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Jan 12, 2023

Innovation in a Recession: Sarah Ajani, Senior Strategist

The last two years have shown many of us the value of innovation. The ability to accommodate surprises, discover effective solutions quickly, and strategically think about navigating an unknown future has helped certain businesses and leaders to stand out among the rest. In our podcast series, Innovation in a Recession, we’re speaking with leaders, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and more to get their perspectives on how companies should be thinking about their innovation strategy in 2023.


By Alex Pavlou

Founder - I help organizations and startups scale their teams.


From an economic and business perspective, the year has proven difficult to predict. With high volumes of layoffs happening simultaneously with an increase in hires, businesses are clearly trying to figure out the smartest places to invest. We were excited to welcome Sarah Ajani into the studio to share her experience with layoffs, share insights from 10 years in the innovation space, and provide some guidance on what innovation teams can bring to the table in a recession.


Juggling Fear and Preservation

Ajani shares her perspective on the very real emotions being felt in the innovation space and throughout many businesses.

“I believe many people in the innovation space who are practicing new product discovery day to day are worried about budgets getting cut and their role being eliminated, or just not having work available in their space. I’m also seeing a reluctance from companies to invest in new innovations or new developments.

Because of the recession and the state of the economy, there isn't as much capital flowing as a percentage of the total capital available. So, in general, there's a fear around investing in innovation.”

Ajani summarizes that companies are getting comfortable with the idea of just investing in operations and maintaining current business, but could this decision hinder potential growth?


Invest in Innovation Now? Why?

Due to the unpredictable market, some businesses are hesitant to invest in the work of innovation practitioners - but this just might be what makes or breaks your bottom line.

“What innovation can do in a tight market like this is help you to invest in the things that your customers are most likely to respond to and that are also gonna drive viability for the business while optimizing your feasibility. So those three things, which are kind of a core tenant of innovation are well suited for helping you stay competitive.”

- Sarah Ajani, Senior Strategist + Innovation Consultant



How Innovation Can Support Business

Investing in innovation is more profitable now than you might think, providing a fresh contribution to leadership and decision-making.

“As an innovation practitioner, if you're able to bring insights, bring relevant data, and show the value of innovation helping to prioritize initiatives, this can give leadership a lot to work with, provide decision-making tools and frameworks, and help the business to move decisively forward. As this practice becomes more obvious to leaders, it can really increase buy-in and create an appetite for more innovation work.”

The Risk of Cutting Innovation Investment

If innovation practitioners no longer have work in their field, they’ll need to turn to roles like project management and business strategist. Ajani fears this is risky for the future of business.

“While those roles are fantastic and have a critical place in the workplace, losing some of these ‘unicorns’ might pose a risk that when companies are ready to invest in innovation, they may not find practitioners that have kept their skills sharp and that can jump in and do the same work.”

- Sarah Ajani, Senior Strategist + Innovation Consultant



Stay tuned and subscribe for more insights from industry leaders as organizations manage navigation business and operations through a recession.

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