February 24, 2010

WWIF #3: A Little Bit Better All the Time

This week's Wednesday What IF? draws on the Olympics for a little bit of inspiration.

What if, like US figure skater and 2010 Olympic gold medalist Evan Lysacek, you focused more on consistent higher quality and execution and less on the big breakthrough in your work?

If you didn't watch the men's figure skating you might not totally understand the possibilities or meaning of this "what if" question, so let me quickly explain.  Figure skating judges score skaters with two marks, one for the technical difficulty of their moves and one for the overall artistic impression of their efforts.  Lycasek's main competition for the gold, Russian Evgeni Plushenko, had two of the most technically difficult jump, the quad, in his program.  Lycasek had none.  But Lycasek still won.

Plushenko relied on the big points that come from the quad, but lost small amounts for many of the other elements in his program.  Lycasek didn't have that singular "wow" moment, but did have four minutes of steady and sure jumps and spins executed immaculately and with more overall artistic flare.

Too often, both individually and organizationally, we overemphasize the value of the exponential innovation, the breakthrough idea or product, without adequately embracing the real value that comes from doing lots of things just a little bit better consistently.  It's like the restaurant chef who offers a killer entree flanked by an average appetizer and dessert course. Doing so may not get as much attention from others and may not feel quite as sexy, but it often scores the upset win in the long run.

It's the law of compounding interest, but applied to our own innovative thinking.   Instead of putting so much energy into (and pressure on) a single effort to help you beat the competition, consider how to make every single element of your efforts richer and more valuable.  The aggregate result of those efforts may very well put you at the top of the podium.

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