August 21, 2009

There's More than One Way to Score Runs


The over-the-fence homer is a guaranteed crowd pleaser at a ballgame. One crack of the bat can send the fans to their feet and put another run on the scoreboard.

Far less thrilling, but equally valuable when it comes to winning games, is the slower and more methodical approach of putting people on base and then advancing them to home plate. The final score doesn’t denote how the runs were earned … just that they were.

When it comes to organizational innovation, too many people think only of home runs, of the star player who takes a turn at bat and hits it out of the park. Read any of the research about how innovation actually occurs and you learn it results from a mix of striking out at the plate and a lot of singles and doubles to finally earn a run. And periodically a sacrificial bunt is required to get just the right product or service created.

Organizational executives and strategy consultants do a huge disservice to the innovation process when they focus too exclusively on just the big swings, the home runs of idea generation and implementation. It falsely defines innovation and makes it appear out of reach for some of the game’s most important players.

Just as no baseball manager can make having a star player hit a home run a defining strategy for a game, neither can any leader rely excessively on one or two individuals, committees, or divisions, to deliver the game-winning hit on demand. Organizations instead need a deep bench of players with varying capabilities and a clear strategy for advancing ideas one base at a time. That’s what puts runs on the scoreboard and delivers value to members or customers.

3 comments:

aarontempler said...

Great analogy. In baseball, the systematic work you describe is called “manufacturing runs.” Get ‘em on, get ‘em around. Be brilliant in your use of hitters in situations, take walks, leverage a sacrifice fly.

And yes: transformation rarely happens in a big hit. It’s a disciplined approach: shoulder to the flywheel. Little by little. Focus on the pitch, then the out, the inning, the game, the series, the season.

The key? It takes a team willing to be less concerned about their own numbers and more about the end game. “players with varying capabilities and a clear strategy for advancing ideas one base at a time” takes engagement and vision-based leadership.

Anonymous said...

I love, love, love the wide diversity of analogies you use to illustrate various concepts.

Anonymous said...

In the early days of baseball, before the live ball era, the game was all about getting players on base and finding ways to score. It relied on teamwork and innovation, with players working together to find ways to advance runners around the bases. They talked baseball all the time, every day, and innovation was integral to the way they played. You had base runners who constantly signaled each other to create double and triple steals, and the big plays were inside-the-park home runs and stealing home. Your baseball analogy is particularly apt; there's much more focus these days on trying to make that one big hit by swinging for the fences instead of playing the scrappy kind of ball that sees everything as opportunity and makes something happen out of nothing.