Necessity is the mother of invention — Why we can benefit from the crisis

© Fraunhofer IAO, Illustration: Thomas Kuhlenbeck

Joseph von Fraunhofer, the physicist and maker of optical lenses who gave the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft its name, is known for striving to put scientific results into practice quickly. Not only did he make groundbreaking discoveries in the area of optics and precision engineering, but he also used them to build up a profitable company.

Joseph von Fraunhofer’s career, however, was not just the result of talent and determination. It was also the consequence of tragic twists of fate, so to speak: His parents died when he was still a child. A few years later, the glassmaker’s house where he worked as an apprentice collapsed. Fraunhofer was recovered alive. Because of this tragedy, sponsors took notice of the young Fraunhofer and laid the foundation for his career.

This astonishing story shows that a crisis can trigger a turning point. Of course, not every disaster ends well. And yet, when the world is thrown out of joint, everything moves into gear. Creative forces can be unleashed and change becomes possible, usually at an accelerated pace, albeit often forced as well.

In the past year, we went through that exact experience time and again. In the midst of the suffering that the coronavirus brought over the world, processes in industry and society that had ground to a halt were suddenly launched into motion – together with some brand-new ones. Almost overnight, entire companies, including our institute, shifted to working from home. The ban on social contact turned into an imperative to innovate. It was as if someone had pressed the fast-forward button. And this has long since ceased to be about damage control during a pandemic. Now rather, it seems that we are realizing that we must become more mobile and flexible if we want to create strong positions for ourselves in markets where the rate of change is ever accelerating. The crisis has forced us to rethink how we do things. For example, the question of how we can work under the conditions of the pandemic has led us to ask how we want to work in the future in general. Old habits are being called into question. Society is setting out on the road to a “new normal”.

We have also taken the crisis as an opportunity to develop solutions for pressing problems. For example, through numerous studies, and customer commissions, we have devoted ourselves to the question of how work, services, hotels and mobility can be shaped in the future. What is key to that in our view are the questions of how to improve resilience, and how to make value creation economical even under the most unfavorable conditions. We have researched such issues in recent months in order to develop solutions for pressing problems in industry and society. Initially in theory, but then also in practice in collaboration with companies.

In this annual report we showcase nine examples of projects or research topics that represent our work at the intersection between science and application. It is with this expertise that we intend to support companies in developing visions and viable future strategies that will allow them to shape the radical industrial or social changes that will continue to occur even after the pandemic in an active, people-focused way and to turn crises into opportunities in future as well.

Is your company or organization also on the cusp of the new normal? Then contact us! Share your ideas and discuss potential next steps with us. And if you like, we will accompany you as your reliable guide – right up to your goal.

We hope you enjoy our annual report

The institute management team

Further information

Research Units

Fraunhofer IAO supports its clients in the following business areas

  • Organisational Development and Work Design
  • Service and Human Resources Management
  • Human-Technology Interaction
  • Digital Business
  • Cognitive Engineering and Production
  • Urban Systems Engineering
  • Mobility and Innovation Systems
  • Responsible Research and Innovation

Network/ cooperations

We collaborate closely with our branch labs and network partners on specific research topics. Branch labs: 

  • Center for Responsible Research and Innovation CeRRI, Berlin
  • Fraunhofer Innovation Engineering Center IEC, Bozen (Italy)
  • Garmisch-Partenkirchen location
  • KEIM Fraunhofer application center, Esslingen
  • LOGWERT – Competence Center for Logistics and Added Value, Heilbronn
  • KODIS – Research and Innovation Center for Cognitive Service Systems


Advisory board


The Advisory Board advises the institute’s directors in questions relating to professional orientation and structural change within the institute. The board comprises representatives from science, business and public life. Members of the board are appointed by the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft’s Executive Board in consultation with the institute’s management team.