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Your People Are The Innovation
What if we thought of innovation as people, rather than process?
When we think of innovation, our minds generally go to disruptive companies or revolutionary processes.
Apple make innovative products.
Toyota’s lean manufacturing process is innovative.
Organizations are so desperate to be seen as innovative that according to an MIT study, 80% of S&P 500 companies list ‘innovation’ as one of their values.
We happily conflate them, but it’s neither companies nor processes that are innovative.
Apple’s people make innovative products.
Toyota’s people created an innovative manufacturing process.
This realization should be liberating for organizations that are looking to consider themselves innovative and jump ahead of the competition.
Your products can be copied.
Your processes too.
What cannot be copied are your people.
So what happens when we begin paying attention to what our people can do, and innovating around them?
Professional sports have some magnificent examples that we can look to.
Bill Walsh’s famed West Coast Offense was developed, humorously, in Cincinnati. Rather than a hair-brained idea, the system came about because mid-range, accurate passes were the only thing Bengals quarterback Virgil Carter could do at an elite level. Rather than make Carter do things he couldn’t do, Walsh built a whole innovative system around his strengths.
Asked about his ‘inverted fullbacks’ concept, Manchester City head coach Pep Guardiola said that the innovative idea only worked for him at Bayern Munich because he had “fullbacks who were comfortable playing in the middle of the field, rather than only in wide spaces.” His point was clear: it’s the people that make the tactic work, not the other way around.
Rather than follow the belief that guards needed to be fast and small to keep up, Phil Jackson created an innovative new position for 6’7” Scottie Pippen — point forward. Pippen wasn’t a great outside shooter so was having trouble in the traditional small forward role, but Jackson liked how he read the floor, and knew he’d been a point guard at high school, so decided to let Pippen share responsibility for bringing the ball up the court. In Eleven Rings, Jackson wrote: “The switch unleashed a side of Scottie that had never been tapped, and he blossomed into a gifted multidimensional player with the ability to break games wide open on the fly.” For his part, Pippen also commented that the move of position “made me the player I wanted to be in the NBA.”
The New England Patriots were laughed at for ‘wasting’ a 5th round draft pick on long-snapper Joe Cardona. The thing was, Cardona’s father taught him to play the position so he’d have the best chance of making his high school team. With the extra dedicated hours of practice, Cardona was able to hike the ball further, faster and more accurately than anyone else. A quarter of NFL games are decided by a field goal or less, so is it really a waste to give your kicker an extra fraction of a second?
Apple didn’t make the iPhone, people working at Apple did.
And Toyota didn’t develop lean manufacturing, people working at Toyota did.
Your people are the innovation you’ve been searching for to create an unfair advantage over your opposition.
Innovation is who we are as people, not something we do as an organization.
As a leader, what is something I do at an elite level that I know is being under-utilized by our team? (Start with yourself)
Do I know if there’s other skills my players have that can change the game? (If not, you better find out)
Where else in our organization are there great people with innovative skills that could upgrade our organization if deployed properly? (If you don’t know, you better find out)