Embrace a Little Chaos When Innovating Under Pressure

Hila Lifshitz-Assaf
By Hila Lifshitz-Assaf and Sarah Lebovitz
The Covid-19 crisis has put many product development teams in a tough bind: they’re being asked to rapidly accelerate their processes, but research shows that extreme time pressure often stifles creative work. Best practices for innovation emphasize upfront coordination and synchronization, all of which take time and can’t be rushed. Is it really possible for organizations to push creative teams to work faster without sacrificing quality?

Our recent research suggests a simple yet counterintuitive strategy to do just that: Teams tasked with rapid innovation should forego time-consuming upfront processes and embrace a mindset of minimal and adaptive coordination.

To better understand what strategies are more or less effective for fast-paced innovation, we tracked the development of 13 health-tech projects across two hackathons. Ad-hoc teams were given just 72 hours to develop assistive technologies, such as remotely-operated respiratory devices and seizure alert devices, completely from scratch. Despite the significant challenges these teams faced, we were inspired to see that six of the 13 teams were able to successfully accelerate the product development process — a process that normally takes weeks or months — into just 72 hours.

Read the full Harvard Business Review article.

Hila Lifshitz-Assaf is an Associate Professor of Technology, Operations and Statistics.