Five Lessons for Diving Into Innovation

While visiting Australia recently, I had the chance to watch a platform diving competition.  The combined artistry and athleticism achieved from great heights is truly amazing.  In preparing for an upcoming talk on innovation, I realized some parallels exist for those diving into potentially uncharted waters with their innovation pursuits.

It’s a long climb before you actually dive.  
The dive itself is over in a few seconds.  Climbing the stairs to the diving platform takes far longer.  

The release or introduction of an innovative program or service is similar, requiring a significant investment of time in the development stage. For efforts involving volunteers with short terms of service, we need to help them understand upfront the timeframe for an innovation to be developed and the envisioned results to be realized.

Splash upon entry is undesirable. 
The highest scores are awarded to divers who enter the water cleanly, leaving no wake as they do.  

If we call too much attention to the rollout of a new product or service the splash becomes the story instead of the value of the innovation.  Sometimes it is beneficial to make a big deal about introduction of something new, while in other instances a less overt rollout (like the soft opening of a new restaurant or hotel) might serve us better.

Image: G.Livaudais (c) . Creative Commons license.
Multiple dives are performed in a meet.   
While the number varies based on the competition level, a diver performs many dives during the course of a meet.  A single dive rarely determines whether or not they win a medal.  It’s the cumulative score.   Divers sequence their dives strategically, usually starting off with dives the consistently perform well and that are comfortable for them.    

Similarly, a successful organization needs to innovate across multiple programs and services.  No one initiative is usually sufficient to gain or lose favor with a critical mass of members or customers.  It’s the value/innovation mix.  And if you're trying to decide where to innovate first, you might look to a program or service where you are most confident of your ability to initially execute well.  Then move on to opportunities with more uncertain outcomes.

The high and low scores are thrown out. 
In a competition the highest and lowest judges' scores are eliminated and the remaining ones are combined.  

Feedback on an innovation you introduce will likely be mixed, so don’t get overly discouraged by the loudest naysayers or overly encouraged by the most ardent champions.  Instead look to the range of remaining feedback to see what can be learned.

Raw scores are multiplied by a dive’s degree of difficulty.   
The judges’ initial raw scores are multiplied by a dive's degree of difficulty to produce the final score.  A well-executed dive with a lower degree of difficulty therefore might earn roughly the same final score as a more difficult dive poorly performed.  

The results an organization achieves with its stakeholders may be similar.  Depending on the brand identity stakeholders associate with your organization, members or customers may be more likely to forgive initial flaws of a huge innovation, but punish a less than flawless execution of minor incremental improvements.  So if the idea you're introducing isn't a "wow" in and of itself, your execution of it better well be if you want a great final score.

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