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The four cornerstones of innovation and offsides to avoid: what soccer can teach companies about innovation

The 4 pillars of innovation inspired by soccer

Innovation is a lot like sport. If you ask your friends to “play sport”, nothing happens. However, if you suggest a game of soccer on a Sunday, everyone immediately understands that you’ll need a field, two teams and that there are rules of the game. Innovation is the same. You must specify what game you are playing, with whom and set out the rules of play.

Why innovate? Or in other words, why run around sweating in a soccer shirt on a freezing Sunday in February?

There are 1001 good reasons for a company to innovate. For any company innovation process, the prerequisite is to be clear on the goal. Are we just here to work up a sweat and let off steam, or do we want to win the tournament?

What are the goals? Do we want to be the company with the most patents? Do we want to be seen as a great place to work? The most profitable in the sector? The company that is constantly upgrading their product portfolio? Do we want to be known as the company whose services are fail-safe? Or be voted best for customer service? Innovation serves all these purposes, enabling companies to stand out from the crowd. Once the goals are clarified, the team, i.e. your employees, understands it’s not simply enough to apply best practices. Things have to be done differently.

Innovative companies strive to improve. Others may want to do the same for less, or do nothing at all. Innovation is crucial in the face of competitive pressure, technological obsolescence, business models and changes in use or in regulatory framework. So, are you up for that game on Sunday?

Innovation cornerstone #1: Be clear on your motivation.

On the field or on the bench - make innovation everyone’s business

Innovation is not only for a few star players, like innovation managers and inquisitive minds. For a company to innovate successfully, innovation must be embodied and encouraged at every level. Directors and middle managers must be prepared to listen, trust, and step back to work together across all divisions, to set an example and take risks to motivate and inspire their teams.

Innovation must not be fleeting, a flash in the pan, or the whim of a star player: it is a state of mind and a team sport.

Innovation cornerstone #2: Build innovation into the corporate culture for the long run.

Innovation culture: the long-awaited guide to success!

Corner! Define the playing field to boost innovation

Are the reasons for innovation clear? Is innovation part of your team’s DNA? You need to define the areas of play and equip your team.

R&D aims to broaden the company’s knowledge and design new products. It’s a whole different game when it comes to incremental innovation where teams work on continuous improvement.

And what about Open Innovation, where the company places its bets on innovating with external partners?

When it comes to the intrapreneurship playground, it’s all about innovating within a large company, on a “small”, dedicated playing field.

Finally, on the participative innovation field, the aim is to get as many employees in the game as possible.

Innovation cornerstone 3: Determine the playing field(s)!

Play efficiently: Set the rules for stronger innovation

The aim is to score, so it’s important to pave the way from the initial, simple, and essential idea, to the project phase, and on through to implementation. On each playing field, innovation must be organized, driven, and managed.

Good organization - like good match tactics - reduces uncertainty and risk, and speeds up a concept's “Time to market”.

Not organizing innovation is similar to imagining a prospect will turn into a client by magic. In fact, the innovation process has been compared to managing client relationships. Companies are equipping themselves with a tool that, like CRM software, enables them to establish the most productive relationships, not with clients, but with their employees who have ideas, even when they are only embryonic.

Innovation cornerstone #4: One word: Organization

Have a great game!

Offsides: Key obstacles to innovation

Do you follow fads without investing for the long term? Yellow card. Do you settle for grand statements of intent, without setting up the right framework - making the innovation manager solely responsible for the system? Red card. Another common pitfall is confusing ideas with innovation. Because passing the ball doesn't mean you score a goal. It’s easy to have ideas but implementing them is a whole different ball game.

Other frequent obstacles are the suggestion box which becomes a “complaint box”, or continuing to work in silos without creating bridges between the company’s different innovation playing fields.

For over 15 years, our IDhall solution has been helping companies in all sectors to score goals by centralizing their innovation systems, achieving initiative flow throughout the idea lifecycle, and embedding innovation in the company’s culture. And from the side-lines, we can tell you that we are very proud of the players we support.

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