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Innovation Supports Federal COVID-19 Response: A Case Study on Short-term Results and Sustainment Thoughts

January 12, 2021

January 12, 2021

By John Bartrum, Chief Executive Officer, Brightstar Innovations Group, LLC. and Academy Fellow

Introduction

Dr. Deming noted “…it is necessary to innovate, to predict needs of the customer.” During the COVID-19 Pandemic, we have seen yet again how necessity is the mother of innovation.

History doesn’t repeat itself, but it rhymes. Technology advances have been used to address many human challenges experienced throughout history. Infectious diseases can be propagated by bacteria, viruses and other things you cannot see. For example, smallpox used to kill millions. In 1796, Edward Jenner decided to try an experiment that resulted in a new technology: a vaccine for smallpox. Sir Alexander Fleming harnessed the power of nature to establish the single greatest victory over disease in the 1920s with the discovery of penicillin. Technological advances have impacted how we treat illnesses, but does not change the fact that infectious diseases have the potential to make people sick, or as in 1918 and 2020, threaten the entire human race. It is only through innovation that we can both reduce and overcome these real threats.

What is innovation? Innovation is the action or process of innovating a new method, idea, or product. Often, it is making new things with things you already have. Innovation occurs at two different levels – breakthrough and incremental – both are needed but breakthrough requires more deliberate leadership focus.

Public perception has assumed that government organizations are incapable of a culture of innovation as they are absent of competitive forces, lack of incentives for employees, and have excessive red tape. However, innovation does and has occurred in the government. Historically and as the COVID-19 pandemic response highlights, we see when leaders make a deliberate decision to focus on innovation, they can overcome this conventional wisdom.

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