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From Ashes to Phoenix: Crises and Innovation

Most would agree that the COVID-19 situation has brought on a crisis of global proportions.  Nothing short of the entire planet has been brought down by this virus.  Many have described this as a once-in-a-generation kind of crisis.  These truly are dark times.

Most would agree that the COVID-19 situation has brought on a crisis of global proportions. Nothing short of the entire planet has been brought down by this virus. Many have described this as a once-in-a-generation kind of crisis. These truly are dark times.

Although the knee-jerk reaction to such turmoil is despair and austerity, tough times like these also tend to bear strange and wonderful fruit. That strange fruit comes in the form of great, world-changing innovation.

From the ashes of crises rises the great phoenix that is innovation.

Is it a case of looking for the cloud’s silver lining? Is it a case of necessity being the mother of invention? Maybe it’s both. Maybe it’s neither. Whatever the case may be, history has shown us that crisis tends to be a catalyst for great change.

The back half of the 14th Century saw Europe ravaged by The Bubonic Plague. With estimates going as high as 200 million dead, this crisis would go on to be referred to as “The Black Death” or simply, “The Great Mortality”. This 14th century global crisis gave rise to efficiency improvements in agriculture such as the heavy plow, the creation of the three-masted ship... which would give rise to The Age of Exploration and the printing press... which would go on to contribute to higher literacy rates throughout Europe.

On an autumn Thursday in 1929 New York, the New York Stock Exchange crashed, kicking off The Great Depression in America — and later, the entire world. The Great Depression is still held as the best example of global economic decline and, in some countries, would carry on until the mid 1930’s. This time would linger in the collective consciousness of those who lived through it as the penultimate instance of hard times. Yet this era also saw great advancements and invention in the areas of synthetics, radio, and television technologies from tech giants such as DuPont. In fact, many of today’s biggest technology companies were founded during that era, such as Radio Corporation of America (RCA), Hewlett-Packard and Polaroid.

Following The Great Depression, the world would get plunged deeper into darkness by the strife of World War 2 (WW2). Fought on two hemispheres, with fatality estimates up to 85 million, WW2 was the deadliest conflict in human history. Propelled by innovative and wider uses of technologies such as synthetic rubber, penicillin, and radar, the world after WW2 saw advances in industrial and medical fields. Where research in radar would lead to household appliances like microwave ovens, military advances such as the German V-2 rocket would lead to the first steps into space travel for the human race.

Every solution requires two things: A problem to be solved and people to come up with solutions. A world crisis presents the biggest problems the human race can come across and engages the best possible group of people to come up with solutions: everyone. It seems that it is a matter of scale.  The bigger the crisis, the bigger the innovation.

That being said, what great innovations are we seeing emerge out of the dark days of COVID-19?

If necessity is indeed the mother of invention, this is where we look at the societal needs that COVID-19 has affected the most. A virus that is relatively easily-communicable, COVID-19 has dramatically changed the nature of human connectivity: people’s connection to information, products, services, and each other.

All across the world, empty streets, stores, office buildings, and malls stir with the echoes of COVID-19. These echoes have economists the world over throwing arms up in the air. Commerce grinded to an abrupt halt as COVID-19 crept across the globe. Business owners, small and large, raced to find answers and solutions as storefronts and restaurants put up CLOSED signs in the face of country-wide lockdowns.

Many who weren’t already in the midst of adopting e-commerce and mobile technologies moved fast to jump on the boat, driven solely by survival.  The food delivery industry has seen growth of over 50% in some existing businesses and even seen the dabbling of some established dine-in business in the delivery arena. Over the first half of 2020, the e-commerce industry has put up growth numbers that it only expected to see within 4-6 years. COVID-19 has shown that keeping consumers in their homes does not hamper their desire to spend and businesses have embraced technology to answer this call.  This rapid adoption has resulted in a paradigm shift in how consumers are connected to products and services.

Boardrooms, classrooms, doctor’s offices, convention centers, exhibit halls, and many more places where people connect to information and to each other were hit hard by COVID-19.  Students, attendees, patients, and clients are among the many who expect their needs to be fulfilled in a face-to-face, person-to-person manner. This type of fulfillment was the first victim of the COVID-19 pandemic as we were all confronted with the fact that handshakes and coffee chats were not going to be options for the foreseeable future.

Sudden restrictions in person-to-person proximity and contact have fast-tracked innovations in telepresence, collaboration, healthcare, augmented reality, social media technologies. These innovations are changing the way we do things like consult healthcare professionals, attend classes, have meetings, and attend large-scale events. More meetings that could’ve been emails are now just emails. Doctor visits and college classes are now online. Seminars and conferences are now webinars. Millions of employees working from home have redefined office work for generations to come and we are only starting to see what this means for commercial real estate in a post COVID-19 world.

Many innovations are not exactly the discovery of new things, but the wider adoption of emerging technologies and the difficult, sometimes painful, shift away from long-held traditions or practices that are becoming obsolete. It would seem that these global changes tend to eliminate many lingering reasons for us to remain within our comfort zones.

One pain point that comes with this brave new world is facing new threats. As the last of the analog natives are thrust, screaming, into e-commerce, mobile technology, and cloud computing, they have to contend with the cyber threats that come with the digital domain.

As these traditionally-analog organizations start to wade into digital waters, they must learn to secure integrations into payment and banking services.  The collection and overall handling of customer data is another new facet of e-commerce that may be new to some. As more and more resources and services are moved to the cloud, organizations need to learn the intricacies of securing cloud environments.

Many of these people and organizations have been putting off this plunge into these digital frontiers specifically because of these threats, but lucky for them there are those of us who have been here for some time.  Early adopters and digital natives need to help these organizations navigate these new waters and the organizations themselves need to seek out help from experts. This cooperation is imperative in this time of great change.

The crisis we are living through is no different from those that came before. It represents trials and tribulations that will galvanize those who are able to undergo transformation in order to survive. The adaptations and innovations made during this time will empower organizations in the long term.

Very much like the crises that came before, COVID-19 has given rise to quantum leaps in the way everyday people use technology.  As it was before, it’s a safe bet to say these changes and innovations will not only remain, but they will produce a ripple effect that will have influenced generations after ours.

It just goes to show that where we may first see tragedy, history tends to see something else: progress.

Mark Anthony Fuentes

Mark Fuentes has over a decade of experience in the cyber security field highlighted by roles in organizations such as Verizon, The International Monetary Fund, and The United States Department of Homeland Security. Mark is an avid consumer of technology trends and threat intelligence and seeks out new applications of tech and research to combat cyber crime.

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