Back in the old days — in February 2020 — we used to talk about “exponential rates of change” without really understanding it.

The COVID-19 pandemic has given us a much better understanding of what “exponential” actually means.

In an article in The Atlantic, Rachel Donadio tells the story of Italy’s “Patient One.” To protect his privacy, we know only his first name, Mattia.

He went to his hospital in the small town of Codogna, south of Italy’s main industrial city Milan. They tested him for COVID-19. His test came back positive on 20 February.

The next day, Italy locked down 11 municipalities in the province of Lodi. In Mattia’s home town of Codogna the police erected barricades. They had 400 policemen and 35 checkpoints policing what they called the “Red Zone.”

On 9 March, Italy was the first European country to implement lockdown measures.

By the time Mattia left hospital on 22 March, four weeks after his test came back positive, the whole of Italy had been locked down for nearly two weeks.

It was too late.

From one person infected to nearly 200,000 — from one person recovered to over 22,000 deaths in just 8 weeks. That’s what exponential growth means.

What are the innovation lessons we can take from this?

  1. By the time the signs are obvious, it may be too late.

There’s a famous story from 1929 about Joe Kennedy, who was a famous rich guy at the time. He had his shoes shined before going to the office, and the person shining his shoes gave him a stock tip: “Buy Hindenburg.”

He said: “You know it’s time to sell when shoeshine boys are giving you stock tips. This bull market is over.” He famously exited the market before the great stock market crash.

By the time Patient One’s test came back, the virus had already been circulating in northern Italy for about three weeks – three weeks that made all the difference.

  1. There’s an advantage in reacting quickly.

Countries and cities that reacted quickly and decisively have much better outcomes than those that “wait and see.” With COVID-19, a week — even a few days — made a difference.

The innovation lesson is to launch quickly and learn quickly. Any advantage you gain or lessons you learn are multiplied.

  1. We’re all human.

One lesson the COVID-19 pandemic really brought home to me in particular, is that we’re all in this together. The virus may have come from bats, but it was people who were in lockdown. And no matter where we were in the world, the uncertainty, the fear, the sadness and sense of loss was universal. The whole of humanity is in this together.

When looking at how people are responding to this pandemic, Accenture has found the following five trends. I’m listing them here, but I will write about them in more depth.

  1. The Cost of Confidence. Right now, going to the shops feels risky. What customers need more than anything else is trust
  2. The Virtual Century. The joke going around is: “What caused your company’s shift to digital? A) Cheaper access to technology? B) Lower costs of connectivity? C) The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020?” Everybody is shifting everything they can right now to online platforms.
  3. Every business is a health business. Our research suggests that a “health economy” will emerge and every business will need to understand how it can be part of a new health ecosystem.
  4. Cocooning, a term first coined by trend forecaster Faith Popcorn in 1981, is back with a vengeance. In the 1980s, fear of nuclear war encouraged people to stay at home and fueled the home entertainment innovations and home cinemas.
  5. The reinvention of authority. We may see top-down control come back into fashion, if governments handle the crisis well. If not, there may be a backlash against central authority. Whichever trend prevails, society’s relationship with authority will be altered.

Each of these trends presents a potential opportunity for innovation. I will be unpacking them in future articles. Which of these trends do you think will affect your business the most? I’m always keen to find out what you think. Please email me at