Covid-19 Crisis: The Hunt for Solutions 

Prof Solomon Darwin-

The need for Open Innovation for a time of crisis.

At a time of crisis, innovation is critical to accelerating solutions but we need to tap into the global brain for latent ideas and IP that are already available to the world. To quote William Gibson “The future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed”. To paraphrase his quote “All the solutions and technology needed are here already in people’s minds but they are not together.  It is like all the pieces of the puzzle are on the table but they need to be brought together. This takes the “Open Innovation” process at a time like this to accelerate solutions.


Prof. Solomon-Darwin

This is a subject I had been teaching at Berkeley for some time. The process of innovation falls into two categories: a) closed innovation and b) open innovation. Closed innovation is what we call “outside-in”; here knowledge only flows one way. This is when entities or people grab knowledge from others to benefit but not share their own knowledge with others. Closed innovation does not benefit the world due to the selfish or greedy nature of human beings. On the other hand, “Open Innovation” promotes knowledge flow in both directions: “Outside-In” and “Inside-Out” a process where entities or individuals share their knowledge to come up with solutions.  Usually in a crisis like this, out of self-preservation, people open up to tap into all the available knowledge to accelerate the solutions before major destruction happens. As always, even at a time like this, there will be predators who come to steal to gain for themselves as they do not care for the people who are suffering.  In a crisis that we are in, we need “open innovation” to work. This requires trusted environments where people are willing to share to serve one another for the benefit of all.


In the current pandemic innovation, needs to not just provide a solution but also expedite it. The main purpose of open innovation is to provide solutions to problems real fast to put out fires, stop the suffering, relieve bottlenecks, and tighten the weakest links. In the current crisis, what is needed in many parts of the world are solutions to controlling the spread of the virus, tracing patients and their contacts, and addressing the need for adequate healthcare infrastructure to care for those who are suffering. Sharing knowledge does not mean that it is for free – solving the problem first and attending to human needs is more urgent than figuring out the business model. Prosperity follows doing the right thing.


The ongoing pandemic data is what countries, organizations, and companies will be looking at for several years to come in terms of research and development. For a country like India which has large numbers in terms of patients and poor infrastructure,  data collection portals become very essential.  However, collecting data is only the first step. Like oil in the ground, it needs to be located, collected, refined, packaged, and distributed to be useful. Otherwise, the oil in the ground is useless to us. Data is useless unless it is converted into information (that shows patterns and trends to tell us what to do). Information is useless unless it is converted into knowledge (which shows us how to solve the problem). Knowledge is useless unless it has a business model to deliver the value (to benefit both the provider and the consumer). The business model is also useless unless it is scalable (to benefit all people and not just a selected few who can afford it). Scalability is also useless if it becomes an enemy of sustainability (scaling something should not destroy the environment). Sustainability is also useless unless it makes people happy.


Collective intelligence is essential as our brains are too small. We cannot say to others that we do not need them as we need global brainpower to solve a crisis. For this reason, God created us to be interdependent to care for one another – we are our brother’s keeper.  “The solutions are already here – but they need to come together – as they are not evenly distributed”. We are now realizing that there is a dire need in this world for benevolent leadership on the planet.




[Prof. Solomon Darwin, serves as the Executive Director: Center for Corporate Innovation, Executive Director: Center for Growth Markets at Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley. He is known as the father of the Smart Village Movement and is the author of four books: Amazon Author’s Page  “How to think like The CEO of the planet”, “The Untouchables, Three Generations of Triumph over Torment” and “Smart Villages of Tomorrow” and “How to Create Smart Villages” ]