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Dr. Ghadah Alharthi: Creativity Is Key To Covid-19 Response

By Dr Ghadah W. Alharthi

Creativity thrives in environments that support it. But, the best examples of creativity are those that stem out of necessity and pressure. A crisis similar to COVID-19 creates jolts that prompt creativity. These jolts give rise to creative responses and adaptations driven by an active sense of engagement increasing the ability to rapidly and creatively adapt macro-level and micro-level behaviors. Responding creatively means coming up with innovative solutions to these unexpected and unpredictable situations. We have all observed the responses of different countries, who at this point have been dealing with the pandemic for months. Clearly, they are focused on survival with a global goal of recovery and returning to normal life. But what can we do better and how can we do it creatively? 

What successful countries seem to have done is to find a dynamic combination of systems (e.g. national response plans) and solidarity. Governments and their leaders are already doing their best on a national and global level. Yet, we need strategies to devise plans of creative action to engage our communities across the different regions in tackling issues caused by COVID-19. One creative response would follow a bottom up innovation approach to finding solutions. Bottom up innovation is innovation happening from the grassroots level. It is very relevant in times of crisis, as it could support governments’ efforts while being faster than government procedures. It starts at the ideation phase and brings people-centric perspectives to product and service development. To achieve this pivot from more traditional approaches, we need to start the process from the innovation user or client (base line), going through other actors such as facilitators, controlling bodies to finally reaching decision makers who can then help with funding and implementation.   

Another important aspect of how countries have responded – and will likely fare in the coming months – is the way public and private sectors have worked together. Collective action and collaborating to overcome this crisis will be important, such as creating new partnerships that may last longer than this crisis and its aftermath. On a micro-level, we need to see more creativity and “Bricolage” happening in ‘resource constrained’ environments, by making do with what is at hand to find innovative solutions. One group of people that would have the foundation for the type of thinking and skills we need right now are social entrepreneurs. Social entrepreneurs are innovative by nature, they can come up with solutions using whatever resources are available while also prioritizing the impact their actions would have on society. One thing is clear, time is of the essence. Therefore, supporting their efforts locally and internationally would enhance their chances of scaling up at a faster speed and achieving the impact needed.  

What kind of innovation will eventually bring us out of this crisis and help us adapt to the post-crisis world? We will need short-term solutions during this crisis but also long-term as part of our post crisis response. We would need to adapt to the change that is happening and will happen. The answer is in new approaches to creative innovation which are likely to endure once we emerge from under this pandemic’s shadow.  

Dr. Ghadah AlHarthi is an associate lecturer in innovation management at Central Saint Martins. Learn more about her here.

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