How Innovation is Becoming the Cure for COVID-19

These days, I often wake up thinking it was all a dream. But by the first scan of the morning’s headlines, I realize we’re still in the zombie horror movie known as coronavirus. Just like in most low-budget cult flicks, an unlikely hero is emerging who will conquer the threat and safe the day. Her name: human creativity.

As politicians pick fights and scrabble over turf, creative minds around the world are getting down to business. Their north star question: how can we defeat the virus with our superpower of imagination? A few uplifting examples of that powerful force in action:

Facing a life-threatening shortage of ventilators, engineers in Italy took a brilliant creative leap. They retrofitted readily available scuba masks to work as ventilator masks through a series of modifications and 3D-printed connectors. These crudely constructed devices provide desperately needed relief to healthcare workers in their fight to save lives.

The University of Washington’s Center for Game Science is also using wide-scale creativity to attack the pandemic. They created a free online game called FoldIt, where players fold proteins in a puzzle-like experience to try to match the shape of Coronavirus molecules, thereby inventing a medicine that could block the virus from attacking cells. As players from around the world compete, a new treatment may emerge.

The billionaire James Dyson is also lending a creative hand. With his company’s expertise designing vacuum cleaners, blow dryers, and fans, he was able to develop a new type of ventilator – the Dyson CoVent – in just 10 days. “This new device can be manufactured quickly, efficiently and at volume,” Dyson said in a statement. The machine is designed to “address the specific needs” of coronavirus patients, with the first 15,000 units arriving in hospitals in early April.

Speaking of hospitals and 10-day periods of invention, when the virus broke out in Wuhan, China, officials used creative problem solving to fight back.  Recognizing the desperate need for a new hospital, they realized that pursuing a typical multi-year construction project would be futile. Instead, creative leaders in government, industry, and healthcare all rallied together in solidarity, building the two-story, 1,000 bed, 366,000-square-foot Huoshenshan Hospital in just ten days.

The quote that “necessity is the mother of invention (Plato, circa 400 BCE)” continues to stand the test of time. One bright spot in these challenging times is how the human spirit can conquer any obstacle by leveraging the imagination. The insidious coronavirus is a formidable opponent, to be sure, but my bet is on the dynamic duo of inventive thinking and creative problem-solving to defeat the evil warlord and save humanity.

The perfect ending to my zombie horror flick.