This article is taken from MovesTheNeedle site, by Brant Cooper

According to the Duke University/CFO Business Outlook survey, the longest-running and among the most respected research of financial executives, nearly half of the CFOs surveyed believe that the United States will enter a recession by the end of 2019, and 82% expect that a recession will happen by the end of 2020.
For those of you out there running your company’s innovation program, you know what that likely means. Despite the fact that mature innovation programs are constructed in such a way to protect against downturns, they are often the first programs to be cut. Worse, despite the increase in uncertainty concomitant with economic downturns, businesses forget what they learned in their innovation programs. They revert to entrenched execution behaviors, trying to squeeze blood out of the turnip.

I would like to offer a different, proactive strategy; one that demonstrates the opportunity cost of not investing in innovation far outweighs the immediate cost savings. The strategy is derived from our experience guiding clients through uncertainty.

Step 1: Start small, but be audacious.
Innovators who want to make an impact despite a change in market sentiment should look no further than what’s right in front of them. Internal hackathons, comprised of local kindred spirits, coached by the innovation team are a great way to equip employees with the right tools and tactics, while moving real projects forward quickly

The hackathons can be held over any 2–3 day period, including off-hours. Companies that allow employees a certain percentage of unstructured time look favorably on employees who shift that time to activities intended to surface new efficiencies for the core business. A common practice we’ve seen is clustering one’s time over a long weekend, running from Friday to Sunday, or Saturday to a wrap-up half-day session on a Monday holiday. Companies without unstructured time programs can ask for volunteers, but not without some potential upside.

Along with the right timing, successful innovation “hackathons” are those with the biggest ambitions. In the most effective and memorable hackathons we’ve encountered, the corporate innovation team set the goal of “100 startups in 100 days.” In other words, using a combination of ideas generated by employees, as well as those based on needs identified by leaders, 100 internal startup teams were formed in a little over 3 months.

The goal of the program was not outrageousness for its own sake nor a means of garnering attention. This was neither an attempt to create “disruptive innovation,” nor “innovation theater.” Rather, it was about inspiring creativity on real business issues, but customer facing and internal, through constraint. And using the same short-term mindset of management to demonstrate that innovation is an essential function across the organization, not nice-to-have R&D reserved for when times are “good” or only to be undertaken by the innovation team.

Step 2: Find the ruptures.
There’s a catch. This is not your typical hackathon. The standard “build it and they will come” innovation ideation session model assumes all ideas are inherently good and should proceeds directly to go-build them into prototypes over the course of a weekend. The effort is primarily based on technical risk. In other words, how much technical viability, can we build over the weekend? This challenge is exciting, because who doesn’t like a new toy after a hard-working weekend?

In contrast, our recommended version of an innovation workshop program seeks to find immediate customer value. Ideas are broken down to their core assumptions, then tested through various methods, including talking to real customers or creating concierge MVPs.

The methodology centers on three principles, which we call the 3 Es of Lean Innovation:
Empathy — Understanding our customers deeply;
Experiments — Running experiments to test our riskiest assumptions;
Evidence — Looking at data + insights on a regular cadence to inform next steps.

The results generated should reveal opportunities. Whether it’s a product or service, customer-facing or an internal process issue, the ruptures in delivery or support present opportunities to improve what we are doing. They achieve the desired outcomes of “squeezing blood out of the turnip,” without actually taking anyone’s blood. How we respond and what we place in the rupture makes all the difference. We need to demonstrate the customer impact (again, external or internal customers) we can find and then execute upon in the short term, to meet the immediate company needs in a recession.

Brant Cooper is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Lean Entrepreneur. He also serves as an advisor to entrepreneurs, accelerators and corporate innovation teams. He is CEO of Moves The Needle, which empowers organizations to discover and create new value.