Digital resilience uses design thinking to help organizations begin to reimagine their business models and accelerate bouncing back from COVID-19

This past weekend I heard a politician tout how some restaurant owners were introducing an innovation to help bring customers back into restaurants. Their brilliant idea: plexiglass barriers between tables. That made me cringe. It made me realize that many companies will simply try to add minor retrofits to their businesses to operate in the same way they did before the virus. Such solutions ignore the profound change every business is experiencing. This “just fix it” mindset might deliver a temporary lifeline, but simplistic solutions won’t provide a sustainable path to survive and thrive beyond the pandemic.

The existential challenge facing every business leader is to reimagine their business’ relationship with customers in a way that can work in this new era. To do this, business and technology leaders will need to adopt a new framework, digital resilience. Digital resilience uses design thinking to help organizations begin to reimagine their business models and accelerate bouncing back from COVID-19.

While design thinking is not a new concept, its impact and visibility has grown during the pandemic. For example, leaders in San Diego launched a city-wide design challenge that invited the entire community to think through problems and create solutions together. OpenIDEO has launched a global COVID-19 design challenge focused on reimagining learning and education during the pandemic. And forward leaning business leaders, such as Ford CEO Jim Hackett, are applying design thinking to reimagine the employee experience that will need to be created in order to return employees return safely to work.

Unfortunately, the majority of business leaders are focused solely on preserving their current revenue streams. This is a natural reaction given the level of contraction taking place in the economy.  However, to reimagine your business model, you will need to put your customers and their hopes and fears, not the preservation of revenue, at the center of any new business model you design for the future. User-centered design is at the heart of design thinking, which is why it is so powerful for reimagining your business model for a post-COVID world.

Here’s a great example of how digital resilience can help a company quickly reimagine its business model. Earlier this year I decided to take up running again and signed up for a 10K race in my neighborhood. Once the coronavirus pandemic hit, the race organizers cancelled the race. Although disappointed, I decided to keep training, since my regular runs during the week and long runs on weekends helped to shake off stress and clear my head.

Then a few weeks ago, I learned that Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathons, one of the leading marathon organizers in the world, had launched a virtual race series. I thought this might be cool to check out. But when I went to the website, I was blown away by how they had totally reimagined the race experience for a socially distancing world. The new experience was completely designed around their customer’s new reality: A strong desire to continue competing and training, while also staying safe and healthy. Runners could sign up and run races wherever they lived by synching a fitness tracker app, such as Map My Run, with Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon’s virtual race website.


Last week I completed my first virtual race, an 8K run, with over 9,000 other runners. After I completed the race, I could see where I ranked relative to other runners. They also had customized swag I could buy after completing each virtual race. This included customized medals for each race, t-shirts, hats, and even customized face masks for runners.

In this new business model, Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathons used a digital resilience mindset to create an online community that helped runners feel connected and not as socially distant. And the best part of all, Rock ‘n’ Roll introduced a new revenue stream that will likely remain with them even after the virus subsides.

So how can you adopt a digital resilience mindset to begin reimagining your business?

Here are the steps you will need to take to build your digital resilience and jumpstart ideation for your post-COVID reality:

  • Frame post-COVID challenges. Take time to list the top three top challenges your business will face in a post-COVID world. In many cases these challenges center on helping customers feel safe to re-engage with your product or service. For example, if you run operations for a mid-sized bank, your top challenges might focus on how to make customers feel safe using self-service channels for more of their transactions. Once you list your top challenges, refine each challenge to make sure the customer – or employee – is at the heart of challenge.
  • Co-create with your customers. Engage customers in exploratory conversations that deepen your level of empathy and understanding of the challenges they face. Seek out customers at the extremes to gain inspiration for new ideas you might not have considered in the past. These can be customers who are big fans or customers who have given you really bad reviews or feedback. Seeking input from these extreme customers will push you to come up with ideas more creative than plexiglass dividers.
  • Brainstorm future possibilities. Imagine for a second what the world will look like in the next two months, the next six months, the next year. Document your biggest assumptions of what the world will look like at different points in the future, as we emerge from the pandemic. Then run brainstorm sessions with your team to come up with dozens of solutions for each point in the future. Use the challenges you identified in the first step as your jump off point for brainstorming.
  • Validate ideas with digital prototypes. Use digital tools such as low-code platforms and robotic automation to build simple prototypes you can use to gather quick feedback from customers and employees. For example, we worked with one company to build a prototype in a few days so we could test a way to accelerate the Paycheck Protection Program loan application submission and review. This quick prototype served as the foundation for the bank processing nearly $250M in PPP loans over a very short period of time.

At Digital FastForward, our mission is to help teams unlock their full creative potential to tackle the toughest innovation challenges. During this pandemic we believe the only way forward demands a new type of grit generated from innovation, creativity, and an optimistic spirit.

Our design thinking bootcamps and innovation programs are designed to equip you with the digital resilience you will need to bounce back and reimagine the future. Click here to register for one of our upcoming Design Thinking for Digital Resilience Bootcamps coming up on June 9 and June 25, 2020.