Innovation is one of those buzz words that conference speakers and charismatic CEO types shout from the rooftop. “Innovate! Be on the cutting edge!” Go the well-worn refrains, meant to somehow force their workers or clients into doing something different or creating something new.
Declaring that we need to innovate is akin to telling a runner to “run faster!” during a race. Oh, is that what I was supposed to be doing? I never thought of, you know, actually trying.
Look at major league baseball, for example. In the1980’s and 90’s players and clubs finally came around to the idea that you know, actually lifting heavy things might improve performance. Never mind the fact that skinny world-class distance runners had been doing that exact thing for decades before. After the strength-training revolution, Moneyball took baseball by storm. Bring in smart people, run some data, and find out where the inefficiencies in the talent selection and strategies are! Now, with everyone on the analytics train, baseballs hidden gem has been biomechanical analysis and player development. Utilizing high-speed cameras, teams are altering pitching and batting mechanics to optimize performance. Putting a focus on improving players, instead of simply searching out for the best ones.
Baseball has made amazing progress and is ahead of other sports in a lot of different areas now. But each “innovation” was something that had already been done somewhere else with much success. Strength training? Done for decades in other sports. Analytics? Businesses, wall-street types had been after it for years. Biomechanics? Let me regale you with the stories Tom Tellez told me of utilizing “high-speed” cameras in the1960’s and ’70s to analyze block starts, throws, and so forth.
I’m not downplaying the innovation. It’s changed the game and given an advantage to all who apply. My only point is that all of the “innovation” was already there. It wasn’t some new-fangled idea; it’s just applying what has worked in a different domain to there own domain.
Those who were ahead of the game didn’t just wait and follow, they pushed to see where the inadequacies were. When everyone in MLB started utilizing analytics, for example, it’s now the norm and there is no advantage. That doesn’t mean turn your back on analytics, it just means that the next advantage lies elsewhere.
We tend to think of innovation as the invention. As creating something new. The reality is, innovation is rather simple.
Look outside of your domain that successful teams, businesses, and people are doing. See if any of it applies to your own.
When everyone else is all headed in the same direction, you too can head that way a little bit to “keep up” but don’t forget to turn around and look the other way.
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