The Secret to Innovation is Knowing Where to Look


Innovation is one of those buzz words that conference speakers and charismatic CEO types shout from the rooftop. “Innovate! Be on the cutting edge!” These are well-worn refrains, meant to somehow nudge 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 that.

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, baseball’s 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? Running coaches have been using high-speed cameras to analyze this for decades.

I’m not downplaying the innovation. It’s changed the game and given an advantage to all who apply it. 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 foreign domain to one’s 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 quickly became the norm and now 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 that innovation is rather simple.

  1. Look outside of your domain to see what successful teams, businesses, and people are doing. See if any of it applies to your own area of practice.

  2. 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.

— Steve

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