Why Crises Stimulate Innovation

Change is hard. Even small changes like finding a new dry cleaner or shifting from 2% to skim milk require mental effort. It’s tempting to stay with your current dry cleaner, even though you’re not happy with their service, because finding a new one forces us to think and try something different, which always conjures up fear.

This reluctance to change, which is at the core of every human, keeps us doing things we don’t really enjoy – and companies know how to exploit this weakness! Consider Comcast and Verizon, how they shower gifts and financial incentives on new customers but treat their existing customers less favorably.

They know us better than we know ourselves. And these companies have built entire marketing organizations based on the principal that people don’t like change.

But there are times when the cost of change becomes advantageous. When something suddenly isn’t working and we need to find a solution. That urgency changes our calculus. Suddenly the cost of change seems cheap and the cost of not changing seems foolishly extravagant.

We start looking for new ways to do something, because we have a need, and that need overrides our behavioral boundaries. Behavior defines us. Our behavioral patterns are a powerful force in our lives. They can keep us on track or drive us to lead horribly unfulfilled lives.

 We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.


During a crisis, however, all of that psychology shifts to a different working model—a survival-based model in which we are willing to do anything to meet our needs. As a result, we often learn how to do more with less or to adopt new technologies or tools that can meet our needs more efficiently and effectively.

Now, we’ve changed a behavior, which forced us to change the way we think. Suddenly, the former behavior seems cumbersome and outdated and the new method seems overwhelmingly obvious.

If we want to adopt better habits, should we wish for more crises? Possibly.

But I think there’s a different lesson here for creatively minded people. And that is to be prepared for the next crisis. Don’t lose your sense of focus. Remain observant and notice all of the changes happening around you. What types of new technology is being adopted, what types of behaviors and values will become outdated because of this crisis?

These types of questions will help you innovate more constructively. And they will allow you to  lead change instead of playing catch up later.

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