Early COVID-19 responses and the rise of an Insulation Economy


Who’s afraid of the coronavirus? Big businesses — and innovation leaders will need to help meet the challenge.

With the sudden appearance of the COVID-19, organizations are being forced to quickly adapt to rapid disruption of their operations.

The outbreak has already had very real human impacts, as have the measures organized in response. While it may be tempting to think about the situation purely in terms of the serious short term challenges it creates, this is probably not the best way to optimize outcomes. To really meet a big new challenge, it is critical to continue to learn from it.

This is particularly true of companies. From this standpoint, while many innovation leaders inside of companies have long emphasized that the traditional office environment is being replaced by alternative approaches to organizing work, they are now finding themselves with a new role- helping to rapidly implement big new innovations and policies to respond to this challenge in real time.

In short, the outbreak is driving the adoption of a series of measures that can collectively be understood as an emerging Insulation Economy.

We believe this is a critical role and that, in the spirit of open innovation, there is value in surveying these efforts. Here, we have collected some of the more interesting ways that COVID-19 is driving companies to rethink the ways that they work.

At its core, the situation can be seen as a collective innovation problem.

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Issue briefing

  • Rethinking shared spaces: The disruption brought by the virus has forced some leaders to seriously look at whether every job or part of a job can be done remotely, as well as reassess the high real estate cost and true utilization of office spaces.
  • Rethinking safety measures: Companies are rethinking general safety and emergency response protocols: from experimenting with more drastic safety measures — like temperature scanning — to focusing, to focusing on communicating proactively, or offering new benefits to make their employees feel safe.
  • Rethinking business models: As an estimated $3 trillion-dollar destructive force, this virus is forcing leaders to rethink in profound terms the way things are done. From services, to education, manufacturing, and events, business leaders are looking at ways to boost worker productivity, redefine supply chain strategies, and exploring modes of collaboration.

The coronavirus as a black swan event certainly has done some serious damage to disparate industries from art museums, restaurants, concerts, air travel and many more. As it catalyzes an Insulation Economy, the virus is forcing companies to deal with the immediate existential threat as well as their long-term survival and viability. There are certainly some losers and some potential winners as businesses crawl their way out of this crisis. The pandemic is already forcing some significant paradigm shifts in the way we do work and the way we learn and engage with one another in the world of business.

Charles Darwin’s famously said this about emerging from a harsh environment: that those who survive “are not the strongest or most intelligent, but the most adaptable to change.” The coronavirus pandemic is certainly forcing every organization to figure out ways to adapt to new realities in order to survive and flourish.

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