Innovation: impact or distraction in high performance sport?

Introduction

DSCF7600I have been invited to present a guest lecture to students in the High Performance Sports Management unit at the University of Canberra.

The topic is a question – Innovation: impact or distraction in high performance sport?

I think the answer is “Yes, both”.

In my talk, I will discuss my apparent equivocation with reference to:

  • Intrapreneurship
  • Hype
  • Disruption
  • Strategic Leadership

I hope that these might lead to a qualification of my “Yes” answer.

Before I get to these points I would like to flip this talk. I am encouraging students to look at some or all of these recommendations in advance of our meeting:

Frank Barrett on being uncomfortable (3 minute video).

Clayton Christensen on disruptive innovation (8 minute video)

A Fourth Age of Sports Institutes (25 minute SlideCast)

I have prepared this 10 minute 42 second podcast too.

Innovation

23096357_c3bf95fb8e_o

My imagined audience for this talk is anyone involved in high performance sport or considering engaging with it as a career or as a volunteer. Whatever role one takes, innovation requires the shifting and management of risk rather than its avoidance. It requires political will above all (top-down leadership and support).

I like High Performance Sport New Zealand‘s (HPSNZ) definition of innovation as “solving a measurable performance issue with a new approach or product which will result in sustainable change for a sport, athlete or HP sport system”. I will return to HPSNZ later in this presentation.

If we are to explore innovation in the lecture then we need to note Everett Rogers’ work and the technology adoption lifecycle.

rogerscurve1

I think it is helpful to look at Malcolm Gladwell’s Tipping Point too. I like Harold Jarche’s (2010) discussion of the chasm to be crossed to connect innovators and early adopters “to the more pragmatic majority”.

Harold has visualised this chasm:

Chasm2

(Note: Content from jarche.com is protected under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial Share Alike License)

My example here is the adoption of an App for sharing information at the 2012 Olympic Games.

Inc.com cited this app as one of augmented reality’s first big smashes “the official London 2012 app displayed nearby transportation and scheduling information for more than 40,000 live events based on where users’ cameras happened to be focused”). Xomo and Wikitude worked together on the app.

It prompted me to think about the advocacy needed to position the app innovation for decision makers to manage the risk of a combined planning and augmented reality resource.

Intrapreneurship

East Africa Retreat_088

In 1978, Gifford Pinchot and Elizabeth Pinchot wrote about Intra-Corporate Entrepreneurship. In their paper, they propose that intra-corporate entrepreneurs are “intrapreneurs”.

Intrapreneurs …

  • Must risk something of value to themselves (“It tests and later increases intrapreneurial conviction and drive. It binds the corporation in an implied contract not to stop the intrapreneur for any reason other than poor performance”).
  • Share the rewards of success in an intrapreneurial project with the corporation in a well-defined and equitable way.
  • Should have the opportunity to build up something akin to capital.
  • Should have an independent spirit.

Gifford and Elizabeth conclude their paper with these observations:

People have enormous potential for goodness, for insight, for creativity, for intimacy, and for work. Much of this potential is trapped within the constraints of today’s huge hierarchical organizations. The development of the entrepreneur is a step toward freeing individuals, our organizations, and our society to use our potential for building fuller, more meaningful, richer and more productive lives for us all.

My suggestion is that high performance sport requires intrapreneurs. An organisation focussed on transforming performance needs to support insights from the staff it has recruited to do exactly this.

I think this provides organisations with points of difference that make sustainable innovation possible.

One example of such activity is the work of Professor Allan Hahn at the AIS. Allan worked closely with the developers of the Catapult GPS systems. Their partnership within the Cooperative Research Centres program is an excellent example of a technology disrupting practice and then becoming a ‘normal’ part of the training and competitions contexts.

Hype

Gartner has developed a graphical representation of a hype curve.

559px-Gartner_Hype_Cycle
Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gartner_Hype_Cycle.svg

 

My suggestion is that high performance sport needs people who can evaluate innovation by filtering enthusiastic spruiking (hype) with knowledge and understanding. The debate in Australian sport this year about supplements is an excellent case study in how organisations can get caught up in hype. It requires enormous fortitude to argue against hard sell particularly if the argument involves first principles.

Back in 1998 I had the opportunity to try out one of the first digital cameras. I brought it out to Australia to share at the Sports Coach Conference in Melbourne. I thought it was an important innovation and talked about the convergence (“the separate technologies which provide the telephone, the computer and the television are now converging in ways which increase the educational application of each”) of media.

Slide

Eleven years later is seemed quite normal to post digital images on Flickr. Our phones today have very powerful cameras that were impossible to find as a free standing camera back in 1998.

Canoe

One of the challenges for innovators is that there is often minimal evidence based practice to support innovation decisions, particularly when there has been sometimes a decade long wait from original idea to everyday use.

Internet search is making it easier for us to find the story behind an innovation and understand its footprint of emergence.

Disruption

6003685272_411865db09_o

Joseph Bower and Clayton Christensen (1995) introduced their Catching the Wave paper with this observation:

One of the most consistent patterns in business is the failure of leading companies to stay at the top of their industries when technologies or markets change.

