“Necessity is the mother of invention” goes the adage, and there’s nothing like the spring of 2020 to create all sorts of new necessities. 

We’ve written before about disruption, the importance of innovation, and how the coronavirus crisis has enabled entrepreneurship by forcing the removal of regulatory barriers. As Jennifer Thompson noted in this week’s Civil Squared newsletter: “If we really do want to build and let innovators lead the way with entrepreneurial solutions (like those we’ve seen recently), we’ll need to start cutting the red tape to give them a path to do that.”


Crises and innovation

Coronavirus has undoubtedly created new business opportunities. And this isn’t the first time in history that a crisis has brought about groundbreaking inventions.

The Economist has a brief article about the invention of the bicycle in 1815. The crisis that brought it about? The 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia. The eruption was the most powerful in recorded history. The cloud of dust and gas caused crops to fail, which caused people—and horses—to go without food. As the article notes:

This last predicament prompted Karl von Drais, a German inventor, to devise a personal-transport machine to replace the horse: a two-wheeled wooden contraption which he called the Laufmaschine (literally, “running machine”).

Von Drais didn’t immediately invent a modern-looking bike (it looks really uncomfortable), but he did spark the idea that others continued to refine and develop until, now, we’re finally able to ride our stationary bikes indoors in a hot room like civilized people.


Rethinking the status quo

Maybe 2020 will finally give us our personal jetpacks or hoverboards. We’ll have to wait and see. But 2020 has given us opportunities for rethinking the status quo. Now, layered on top of COVID-19, we have a cultural crisis brought on by a tragedy caused, in part, by outdated perspectives and practices of policing. This too brings about opportunities for entrepreneurship and innovation.

Just as COVID-19 has forced governments to cut red tape to give entrepreneurs a path to innovate, it’s time for all of us to cut the red tape of our preconceptions and habits of mind to allow us to look at new ideas about policing. Issues with getting rid of bad cops, use of excessive force, overly aggressive policing in underserved areas, and even the relationship between cars and cops all deserve open-minded discussion.

Innovation in policing won’t immediately provide perfect results—no new development ever does—but by allowing the experimentation and agility that is the hallmark of entrepreneurship to work within our country’s 15,000 police departments, guided by a desire for both safety and justice, we will see positive change.

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