and infield research to give everyone in the organization access to the MotivBase Insight Platform.

Because the SVP:

  • Has the budget.
  • Is using this as an opportunity to educate the organization on a different way of thinking.
  • Is using the opportunity to run a pilot that only leverages our data, to show that they can expedite their innovation process and get new solutions on shelf faster.
  • Is going to share this type of thinking throughout the organization to push everyone from innovation, research to marketing and operations to consider the consumer perspective

Emotionally, this is a little scary, because it is new. But rationally, it is finding a way to solve the immediate problem while helping the organization be more consumer-centric in the future.


Trying something new:

Over a year ago, we had a former client move to a new job last year. She moved into a more senior role, and given our extensive experience in CPG, she wanted to bring us into the new company. (Flattering, to say the least).

But, culturally, this was not going to be an easy task. When our former client had us present our platform, and share some use cases, it was met with a lot of opposition.

When we followed up with our colleague, she was confused at first. Why would her new team be so adversarial towards a methodology she had used to great success in her former job?

We asked if the team’s primary role was to travel to talk to consumers?

It was.

This, was what was causing the tension. Sure, rationally, they could gain a lot from our insight platform. But emotionally, we represented a threat to how they work, and function as an insight team.

But, now with the current situation, the culture of this insight team is being forced to change. And our former client has just brought us into the organization to help her not just weather this storm, but challenge traditional thinking.



While the true impact of the Coronavirus remains unknown, it will require everyone to think a little differently about how they are fulfilling their role in an organization. Some will embrace the uncertainty and the chaos to innovate and identify new ways of thinking that will not just solve short term problems, but initiate change that, with a little hard work, will benefit the organization for years to come.

Or as Homer Simpson would say “If you really want something in this life, you have to work for it. Now quiet! They’re about to announce the lottery numbers.”

What do you want to research today?