Last week the world was riveted by scenes of smoke and flames as fire consumed the thousand-year-old timbers supporting the roof of Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral. Yet amid the sadness and the sobering images, we can find important lessons about innovation.
1. Innovation can arise in response to upheaval.
Sometimes innovation is planned — strategically determined and charted. At other times it comes upon us out of unexpected circumstances. For Notre Dame, the catalyst is a fire. For companies, it may be a startling economic downturn. Or a key supplier is struck by a natural disaster, upsetting a supply chain. A competitor becomes stronger, or weaker. Upheavals in normal business operations can generate a need for a quick and innovative response. Leaders must be ready for both planned and spontaneous innovation opportunities.
2. Tragedy can bring opportunity.
While no one can be happy about the destruction at Notre Dame, the nearly $1 billion in donations raised in a matter of days means that the cathedral’s rebuilding efforts will be funded at more than five times the former restoration budget. There is talk of an architectural competition for alternative roof designs (surely to spark a spirited debate among traditionalists about the most famous Gothic structure built more than 850 years ago). The fire also generated the opportunity to reflect on the value of culture, and created a global community of those who felt connected to the Cathedral in some way. The memory of nearly losing this cultural treasure means that its value will be uppermost in the hearts and minds of people worldwide for decades to come.
3. Luck often plays a part.
In spite of the devastation, not a single life was lost in the fire (although it was reported that one firefighter was seriously injured). Sixteen copper statues of the 12 apostles and the four evangelists had been removed for restoration just a week ago, saving them from what likely would have been complete destruction. The fire also did not reach the towers, where the iconic stained glass rose window would likely have been destroyed once the heat melted its lead lattice. Plus, within the last decade historian Andrew Tallon completed detailed laser scans of Notre Dame, using technology unavailable only recently. Yes, we are saddened at the loss, but as seasoned innovation executives will admit, there are often forces of luck that influence outcomes both positive and negative.
Your challenge for the week: Consider how prepared you are to take advantage of innovation opportunities that may arise from unexpected events. Can you be nimble and responsive in the face of upheaval?