If you want to prime your company for sustainable growth in the post-crisis world, building innovation capabilities today is more critical than ever before. What are the key innovation capabilities that a business organisation needs to develop in order to beat the market?
Sport, and especially team sport, has always been a big part of my life. That is why, perhaps, innovation has become another passion of mine – in a sense it is a team sport too. It’s just in the case of innovation the team (i.e., your company) plays against the market, and thus it must beat not only competitors but also the market itself. So, what can we learn from successful sport teams? What are the capabilities that enabled those teams to win not just games but championships?
Before embarking on the discussion, let me first explain what I mean by innovation.
Innovation and American Football
While American football is an incredibly physical game, the strength and athletism of the players does not always play a decisive role unless the right strategy is chosen. Drawing a parallel with innovation, your company may have big R&D budget and brilliant engineers, but it needs a strategy and a framework of innovation capabilities in order to win. So, what can we learn from this team sport?
Learning from Success of American Football Team
While observing the team from its sideline I identified four capabilities, which, in my opinion, had played the decisive role:
All four capabilities were integral to the success of Thrashers, forming the bedrock of the club success.
I will now consider such a framework in detail and show how it can be applied to your company’s innovation, while continue drawing parallels with the American football team.
In a similar way, ‘sensing’ is a strategic necessity for any business organisation that wants to build strong innovation capabilities. The challenge here is to identify the direction of ‘sensing’ and what your company needs to focus on. In broad terms, a company should keep an eye on two opportunity areas:
Without insights from market research and technology scouting your company will ‘play’ blindfolded and the chance of victory will be significantly reduced.
What does this all mean from the innovation capability perspective? This means that any business organisation should have effective processes, procedures and enabling structures in place for capturing opportunities. Moreover, as the table below demonstrates, there is no one method or set of tools that would fit all situations. So your company should have a range of the techniques in its portfolio that it would choose from according to its particular needs.
Yet another crucial aspect of Thrashers success was that the team was able to adjust and adapt their game on the fly. Coaches were able to spot unexpected opportunities or threats and quickly modify or change their playing schemes, while players were able to adapt accordingly. Many in the national league even regarded Thrashers as the team of the second half, as they often played more consistently and aggressively in the second half, and managed to engineer dramatic come-backs a number of times (including the national final).
For example, re-allocation of resources can be blocked or held back by senior managers who don’t buy into the required change. There can be a number of root causes for such behaviour (e.g. bias, rivalry, hubris) and they all require careful management.
This leads to the last but not least capability – team culture.
The culture of a business organisation is also an integral part of its success in the innovation game. As noted by Amabile 
“…it appears that the most important elements of the motivation to innovate are: a value placed on innovation in general, an orientation toward risk (versus an orientation toward maintaining the status quo), a sense of pride in the organization’s members and what they are capable of doing, and an offensive strategy of taking the lead toward the future (versus a defensive strategy of simply wanting to protect the organization’s past position).”
 Tidd, Joseph and Bessant, J. R (2013) Managing innovation : integrating technological, market and organizational change. Fifth edition
 Amabile (1988), ‘ A model of creativity and innovation in organizations ’, Research in Organizational Behavior, p.154
How does your company build its innovation capabilities? Have you established a framework and process to follow? What key factors contributed to your success or challenges?
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