Innovation and Sport

Innovation and Sport - the influence of the crowd

Innovation and Sport are one of the reasons I’m such a big sports fan. I’ll watch almost any high-level sporting event. I love football (AFL), enjoy cricket and right now am giving up my sleep to watch Le Tour De France.

Competition Drives Improvement

One of the things I love about sport is that it is a hotbed for strategy and innovation. The obvious part of this is the competition. Each week, teams go head-to-head and there are winners and losers. The next day or week they come out to play again to repeat the winning tactics or play a new strategy.

This presents two sides to innovation.

  1. Motivation: The first is the way the direct competition inspires and motivates high performance from the players.
  2. Scoring: The second is the concrete and precise measurement of the results – the scoreboard will tell you if you are winning, how much longer remaining in the contest and ultimately, if you have won or lost.

Innovating in Public*

A third less obvious factor is the influence of crowds. Three key factors come into play:

  • The decision-making is made in the public arena in front of a crowd.
  • Everyone in the crowd seems to have an opinion. The media has multiple opinions and supporters of each team often have a strong and potentially biased view of things.
  • Each game provides immediate feedback – games are won and lost in a matter of hours.

The first two factors create a situation where innovation and experimentation are stifled. Unless the team is losing there is no permission to ‘try anything’. After all, you don’t spoil a winning combination, do you?

Conservatism is promoted because the risk of innovating and being wrong is higher than the reward.

The third factor of immediate feedback is something desirable for innovation. You want quick results to know what works. Unfortunately, in this situation, the public pressure and fear of failure is higher than the reward.

QUESTION: Which of these factors are played out in your organization that promote or stifle innovation?

*This is an extract from the Book Rapper issue Wise: How to Make Collaborative Decisions. It’s derived from James Surowiecki’s classic book The Wisdom of Crowds. We reviewed this book here.


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