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Game Changers - Strategy and Innovation

Time to read: Five minutes to gain a different perspective

‘The more we travel, the less we know.’ —The Beatles

// The Fosbury Flop

The other day, I was flipping through an assembly of television channels with my children and trying to find something to watch. We eventually landed upon athletics, a discipline I was not very fond of at school and, therefore, not very good at.

As a child, however, I had been fascinated by the long jump and the high jump. The bravery and confidence to throw oneself into the air and travel such a significant distance appeared to be just a massive leap of faith. As I sat with my family, comfortable and with a cup of tea in hand, we continued to watch the athletic events. Eventually, it was time for the high jump.

Enthused and curious, we waited for the athlete to make her move. The crowd was silent. The athlete steadied herself and, after a short pause, she approached the high bar with increasing speed and flew over the bar with ease—much to the delight of the crowd.

There it was…the Fosbury Flop. 

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The Fosbury Flop is a method of high jumping invented and pioneered by Richard Douglas Fosbury. Over many years, Fosbury developed this alternative high jump method, which involved jumping backwards over the bar rather than forwards. Fosbury’s new technique was initially met with scepticism; however, after Fosbury won the gold medal at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City and set a high jump Olympic record of 2.24 metres, opinions quickly changed.

Through his bravery and adoption of a different perspective, Fosbury changed the face of high jumping forever. Fosbury’s technique was quickly adopted by the high jumping community, and the world record now stands at 2.45m (over 8ft). This record was credited to Javier Sotomayor of Cuba in 1993. To use an strategic/ innovation term, those who followed Fosbury adopted a ‘fast-follower strategy.’

Fosbury and his trademark flop were the genesis of a new way of approaching high jumping. Fosbury was a game changer and a true innovator.

// The Game Changers

History has blessed humanity with many game changers, including:

-         Ts'ai Lun, who invented paper around 100 BC; Johannes Gutenberg, the cited inventor of the printing press and Joseph Carl Robnett Licklider, who invented the Internet in the early 1960s, the list goes on ...

Innovators and game changers are a rare breed of individuals who view the world from a different perspective and possess a belief in a vision that few others share.

‘The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.’ — Walt Disney, founder of Disney

Innovation has long been regarded as a key component of change, whether that change is radical, gradual or disruptive in nature. However, innovation is not an automatic route to El Dorado. Successful innovators, such as Nokia, Yahoo and Polaroid, have struggled to maintain their competitive advantage and have fallen by the wayside.

The current suite of game changers, while seemingly successful and untouchable, will at some point face challenges similar to those who have fallen by the wayside. These organisations and fellow innovators, such as Slack, Stripe, Dyson and WeWork, recognise the need for continual rejuvenation and for reinvestment in innovation.

We do live in exciting times; full of promise – with Google and Tesla seeking to reinvent the car, AI reshaping our experiences, 3D printing reinventing printing and Amazon rewriting how we shop. Big Tech players and scale-up start-ups appear to be eating the lunch of incumbents and they have clear advantage in terms of digital capabilities and the absence of legacy constraints. However, traditional participants are responding to the threat by leveraging the expertise that comes with heritage - the race is truly on.

// Taking a global view

Taking a step back and adopting a global perspective, the United States and China are acknowledged as leaders in innovation, and other regions need to address a range of structural gaps. These gaps extend to:

-         Political Alignment, Market and Regulation, Legal, Economic, Taxation, R&D and Investment (in digital markets particularly), Procurement and Standards, Transport, Education, Human Capital (up-skilling and re-skilling), Leadership and Vulnerability, etc…

Within the United Kingdom, there are positive advancements designed to super-charge innovation, such as the Regulatory Sandbox of the UK Financial Conduct Authority. The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) is the United Kingdom’s financial services regulator, thanks to the creation of a regulatory sandbox in 2016, the sandbox has provided a platform for organisations to safely test products and services ahead of their launch. The UK’s Enterprise Investment Scheme is another example of tax relief that supports Series A funding in scale-ups. These are welcomed interventions; however, more work is required.

// Innovation Ecosystems

Innovation is multi-dimensional. It is important to recognise the different types of innovation (e.g., products or services) and their links to business performance, business capabilities, human capital and organisational behaviours. I am able to draw upon my personal experiences, as I have been privileged enough to be involved with innovation at various level within a number of organisations; having worked within energy, financial services and professional services sectors and through my association with the World Economic Forum. 

Innovation is a practical science. It requires a meaningful process during which an invention is converted into a release of value. Innovation is a fluid state that requires constant adjustment. It is not a one-off activity or the bastion of the select few; there is no monopoly on creativity.

Those that follow my posts will recognise that I have consistently advocated that innovation be built-into strategies and ways of working. It should not be treated as an add-on. Innovation requires patience, tolerance, creativity and sensible guard-rails. It also requires clear strategic positioning. Governments, Regulators and Companies should ask themselves:

-         Are we to adopt a Pioneer position?, or

-         A fast-follower/imitation position?, or

-         A hybrid approach?, and

-         How robust is the adopted innovation strategy?

Whether the strategy is to become a fast-follower and build upon the innovation of others (such as any athlete who has used the Fosbury Flop) or to act as a pioneer, innovation is an ambidextrous discipline and must be built-into an organisation’s DNA and not regarded as an add-on. 

  • How does innovation work within your organisation?
  • How comfortable are you with your strategic positioning?
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