Today, we are living in distressing times period starting with an oil pricing dispute between Russia and Iran, and followed by a worldwide panic over a virus, the economy has collapsed. Millions of people have been unjustly pushed out of their jobs by constitutionally questionable government closures. Small businesses and the travel/hospitality industry have been hit especially hard.
As innovation leaders and new product development professionals, we are called to create solutions to complex problems. The first step in any innovation process or project management approach is to clarify and define the problem. Our issue in today’s world is we cannot define the problem. Is the problem due to a virus or is the problem due to governments’ responses to an unknown?
In risk management, we describe two types of uncertainties: known unknowns and unknown unknowns. The known unknowns are a category of project risks that might occur, and we can easily imagine and plan for them. A known unknown may be the final cost of equipment from a new supplier or the testing schedule for a prototype by customers.
In each case of a known unknown, we can develop contingency plans to handle the risk. We might add 20% to the project budget for the new equipment supplies or we could add an additional two weeks to the schedule to manage prototype testing. In contrast to known unknowns where we plan a logical contingency, people often respond to unknown unknowns with irrational emotional actions. Whereas a contingency can either be consumed or returned, we cannot get back the loss of time from emotional responses.
An unknown unknown is an unanticipated risk that can significantly impact the project. Since we don’t know what these uncertainties might be, we cannot plan for them. The coronavirus panic is an unknown unknown. Even the smartest people in the world can mistakenly exchange emotional responses for logical actions when the risk is an unknown unknown.
First, though similar viruses have existed for decades (SARS, MERS, flu), government health agencies say it is a novel virus. When we encounter a new situation in research or innovation, we look to the closest cases we have observed previously and test those solutions against the new problem. No government, to my knowledge, forced lockdowns for free citizens with the SARS, MERS, or H1N1 virus. Using an analogy approach to address an unknown unknown risk is an expected response for innovation leaders.
In a classic example, an adhesive was failing the prototype testing. The developer tried an analogous problem / solution approach to mark pages in his hymnal at church. And, alas, Post-It® notes were born. We should learn from history and from nearest neighbor experiences for all aspects of innovation whether it is health-related or product-related. We can claim success for an innovation by real data not by guessing how many people might have purchased the product.
What Can You Do?
You might share my feeling of helplessness in light of a strong economy being senselessly destroyed overnight. We feel a loss of control and we’ve lost faith in the very institutions that promise to help us. Like me, you ask, “What can I do?”
What can you do as an innovation leader faced with unknown risks to a project? Shutting down the trials ‑ unless there is factual data supporting a true safety or health issue ‑ is our last choice! Instead, we strive to learn through experimentation, data gathering, and logic. For instance, rather than shutting down a world economy and causing harm to untold millions through job layoffs, it is puzzling why government agencies have not looked to solutions in which healthy people build immunity through exposures to viruses. After all, a vaccine is just that – intentionally injecting a virus (such as flu) to a healthy person so they build immunity against the disease. This is the nearest neighbor solution to a known problem.
Moreover, the data does not support the panic over coronavirus. Even government-provided statistics and worst-case model projections are inconsistent. Models are only beneficial if they are tested against real and historical data. Innovation leaders trust the data and use data to drive decisions – not emotion.
I hope you have peace during these turbulent times. More so, I hope that we will regain our freedoms as Americans to conduct business as we choose, to visit taxpayer-funded National Parks, and to gather for religious services. The latter is a right for which our Founding Fathers and thousands of American men and women have fought for and died. As innovation leaders, we must demonstrate a commitment to ethical behavior and continuous learning.
If you feel innovation is under distress, please contact me for a complimentary innovation coaching session. With over 20 years of experience and innovation clients across all industry groups, I can help you get innovation on track for success! Contact me at area code 281, phone 787-3979 or email to info@Simple-PDH.com.
I am inspired by writing, teaching, and coaching. I tackle life with an infusion of rigor, zeal, and faith. It brings me joy to help you build innovation leaders. Teresa Jurgens-Kowal is an experienced professional with a passion for lifelong learning with a PhD in Chemical Engineering and an MBA in Computer and Information Decision Making. My credentials include PE (State of Louisiana), NPDP, PMP®, and CPEM, and I am a DiSC® certified facilitator. Contact me at email@example.com or area code 281 + phone 280-8717 for more information on coaching for entrepreneurs and innovators.
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