We are now all aware that this is a defining moment in history. A microscopic amount of cells has ravaged our public health, our economy and our way of life writ large for the foreseeable future. And while we are no strangers to crisis, this time is profoundly different because the solutions will not be found in the halls of Congress but rather in the labs of biotech companies and in the heads of our most creative inventors.
Typical financial crises like the Great Recession are born in the financial sector and typically caused by easy lending and bad policy, and thus their solutions revolve around better policy and regulation. I believe this crisis, however, because of its nature, will not be solved by legislation, but rather by innovation.
We are at a crossroads in this crisis where we are only beginning to see the magnitude and complexity of the problems that this pandemic has created and the major constraints we are facing in solving these problems. This environment of large-scale problems with significant constraints has now become the modern battlefield of our time, on which innovators and inventors have the ability to become our heroes. While government can help produce more or fund solutions, it is our inventors and innovators who can find better and faster solutions. Taking on these problems, therefore, is no longer solely the responsibility of the government, but is also now a civic duty.
The main solutions to this crisis--testing, treatment, and vaccine--will be found by scientists, but almost every other subsequent problem will be solved by the business innovators and inventors of the world, and it can be approached like any other entrepreneurial process.
Identify the problems.
The first step, as with any entrepreneurial process, will be problem identification. If we stand a chance of getting ahead of any of these issues, it will be important to begin thinking right away about the universe of problems that will soon arise. For instance, one problem we will be facing down the road will be in vaccine implementation. Given that potential vaccines so rarely make it through the approval process, and manufacturers typically specialize in one vaccine, the global production capacity for vaccines will likely be severely limited. This will present a huge potential global problem, and an opportunity for an inventor to figure out a way around it.
How can your skills and abilities help solve the problems?
Second, innovators need to think about the application of their capabilities to these problems. For instance, there are already so many problems in this crisis caused by our inability to accurately track information. From the potential crisis in the global food supply chain to even simply tracking the spread of the coronavirus, problems with tracking large amounts of information immediately suggest a blockchain solution.
Look for workaround solutions.
In addition, inventors must come up with workarounds for our lack of physical materials needed to treat this disease. From ventilators to masks to gowns to even hospitals themselves, we need solutions that leapfrog over the current dilemmas to produce these needed items. While asking Gap to manufacture hospital gowns is important, we will also need to solve problems using different means. For instance, even in the best times, ventilators are difficult to produce, as they are complicated medical machinery and their production is subject to supply chain issues. Speeding up this process requires invention around the current design of ventilators.
The good news is there are innovators and inventors who have these capabilities. James Dyson, the brilliant inventor, is already working on new design for a ventilator. And I have to believe (and sincerely hope) that somewhere in New Hampshire, Dean Kamen, one of the most prolific inventors of our time, is working on a solution, since he has spent decades creating life-changing innovations for a variety of illnesses. The entrepreneurs at Sweetgreen have already been working on blockchain solutions to global food supply problems. All we can hope is that the people and companies with the ability to find solutions step up to the plate starting now.
Never before in our lifetime has there been such a call to action for inventors, and entrepreneurs. It is a moment in our history where entrepreneurship, invention, and business have become a civic duty. While most entrepreneurs operate with some notion of bettering the world, never before perhaps in the history of the industrialized world has the mission of saving the planet been so real, so impending, and so life changing. It is time for all us to stop sitting in the passenger's seat, hoping that the government will take the wheel. This time is different; this crisis will not be solved by a bill or bureaucracy or increased regulation; it will be solved by innovation, ingenuity, and the ability of businesses to solve problems.