Blog - Company
Apr 8, 2020 | Read time 3 min

Innovating through adversity – bringing the best out of humanity

CEO, John Milliken, explores how innovation and human spirit is helping us to navigate through the current situation presented by COVID-19.

It would have been hard to imagine when I wrote my last blog a month ago, that we would be facing a global pandemic, lockdown and such uncertainty to every aspect of our lives.

A month ago, I would have been accused of serious misjudgement (or worse!).

If I had told you that I would be stopping all employees coming into the office, telling them that they could only communicate electronically and that they would have to develop new working practices on the fly. On top of that, they would need to stay inside at all times with their respective families and home-school their children at the same time. Oh, and there was to be no discernible impact on the performance of the business and that this was going to last for an undetermined time period. What sort of reaction do you think that I would have got for my ‘new plan’?

Unfortunately, this is our new reality. Have we fallen apart? No, we have adapted, innovated and come together to find solutions to problems that didn’t exist the day before. We have helped and supported our teammates and their families and learnt many lessons about creativity, fortitude and simple humanity.

It is fantastic to be a part of the UK’s industry in innovation and technology, which has provided many of the ideas behind products that have recently become an even bigger part of our lives – where would telephone calls and web conferencing be without innovators like Alexander Graham Bell, John Logie Baird and Sir Tim Berners-Lee? Through this period of adversity, the UK is already doing what it does best and providing innovative solutions – including new designs of respirators and other less-invasive means to administer oxygen to seriously ill patients. I am sure there is much else to follow...

I, like other CEOs navigating through this unique time, am required to learn and adapt rapidly, be clear in what we value, and remain resilient protecting the future of our employees and our businesses.

Speechmatics is fortunate in that our core business is software-based so we can transcend the restrictions facing companies with physical assets moving through complex supply chains. We have a dynamic workforce who thrive in different social situations so are being as mindful as we can to ensure that remote working is not creating a lack of motivation or causing anxiety. We are staying connected with daily stand-ups for project teams, virtual social events and open Teams channels for everything from mindfulness to cake baking.

The natural consequence of this uncertainty has been more of a focus on tactical day to day activity. I’m conscious that I and my leadership team need to look after our people, motivate them AND focus on the bigger mid to long term strategy. There will inevitably be an economic impact on business as a result of COVID-19 – a slowdown of deal flow, an increase in debtor days and some non-payments. We, like many others, will need to work with our partners, customers and shareholders to manage the curveballs ahead.

I sincerely hope that we can focus on rebuilding after this crisis soon and learn valuable lessons about ourselves, our societies and our versatility as a race. I’ll leave you with a quote that is resonating with me at the moment from James Stockdale, the highest-ranking US PoW in the Vietnam War who sagely said:

“Retain faith that you will prevail in the end AND at the same time confront the most brutal facts of your current reality.”

Stay safe everyone.

John Milliken, CEO, Speechmatics