Innovation: How limitations and restrictions can spark change

By 15 July 2020Uncategorized

Innovation: How limitations and restrictions can spark change

Lately, I’ve been hearing a lot about change and the urgency of applying innovation to foresee a better future and to overcome the consequences of COVID-19.

As individuals we are adapting to the new reality, and at the same time we are seeing how the reality that surrounds us is trying to drive change while mitigating the virus’ impact in the long term. It is an uncertain situation filled with questions. As a service designer, this makes me wonder how we can help drive change while managing uncertainty?

The reasons for change

First, let’s dive a little deeper into the world of change. The need for change has always been connected to the process of innovation. The etymology of the word innovation comes from the Late Latin innovationem, the noun of action from past-participle stem of innovare: “to change; to renew”. Sometimes referred to as a novel change, an experimental variation, or a new thing introduced in an established arrangement.

“It is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be.”  – Isaac Asimov

It is said that there are basically two reasons for change: because of a spotted opportunity or simply out of necessity. The first reason requires proactivity. Anticipation. Unveiling an opportunity before a possible problem arises. Within this scenario, you operate in a circumstance of wellbeing, nothing worries you yet. If you extrapolate this to a business perspective, we are talking about being in a situation of profit, comfort, good market positioning and having nothing to worry about, except for the future. But as we have learned from past experiences, the future is uncertain, difficult to predict, and no industry is exempt from this unpredictability . The sooner you prepare, the better. That’s why timely investments in innovation processes are an important part of helping companies deal with uncertainty. Finding new business opportunities or pivoting the current model can help you prepare for tomorrow and the day after, and can initiate change before it becomes a threat.

Back to the Future (Illustration by Laura Martín)


The second circumstance that triggers change is necessity. A reaction. The feeling of a threat or the need to confront a problem activates a self-defense mode which in turn initiates action. In this situation, the end goal is finding a solution to the initial problem. In businesses, either a new player entering the market, a change in your customers’ behavior, or a new regulation, can cause the urgency for change. This is surely a more stressful scenario than the previous one. It flirts with the risk of a not-much-better tomorrow and thus motivates you to come up with a solution as soon as possible.

When talking about businesses, the ability to change is intimately related to innovation, they come together in a way that innovation supports companies to move forward but also helps them deal with unprecedented problems and needs. And it’s important to acknowledge the reasons why changes are necessary, in order to articulate the right process and mindset.


Unprecedented COVID-induced challenges

Understanding the problems and streamlining the process of coming up with solutions are equally important. In this context, there are different methodologies and approaches that can help. At INFO we use Service Design because it’s a strategic approach that helps you solve complex problems but also helps to prepare the organization for possible change.

The consequences of the global pandemic have impacted many sectors and areas of society, but most of all, it has brought unprecedented challenges to light. The lockdown restrictions have forced many businesses to shut down, made some hit the pause button, and made others think outside of the box, rethinking and reinventing themselves and their role in the industry/society. It sounds like the two main reasons I introduced above have come together at the same time. Innovation has suddenly become more relevant and necessary than ever!



Download: A strategic approach to framing digital opportunities

Some of the questions that come with this situation include: What does the new normal look like for our business, our industry and our users? What do users expect from companies? How can we ensure engagement and growth if remote working becomes the new standard ? How can we rethink customer-relationship models in this new reality of social distancing? How can we transform our services and make sure our products are ready for the “new normal”? More than ever, we need to look beyond the current situation and think outside of the pandemic-shaped box.


Adapting your business model to change

Restrictions and constraints are part of every innovation challenge. Whether it is a budget limitation, technology uncertainty, or a competitive new player; creating new services, redefining existing products, or discovering new opportunities always come with some bumps in the road.

The art of reinventing yourself by applying an innovative mindset isn’t new. Examples such as Amazon, Netflix, and Uber have been studied as successful business cases. Not only because of their profitable businesses models, but also because of their ability to adapt their models to different circumstances: forced by law-regulations, challenged by disruption from a competitor, or because they have stopped growing. Limitations sparked innovation in the same way that outside threats triggered changes.

These companies have challenged the status quo many times before. I remember Uber pivoting their model to food delivery in Barcelona during a period of taxi lobbying, or Amazon foregoing their online model and disrupting the physical shopping experience with their Amazon Go model.

Traditionally, design restrictions have been used to spark imagination during co-creation sessions. For example, in Service Design, we sometimes use design constraints while exploring a certain scenario to help participants think outside the box. It’s been proven that when working with design constraints your imagination and creativity expand. And when that happens, the not-so-obvious ideas start to flow.


Innovation to the rescue

It’s interesting to see how limitations and restrictions can spark change. Here are some inspiring examples of how innovation can help you navigate this new reality:

1. Use limitations as an opportunity to come up with scenarios for co-creation. Like Mediamatic, that designed a dinner experience that takes the idea of isolation and amplifies it into a new perspective.

Mediamatic offers a new dinning experience

2. Another example of how to tackle limitations and design out of the box, is within the theater industry. They have reintroduced the drive-in experience to bring opportunities to the sector and people back into the theater.

Theaters have to think outside the box to stay afloat

3. This new reality comes with new behaviors and needs. Taking the time to understand how your users’ behaviors are evolving, can help you pivot your business model or define new services. The example of the Spanish startup Nannyfy is interesting because they adapted their business model very quickly so they could offer a new e-learning service to look after children through video call.

The Nannyfy team had to adapt their business model

4. In digital ecosystems, growth can come unexpectedly, so it’s better to be ready for scaling up. Some companies have taken a step forward and invested in growing. I like the case of wellbeing platforms. Dealing with anxiety or burnouts have been known issues and corona has acknowledged the importance of these services. As a response there’s been a huge growth in mental health apps and resources.

Digital meditation and wellness tools are more popular than ever

5. Embrace collaboration. The possibilities of sharing knowledge and joining forces are bigger than ever. In the territory of shared knowledge I like the new platform that IKEA has launched where they share all the initiatives co-workers have started to combat COVID-19. Digital allows us to inspire others in many ways.


Whether companies moved forward due to disruption, or were challenged by a restriction, I like to think about this new global circumstance as a new design scenario in which we have been challenged yet again to rethink our business models and to yet again drive change. This time, however, it comes with unknown limitations. The new normal requires innovation more than ever, and with it an approach that helps us navigate uncertainty. Restart, rethink, and anticipate for tomorrow.

Are you ready?

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