“The Corona crisis gives a significant push to digitization”

“New technical solutions are often adopted only hesitantly – but in a crisis, new paths must be taken quickly. New habits established on that occasion often remain in place once the crisis is over.” In an interview, Prof. Dr. Joachim Henkel, Professor of Technology and Innovation Management at the TUM School of Management, explains how the current Corona crisis accelerates the adoption of innovations and to what extent this is a familiar picture.



Prof. Dr. Joachim Henkel

Professor Henkel, what does the adoption process for innovations usually look like?

At first, innovations are adopted by those users who benefit the most from them and who are generally more open to new ideas. Over time, also average users become aware of the innovation and adopt it. The speed of this process depends on two main factors: the extent to which the innovation is an improvement compared to existing solutions and the complexity and cost of adoption.



Why are technical innovations often implemented hesitantly?

Often the advantage of an innovation over an existing solution does not seem clear, while the risks are overemphasized. Reasons can be a lack of information as well as a fundamental aversion to change. In addition, the hurdles associated with adoption of an innovation – monetary costs as well as time expenditure – are often overestimated due to myopia, although they would pay off in the long term.


What happens to this process in times of crisis?

In times of crisis, the evaluation of what is a valuable innovation changes. Respiratory equipment is a good example. While previous innovations regarding these devices in the period before the Corona crisis concerned aspects such as handling, today we are talking about relatively simple designs that can be produced quickly, cheaply, decentralized, and in large quantities. Other examples are medication and vaccines against Covid-19: because of the crisis, progress in this area would be incredibly valuable, which is why developments are pursued much more intensively and, where possible, more quickly than during normal times.


Can crises act as catalysts for innovation? What factors change in a crisis to accelerate this process?

Crises affect innovation in different ways. They create uncertainty and financial problems for companies, which has a negative impact on innovation. Conversely, they force us to change our habits. The widespread use of video conferencing since the beginning of “social distancing” illustrates very clearly how a crisis can accelerate the adoption of innovations. The driving factor here is that the relative advantage of a video conference over a face-to-face meeting is suddenly very large. The same applies to other aspects of digitization, which has become even more urgent due to the Corona crisis.


Will these innovations remain even after the crisis?

Innovations whose advantage only exists during the crisis will lose importance again afterwards. For example, medication against Covid-19 – which I hope will be found soon – will not be used in large quantities after the end of the crisis. In other cases, however, the crisis will help to overcome the adoption hurdles of an innovation. Once you have made the necessary investments, learned how to use new software, or appreciated the benefits of video conferencing, you will continue to use the innovation, even after the end of the crisis. I am sure the Corona crisis gives a significant push to digitization.


Prof. Dr. Henkel (*1965) was appointed full professor at TUM School of Management in 2004. Working in the field of technology and innovation management, he studies technology acquisitions, digitalization, open and user innovation, and patent management.

The post “The Corona crisis gives a significant push to digitization” appeared first on Technical University of Munich – School of Management.

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