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A Think-Outside-The-Box Tool For These Challenging Times

We live in challenging times. The Corona virus is creating a new world. Yuval Noah Harari puts it like this in his Financial Times article: “The storm will pass but the choices we make now could change our lives for years.” This is a time of forced reflection, introspection, digital transformation and service innovation. We have created a tool to help businesses think outside the box and find new, fresh ideas with the help of students. The Corona crisis made us speed up our timeline because this service is now more relevant than ever.

A lot of businesses see their workload drop and this creates time for reflection. The changing situation in which most interactions are now digital forces businesses to do some introspections and see how their services translate to the online world. Some businesses are already largely digital but every business is now faced with one of the main questions of our time: how can we leverage the possibilities of digital for our business? How do the services we provide translate to the digital world. Businesses that are not yet focussing on these questions are now also forced to. Nightclubs that are typically offline gatherings of people are now live streaming DJ sets for people at home to enjoy. Restaurants that were not delivering food through online apps now see this as their only option to keep their staff.

The need to innovate and to reflect is spread all over social media today. My LinkedIn timeline and Instagram feed is filled with advice on leadership, innovation and refocus. But what is missing from all this advice is the how. How can you come up with new concepts? Where do you get fresh input? How can you connect to people with good ideas? A lot of ideas can come from inside the businesses but these times require outside-the-box thinking. Not all companies have to do this alone. In these times of social distancing, we can use online tools to connect. Most businesses are already Zooming, Skyping, Teaming, Hangouting, Facetiming to connect employees and clients. But what is needed now more than ever is a tool that lets businesses connect to outside ideas.

We have been working on a tool that does just that. It helps businesses to think outside the box with the help of University students. Students have fresh ideas and perspectives that can help businesses think outside the normal. This helps businesses but also it offers the students the opportunity to connect to businesses, learn from real business problems, and develop new skills. Before, this was a tool for businesses who already formulated challenges that could benefit from the help of fresh, clever minds. Now, the Corona virus has put this challenge in every business.

The tool we have developed is the Student Challenge Board. It is being developed and operated from Maastricht University. Its primary goal is to connect students and businesses in an easy, effortless, creative way. Up until now, we had to put a lot of energy in explaining the idea of a challenge, a question that could really benefit from an outsiders perspective of young, smart and creative students. In the time we have been working with this tool, we found that a lot of businesses were focussed on business as usual and were having trouble formulating challenges they were facing that could benefit from outside help. In these Corona-determined-times, nobody will have troubles formulating challenges. The Corona virus is asking businesses a couple of universal questions:

  • How can we keep our workforce engaged and productive when they have to work remotely?
  • How we recreate our services to flourish in an increasingly digital world?
  • What new business models are there for our business that will make us more resilient for disruption?

Today disruption is not only coming from startups but also from natural disasters. Innovative companies want to be ahead of the curve and innovate before they are disrupted. But most business have a tendency to wait too long to innovate. The Corona disruption is sudden and hits us hard at a staggering pace. What the Corona virus does is make the need for innovation, the need to rethink, crystal clear. In order to survive this and to come out on top at the end of this crisis, we have some mind-shifts to make. One of them is the shift to leveraging the power of digital, the other is to become more innovative, lean, agile. These trends have been developing for a long time now but are still not the new normal. The Corona virus offers us the opportunity to make these mind-shifts, to leapfrog to the mindset that is required to thrive in the 21st century.

The Student Challenge Board we have developed can be a platform to take action. It is one of the answers to the how of leadership, innovation and co-creation. The Corona virus is creating the awareness of the challenges of the 21st century, co-creation platforms like the Student Challenge Board are designed to give us the tools to take massive action when it comes to thinking outside the box. On the Student Challenge Board, you can post a challenge that requires fresh thinking and directly tap into the creativity of the students. There is no need to create accounts, and we’ll help you through the whole process. It works pretty simple:

  • Visit info.studentchallengeboard.maastrichtuniversity.nl
  • Think of a challenge you are facing right now that could use the thinking power of young, creative, smart minds.
  • Send us your challenge, we’ll help you with a formulation that will engage our students.
  • Set a deadline and reward and we’ll post the challenge on our platform.
  • From the input of students, you select one or more winners. The rest of the input can also be valuable to you or to others, so we’ll post the answers to the challenges so businesses with similar challenges can get inspired for their solutions. This way we all help each other.

I hope to see you all on our platform so we can all help each other with the challenges the Corona virus puts in front of us. The only way we can beat this is if we all work together and we hope our platform can contribute to that.

Strategic UX Design Consultant @ Zuiderlicht / Design Leadership Forum Member @InVision / Design Thinker / State Secretary of Integration @ Ministry of Design

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