I had a boss once (Hi Al) that was a huge Chicago Bears fan (Go Bears! though they aren’t playing today). He was, and probably still is, immensely fond of using football analogies to help his business team solve problems. Football lends itself to all kinds of team and business analogies.
Transformation and innovation are the February themes here at B2BNN, so the fact that it’s also Super Bowl Sunday got me to thinking about Al again. How do you compare the great game of American football to innovation?
The Field and Officials
Football games are played on a rectangular field. White lines mark sidelines, goal lines, and the distance from the end zone where the goalposts, vertical uprights at the end of a crossbar, are found. The field is a regulated size, with very set boundaries.
As football teams on the field face penalties for various infractions, so too can innovative companies.
Officials are responsible for enforcing game rules and monitoring the clock. Though in business officials don’t often carry a whistle and wear black and white striped shirts, each is tasked with a different set of responsibilities.
Your company CEO is the referee. They are charged with oversight and control of the game, are the authority on the score, and own any and all rule interpretations in discussions between the other officials.
The back judge is any regulatory government body, positioned deep in the defensive backfield, behind the umpire. They determine whether catches are legal, whether field goal or extra point attempts are good, or whether violations have occurred.
Cultural boundaries are like the head linesman, who is positioned on one end of the line of scrimmage. In football they watch for any line-of-scrimmage and illegal use-of-hands violations, and assist the line judge with illegal shift or illegal motion calls. In business, these would be religious, ethnic, or language barriers in innovation.
Your company’s competition is like the field judge. If developing similar products or solutions, they’ll be watching the clock. They’ll point out offensive players and any illegal manoeuvres by your team that cross lines of scrimmage.
Does your own internal company policy restrict innovation? Here’s your line judge who supervises player substitutions, the line of scrimmage during punts, and game timing.
The officials dictate where you can play, and the field limits what your team can do. But, these boundaries are important, because they were designed with this game in mind.
Every good sports analogy generally focuses on the team aspect. When innovating, you can’t develop a new product, or launch a new service without a good team.
That team needs to have a variety of skills, and different capabilities, to function. This might be coders, product developers, legal teams, HR, Sales, Finance, IT and Marketing. They may have offensive or defensive skills, but they all bring something unique – their skills and perspective.
If you’re planning any sort of business transformation, do you have a cross-functional team? Do they have experience in their roles? Or are you expecting your running back to play defense tackle?
The Play Book
The goal of any football game is, of course, to score the most points. In order to accomplish this coaches and players plan and execute plays.
When developing your company’s play book, you must ask these questions:
- What does “innovation” really mean to your business?
- How does innovation fit within your business model?
- What strategic advantage will innovation give your business?
- What are the key goals and objectives for innovation?
- How do those strategies and goals frame what the team does?
- Does the team understand those strategies and how their work fits in?
- What will your fans say?
The choice of play depends on the strengths of your team, the weaknesses of the defense they are opposing, and the distance needed to score a touchdown or gain a first down.
All of these things come together for a winning game. Trained athletes without a field or playbook are like employees that have training, but don’t know where or how to deploy innovation. Or a company may have an innovative idea, without the skilled or right mix of people.
When you have the right field, the right team, and the right play book you will be able to accomplish valuable innovation on a sustainable basis.
You don’t want to be left throwing a “Hail Mary”, your customers won’t be happy. And without the fans, what’s the point of that touchdown dance?
Feature image source: The Philadelphia Sports Table