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As organisations and societies, we must take the leap from our collective past of the ‘before times’ to a new ‘COVID normal’ world. While things are starting to feel more stable, there are still many challenges and uncertainties ahead.  

Dr Genevieve Bell, futurist and the Australian National University director of the 3A Institute and Intel Fellow, says that since the global pandemic we have entered a period known as ‘liminal time’ or a time between times.

This ‘time between times’ refers to a feeling of having left our previous lives behind, without knowing what that new world will be. The only way to move into this new world is to shift, change and adapt. For organisations this is a critical moment of transformation. In the field of innovation we understand that these moments of transition create huge opportunities, because it reveals new information.

This liminal moment is amplifying client and user’s needs. It is now easier to see things that were hidden or to understand what did not make sense before. For example, some businesses are seeing that their customers no longer want to consume their products or services. There are many potential reasons for this. Customers might find that a service isn’t necessarily anymore, or that it is not easy to use. As an organisation, it is important to look at why this is happening. People are open to sharing their opinions because of different levels of isolation and working from home. Because we are interacting less, people are craving more connection and are more open to providing feedback.

Due to the changes in our lives, we are able to examine our wants and needs. Things that may not have been apparent before are now uncovered and amplified by the crisis. Customers are more aware of what are ‘nice to haves’ and what they ‘need to have’. This is a critical time for organisations to interact with their customers and ask them what they need moving forward.

All organisations know that innovation and change is no longer optional. It is now business critical. This is the best time to revisit a business’s overall innovation strategy. The days ahead will continue to demand pivots from businesses. It is important to understand an organisation’s internal capacity for the work that must be done. 

Echos has developed a design and innovation maturity assessment for organisations.  Before engaging on a transformation journey we must first understand at what stage an organisation is operating. This process is conducted via a series of questions focusing on core organisation values and culture. In particular understanding of values empathy, collaboration, experimentation assist with understanding the overall culture of design. 

Examples of questions that acces values are, is the business user centric? Do they currently engage in research that they apply to their product and services? Does leadership embrace user centric approaches? Is the work environment collaborative? Do they work cross functionally? Are they experimenting with new ideas? Do they value failure and moving fast for better results? Is design already part of their culture? These questions help us understand the design maturity of an organisation before embarking on an innovation journey with them. 

Innovation is a different process for organisations depending on where they sit in the maturity scale. For those with a more traditional outlook even small changes, for example becoming user centric, can feel disruptive. However, the innovation capability of all organisations regardless of their maturity are being tested. Even those with advanced design methodologies in place are learning and seeing their users in a new way. Issues that may have been harder to see in the past are now clear. Their clients and user’s needs are amplified, and the way forward is starting to emerge. 

While we are still in what anthropologist Genevie Bell describes as a liminal moment; the dust is starting to settle. As we make plans to move forward, we should be asking, what makes sense for your organisation? While things are still forming and the new world is still emerging, how can we be more open to the process of innovation? 

Travel is a great example of how this works. During travel a person finds themselves in a different context. They are open to experimenting, trying new food and activities. When people are out of their normal lives, they become open to experimenting. 

It is similar for the whole ecosystem we live in. When businesses, organisations, communities and society are out of our comfort zones we are open to experimentation. There is an opportunity to redesign our world. 

As we embark on this journey of transforming our organisations, there is one final thing we must consider. We must be ethical. It is critical to bring diverse people to this conversation and co-create the next steps as we transition into something new. This is being human centered. This is being society centric. This is part of the key to survival for organisations to navigate the uncertain times ahead, as we evolve as businesses and cultures.

When planning the next steps for an organisation’s innovation journey, ask what is necessary to help it emerge from this time to the next. It is critical to call on our strengths and optimism to know that a better world will emerge if we intentionally and collectively design it together. In this liminal time it is important to create an understanding of where your organisation stands in terms of design maturity. This assessment will help you understand where you currently sit, and what next steps are necessary to move forward into a new future.

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Juliana Proserpio

Juliana Proserpio is an entrepreneur and educator. She is the Co-Founder and Chief Design Officer of ECHOS, an innovation lab and its business units: Echos – School of Design Thinking – a school that puts innovation in practice, and Echos – innovation projects. Over the last 10
years, Juliana has worked to develop an innovation ecosystem in Australia, Brazil, and recently in Portugal to foster the power of design for desirable futures.
She has more than 10.000 hours working closely with clients on facilitation design, leading a diverse range of projects in industries such as healthcare, finance, education, retail, new, technology and consumer goods.
Juliana speaks on the power of design to create desirable futures. She spoke at events such as the Global Innovation Summit in San Jose, California, TEDxMaua in Sao Paulo, Brazil, What Design Can Do and the Sydney Design Festival.

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