Recession, Spaghetti, and Innovation

The other day I was making spaghetti in my new apartment and I realized I had no strainer. In college I would just drain the water out of my Easy Mac (I hate lots of water in my macaroni) with a plate over the bowl to keep the noodles from falling to their death. This won’t work for an entire pot of boiling pasta. On this day, however, I happened to notice I had a salad spinner that I bought from Goodwill a few days earlier. Turns out the salad spinner works great for straining spaghetti noodles. Who knew? My last-ditch innovation reminded me of how creative thinking in times of recession really pay off.

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The current economic turndown has affected us all in some way or another. Businesses and consumers are tightening wallets and slimming down budgets. Business is slowing because of the current situation and the fear of anticipated hard times. We’re all finding that it’s imperative to be frugal, cautious, patient and, especially, creative during recessions. So what’s the bright spot? We have the opportunity during a recession to refocus brands, clean up shop, create from scratch, see things differently and effectively communicate ideas. Consider the downturn in the global economy a chance to sharpen your creative thinking skills. Creative thinking is, and should be, a large part of strategic business planning — not just something tacked on for aesthetics. In other words, graphic design is a necessity during any recession.

The great depression had a soaring unemployment rate of 25%. Compared to our current 7.6% it seems staggering, but a lot of good things came out of the depression. Companies that continued their advertising and marketing efforts during that time, such as Chevy and Camel, found they were rewarded when the economy recovered. A lot of companies cut their marketing efforts in hopes of cutting back their budget — but they also cut back on profits. By maintaining and even increasing your marketing efforts during an economic downturn, you increase brand loyalty and consistency. And consumers like to see a company sticking it out.

During a recession, folks seem to stay in more. I know I don’t go out to the movies or out to gourmet dinners as often as I did before. Because people stay in more often, they see your ads. After all, what do people do when they have no money? They watch TV and surf the web. While TV was rare and the web didn’t exist, the depression was a time when several companies benefited from aggressive marketing while their rivals cut back and stopped thinking innovatively. Check out this paper by Andrew Razeghi, a professor at the Kellog School of Management at Northwestern University. Razeghi states the following:

Economic downturns make innovation not only more important, but one could argue…that the process of innovation is actually easier to manage and much more cost effective during economic downturns. More importantly, the products of innovation are more valuable during tough times.

In other words, one way to become recession proof is to distinguish yourself through innovation.

Not only are graphic design and creative thinking important in business and your daily life but also in politics. Politically creative thinking could help to solve many of the problems we have and even improve the quality of life. Graphic design is imperative in times of recession — it can be used to improve public safety, promote public health, communicate social problems, and even fix those stupid governmental forms. Further, clear, friendly and informative design can modify consumer behavior. In 1972 (a period not entirely free from strife) Nixon created a program called the Federal Design Improvement Program. The hopes of the program was to better the internal and external communications collateral and environments. Nixon said:

I believe that we all can find that the arts have a great deal more to contribute to what we in government are seeking to accomplish and that this will be good for the arts and good for the country.

Okay, maybe he was a crook, but he hit the nail on the head with this one. During times of recession we need to think innovatively to improve technology, push new product development and increase collaboration. Recessions, and desperation, inspire innovation. Just like my salad spinner.