Joseph and Clayton point out that disruptive technologies have two important characteristics:

  • They present a different package of performance attributes … ones that, at least at the outset, are not valued by existing customers.
  • The performance attributes that exiting customers do value improve at such a rapid rate that the new technology can later invade those established markets.

Clayton has explored in detail the relationship between disruptive and sustaining innovations.

Source: http://www.claytonchristensen.com/key-concepts/
Source: http://www.claytonchristensen.com/key-concepts/

 

Irving Wladawsky-Berger (2013) has some interesting insights to share about organisational response to disruptive innovation. He proposes three key points: the need for a clear, compelling strategy that the whole organization can rally around; the management of disruptive innovation initiatives; and the importance of top-down leadership and support.

  • “While we all talk about how exciting it is to embrace disruptive innovations, we often forget that disruptive innovations are indeed disruptive, not only in the marketplace, but also for individuals and groups in your own organization.”
  • “Disruptive innovation initiatives requires a more entrepreneurial management style based on establishing an early market presence; close collaborations with research communities, business partners and early adopters; and learning in the marketplace through continuous experimentation and refinement until it becomes clear what the company’s strategy should be.”
  • “Top management support is absolutely essential for initiatives based on disruptive innovations to have any serious chance of success.”

Strategic Leadership

Leadership

I see Irving’s point about top-down leadership as fundamental in resolving the place of innovation in an organisation. This is the place where impact meets distraction.

Whilst I am an advocate of flat organisational structures in which experience is valued as much as rank, I do understand that without political will, bottom up change has very little opportunity to flourish.

I see the potential for innovation to have impact facilitated by sensitive leaders who are connected with their organisation and the community they serve.

I think two high performance sport systems offer some excellent discussion points about how to address disruptive innovation. One is the Australian Institute of Sport and its Winning Edge vision. The other is High Performance Sport New Zealand‘s Targeted High Performance Innovation. Both countries are in a globalised sport system and have to address how to compete against other nations with larger populations and greater funding.

Impact or Distraction?

I started out this post with an equivocal “Yes” answer to Innovation as Impact or Distraction. My aim in the presentation has been to use Intrapreneurship, Hype, Disruption and Strategic Leadership to move to an optimistic view of organisations renewed and transformed by considered perspectives on innovation.

slide-1-728

I believe impact comes from inclusive, strategic leadership that values the talents of those in the organisation. I think it is vital to have members of the organisation (spotters as well as intrapreneurs) who have the autonomy to search for and monitor change in an eco system.

I think a vibrant organisation is characterised by Everett Rogers’ early adoption. I like Alistair Gray’s description of such an organisation as “hot”.

My hope is that units, like the one for which I have prepared this presentation, encourage prospective consideration of innovation. I have included some links to potential case studies to support this prospecting.

Thank you for sharing this conversation.

Photo Credits

Innovation (Stephanie Booth, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Ashoka Intrapreneur Simon Stumpf (Wil Kristin, CC BY 2.0)

Disruption (Theo Jones, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Leadership (thephotographymuse, CC BY 2.0)

Bushfires (CSIRO)

Week 5 at the Introduction to Box’Tag SOOC

BT01Week 5 is the final week of the synchronous phase of the Introduction to Box’Tag Small Open Online Course (SOOC). As of this morning there are 131 participants in the course.

There were 25 participants at the start of this cSOOC. It has been interesting to see the course flourish as the participants approach Dunbar’s number, 150.

Thanks to Adam Brimo and his colleagues, the course will be available online as an asynchronous resource for the Box’Tag community.

This is the second SOOC in which I have participated. Both SOOCs have underscored for me the centrality of a community driver. In the Box’Tag SOOC, Paul Perkins has been a remarkable, vigilant, supportive and encouraging driver.

Allan Hahn has been a prime mover in the SOOC and he has played the role of mentor. This is a vital role in a SOOC too, I believe. Driving a community is very demanding and it is very helpful, and reassuring, to be able to come up for air during the day-to-day activities and talk with a mentor. Allan has addressed too some important philosophical questions about Box’Tag in the discussion forums in his gentle way.

I have really enjoyed meeting the Box’Tag community in this SOOC. Participation and profound engagement have bubbled away throughout the course. I have been delighted in the ways the community has explored and discussed the course content. I have a sense of belonging from the SOOC that is very powerful.

We have made limited use of social media to extend the reach of the SOOC. The OpenLearning platform remains the primary vehicle for the SOOC. There is a Facebook page for the Canberra PCYC, University of Canberra Research and Development of Box’Tag.

FbBT

 

I do think SOOCs need technology stewards too. In this SOOC, I have been monitoring activity on the OpenLearning platform but Adam Brimo and his colleagues have developed a powerful resource that requires little stewardship. It seems more like cheering from the sidelines.

I have a profound sense of service pervading this SOOC. A group of dedicated and passionate people have come together to share and in reading have come to know that they are not alone.

Day 1 #BoxTag SOOC

Today is the first day of the small open online course (SOOC), Introduction to Box’Tag.

The course is the outcome of a long journey made by Allan Hahn and Paul Perkins.

This is their welcome to the course.

Adam Brimo from OpenLearning has made it possible for the course to be open and online.