Core and Edge: Thinking About High Performance Sport Governance

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Yesterday was one of those special kind of days in Canberra.

Since my arrival in Australia in 2002, I have thought about Canberra as being at the crossroads of the world.

It is not such a busy crossroads now but yesterday countered that quietening.

Within the space of four hours I met with:

  • An expert in academic integrity and student support at the University of Canberra.
  • Two visiting criminologists from Cambridge.
  • A Director of Research at the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS).
  • A championship winning netball coach.

The whirlwind ended sitting in on a workshop (at the invitation of a performance analyst) with the Diamonds netball squad in the Old Ressies at the AIS.

Conversations about data and analysis were integral to all these meetings.

All of them helped me to contemplate the content of a Smart Talk I hope to present on 17 October at the AIS.

I have a draft of my talk here.

I aim to combine some insights from Immanuel Wallerstein, firefighting and conversations with coaches to explore the governance of high performance sport.

I think that this quote from Immanuel sets the context:

A world-system is a social system. Its life is made up of the conflicting forces which hold it together by tension and tear it apart as each group seeks eternally to remold its advantage. … it has a life-span over which its characteristics change in some respects and remain stable in others.

The ‘remolding’ of advantage takes place in a world-system that has core states and peripheral areas. I am keen to explore what these insights might tell us about a national sport strategy that seeks a winning edge.

I thought I would share my work in progress here after a day at the crossroads.

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

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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.

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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:

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(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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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)

A Winning Edge?

Australia’s Winning Edge 2012-2022 high performance plan was announced at the Melbourne Cricket Ground this morning.

In a press statement it was reported that the Winning Edge :

  • Outlines a new business model for Australia’s high performance sport system
  • Sets targets for Australia to be: a top five nation at the Olympics and Paralympics;  a top 15 nation at the Winter Olympics and Paralympics; number one at the Commonwealth Games; and have more than 20 world champions annually.

The plan confirms that funding to sports will be based on “a new set of investment principles that will assess sports’ ability to provide sound evidence that they can contribute to the targets”. There will be an annual State of Sports report that will provide details of how sports perform against their plans.

The Edge affirms that there will be “a greater focus on investing, developing and retaining coaches and more money invested in supporting more athletes”. The Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) will allocate an additional $20 million in these areas in the forthcoming Olympic and Paralympic cycle. The AIS will open its campus to more athletes to use its training environment, sports science, recovery and rehabilitation facilities.

There will be an annual Sports Draft Camp to identify potential champions in Olympic, Paralympic and Commonwealth Games sports.

The Australian Sports Commission’s website has a downloadable copy of the plan with additional documents on: