Giving Compass' Take:

•  Jessica Plante advises innovators to capitalize on beneficial opportunities like homemade face masks.

• What other opportunities exist to innovate and help people through coronavirus? How can you support the effort to provide more people with proper protective gear, like face masks?

• Find COVID-19 funds to support.

Though guidelines for their use vary from mere recommendations to mandates, demand for masks has remained constant as people seek to protect themselves and others from COVID-19. Consumers originally scrambled to pick up N95 and medical masks, but were advised they should be reserved for frontline healthcare workers and emergency responders, not for midday grocery store runs or walks in the park. Now, they’re almost impossible to find.

As a result, less-effective face masks that still reduce the likelihood of spreading the disease burst onto the scene. YouTubers quickly created video tutorials explaining how to make simple no-sew masks with a bandana and hair ties, and savvy sewers began using old t-shirts and heavy fabric to make their own at home.

This boom in homemade masks is a classic example of a workaround. Jobs Theory explains that people seek to make progress according to their own priorities—what we call their Jobs to Be Done. When there isn’t a commercial product for their job, they cobble together their own workarounds or compensating behaviors. Being able to spot workarounds is a valuable skill for potential innovators to hone, since it enables them to better develop products that align with what consumers are already trying to accomplish.

What we’re seeing with the rise of non-medical face masks is the perfect guiding story for innovators. A set of circumstances arose with no solution in sight. Suitable, but crude, solutions arose and spread. Better quality solutions soon followed, and a new market was ultimately created. Regardless of their field, other innovators should take note—identifying workarounds and improving upon them to help consumers make progress is a sure pathway into untapped product innovation.

Read the full article about face masks by Jessica Plante at Christensen Institute.