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  • Neil Gridley

A lesson from lockdown

Throughout this terrible pandemic and lockdown, I found myself going through the ‘emotional cycle of change’. At first denial that this was really happening, it was something in China and Italy but not here. That later turned to frustration and anger that a virus was transferred probably through our poor behaviour — towards animals and more broadly the natural world. I also became annoyed at what I was losing: 2 projects cancelled, no meeting friends and no meals out …. and many other things.


But then as I gradually accepted the situation and got used to the new normal, something emerged. My anger at what I was losing dissipated and I began to see what I was gaining; I had enough work and income, but I had gained more time: To think and read; to make things; to teach and play with my kids more; to explore on bike rides with my wife and kids in the evening on empty roads; to hear the amazing chorus of birdsong in the morning; to discover new things and focus on things I usually don’t have (or make) time for.


A Photo that i took of a copper ash tree (i googled it!) which i discovered in Hylands park. Another discovery due to lockdown was that this park was walkable from our house.


Much of my work these days is to help organisations innovate, and the lockdown process reminded me of the challenge of innovation.


When you suggest a new order of things, it is much more easy to understand what we (both stakeholders and customers) will lose, than to imagine the things we will gain. Here’s an example:


The sauna is popular all over the world — not just in Scandinavian countries. However, imagine for a moment that it doesn’t exist, but that you have come up with the idea for it and you try to sell the idea. You might start by saying that “It’s a small room, very hot and humid inside, where people sit naked”. At which point you would probably be asked, “To do what?’”, to which you would reply, “To sweat!”. We wonder how many people would reply, “What a fantastic idea, let’s do it!”. Not many I expect*.


Over my 25-year Design and Innovation career much of my work has been in helping organisations overcome this imagination gap.


We have a huge toolbox to help make this happen and i could write for hours about all these skills, methods and tools as well as how to manage the politics — but in simple terms, we have to ‘bring to life’ new things, giving people the chance to try new ‘experiences’ — to sample what something different and better could be really like and make the benefits really tangible.


In reality this is no easy task. It takes a lot of skill, guidance and collaboration. And the more systemic the changes, the greater the challenge.


Niccolò Machiavelli got it right with this quote on Change and Innovation in his 16th century political treatise, The Prince. Its still just as relevant today.


“There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. For the innovator has enemies in all those who profit by the old order, and only lukewarm defenders in all those who would profit by the new order, this luke-warmness arising partly from fear of their adversaries … and partly from the incredulity of mankind, who do not truly believe in anything new until they have had actual experience of it.”

I have heard many conversations about the opportunity this Pandemic brings to change things. To redefine our system. It won’t be easy — but at least we have the tools to do it.

*excerpt from my book ‘brand romance’ co-authored with Yasushi Kusume




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