Clwstwr Steering Board member and CEO of the Alacrity Foundation, Dr Wil Williams, on the art of pivoting during unpredicted times.
As I sat at home in the first week of lockdown, it would be fair to say that I didn’t see this coming. In these ambiguous times, it is clear that all business sectors have been severely affected with certain sectors of our economy and society undergoing fundamental change.
It could be argued that the creative sector is being, and will be, disproportionately affected by the impact of COVID-19. For many of those who have taken the first steps in developing new products and services in either screen or news, this could not have come at a worse time.
When the virus is contained and we return to ‘normality’ many of the old ways of working, the way we do things, will have changed forever.
The creative sector, particularly in news and screen, by its very nature it is ingenious and innovative. This is evidenced by the diversity of the research, development and commercialisation projects that have been funded by Clwstwr.
But the sectors have perhaps, in the past, not focused enough on the commercialisation of their products, knowledge and skills.
The outcomes from this period of crisis are hard to predict and the current outlook is grim, but there are and will be opportunities emerging. This will mean that business will have to be nimble.
Due to the inherent cultures and structures of much of the creative news and screen sectors, you are well placed to seek out and take advantage of opportunities. To do this, however, you will have to embrace change and new markets.
In the tech industry we have a term for changing the direction of a product or business; we call it: pivoting. Some academics call pivoting architectural innovation. Essentially, pivoting is the repurposing of technology; taking a technology platform developed for one use or sector and applying that technology for another purpose.
In tech start-ups, at the Alacrity Foundation, this is business as normal. Underpinning our modus operandi and those of many tech businesses are what are known as agile principles.
Experimentation underpins agile. You analyse, define, design, build, test (with real customers); you analyse, define, design, build, test (with real customers), you then deploy, but continue to experiment. This blog published by the World Bank is a really good piece on the power of experiments.
As a result, what you end up taking to the market might be very different from what you started out to produce. A founder or a team that work in this environment have to be resilient and flexible. You have to learn to fail fast.
Experiments take many different forms and taking advice from another blog in this series: Top tips for your R&D journey by Robin Moore and Gareth Jones, ‘find ways to constantly get feedback from service users and potential clients and amend as you go.’ You will end up kissing a few frogs, but hey, we have all been there. The first frog you kiss is not the only frog.
Don’t fall in love with the idea, commit to the question – ‘is this a nice to have or a must have?’
Many of you operating in the news and screen sectors will have to pivot as a result of COVID-19. But so will virtually all those working in other sectors of the economy.
The impact of COVID-19 will transform certain sectors such as education, travel, health provision, retail…the list is endless.
The skills, experience and innovations coming through the Clwstwr projects in the news and screen sectors are well placed to take advantage of opportunities emerging, but perhaps not in the traditional markets and applications that these sectors have operated in.
What is clear to me is that COVID-19 has amplified the impact of the Fourth Industrial Revolution that we are already in the midst of but are only just realising. Like it or not, tech is here and will pervade all aspects of society. Be ready to seek out and embrace these opportunities by pivoting and experimenting.