Innovation – do you WANT to win? Well, do you?

13 10 2010

If you’ve never been to the annual Business Innovation Factory conference (#BIF6 on twitter), it’s really quite a trip. More of a mini-TED conference than anything specifically innovation related – it’s all about enabling people to share stories about things they’ve achieved, thought of, experienced, and so on.  The end result is that you don’t necessarily walk away with a series of bullet point “To-Do”’s like you might at other conferences – but you do end up with a simmering pot of interesting thoughts and ideas just waiting to boil over the top.

This year, two speakers said things that stuck in my head and kept me thinking. Such is the way my mind works that unfortunately I can no longer remember who they were – but I’m sure someone will eventually remind me in the comments below this post 🙂

The first of these insights was an observation that, if you have two equally matched sports teams, and one team’s members actively want to win, whilst the other team isn’t bothered – then chances are, the team that wants to win, will do so. Sounds obvious really, but it brings an interesting question to mind when you bring that concept into the business world – which, at the heart of it, has similar competitive dynamics.

If you have two equally matched companies competing against each other, the company that collectively wants to win more – will probably do so. “Desire to Win” is a competitive differentiator in effect.

With that in mind, however – how many of us actively try to instill that desire to win into our employees? How many companies actively engage in “Win Management”? You could even say that what really differentiates a successful innovator/entrepreneur from normal people is that never-ending drive to win “the game” of business.

This is even more amplified in the Innovation world where the risk of failure is ever present and embraced as a part of everyday life. It is a daily competition to beat the odds and win the game of innovation.

Pair that thought up now with another insight from that same conference. Apparently, at any one point in most organizations, only 20% of the staff are actively engaged and enjoying the job they’re doing.  I would personally argue that that number seems a little high to me – and is probably rotating too – that is, we’re not necessarily talking about the same 20% year round, as people naturally go through cycles of loving/hating/being indifferent to their work.

I would also argue that one of the reasons why people don’t get engaged in their jobs, is because their jobs (ie their companies) don’t engage them. They feel like they have no say, no ability to make an impact, no reason to want to win….

So it stands to reason that if a company really wants to win at Innovation they need to both instill a competitive desire to win in their organizations, and to tap into and maintain that desire by actively engaging their population in strategic innovation decisions.

And by “Engagement” I don’t mean just listening to your employees – I mean actually “Doing” something with their input. Business, and especially Innovation – is a team sport – and no one wants to be relegated to being the guy on the subs bench that never gets on the field.

So now you know what you have to do, you have to ask yourself – Do you want to win at Innovation? Well, do you?…



10 responses

13 10 2010
Deb Mills-Scofield.

Boris – great post. The desire to win was from Len Schlesinger, Babson’s president and the 20% engagement is from John Hagel. I call that ‘desire to win’ as hunger – and see that with the entrepreneurs my VC firm invests in, those I mentor and with my ‘mature’ clients – it’s that ‘fire in the belly’, that hunger to win and succeed that is intangible and powerful. Big companies become complacent and with that, less hungry. Engagement is a two-way street – the organization has to communicate the vision, mission, purpose to everyone so they understand how they can make a difference, how what they do matters and drives success…and how they can share in that success. But it’s also got to be for a bigger purpose than money – meaning is finally recognized as being more important than it used to be.

13 10 2010
Stuart Miniman

Hey Boris,
The mention of only 20% of a workforce being passionate was mentioned by John Hagel (author of The Power of Pull). I remember hearing about the study last year – the concern was that in a bad economic environment, if your employees lose their passion, the drop in production would be very significant. I’m not sure about the sports reference, although I agree that teams that believe in the goal and with the desire to achieve can beat a team that might be better on paper.

13 10 2010
Boris Pluskowski

Thanks for that Stu!

I call it the “Underdog” factor in sports – you can find plenty of examples where the underdog has come from behind despite having a weaker team on paper – desire, hunger, determination, call it what you will – can take you a long way! Companies need to find a way to get their employees feeling that same “fire in the belly” that gives the Underdog a chance to win.

It doesn’t guarantee a win (far from it) – but it does improve your chances versus complacency. Think about the entrepreneurial environment where the Underdog status, the belief in a higher cause, the desire to beat the odds – can give start ups the edge in overcoming more complacent large companies.

13 10 2010
Boris Pluskowski

Thanks Deb – I knew someone would come through quickly with the reference 😉 Fully agree with your comments too!

14 10 2010

brillant points! I like the article, especially agree that even in a daily competition, to beat the odds and to win the game of innovation is crucial.
But how to be creative? how to beat the odds? It is a tough question. I think about it for a long time, and please check my ideas if you are interested in it.
I’d like to hear your ideas about it 🙂

14 10 2010
Renee Hopkins

Great post, Boris! I hated to miss BIF-6, and your post was as thought-provoking as that conference usually is.

🙂 renee

17 10 2010
Innovation posts of the week: Game Changers | Game-Changer

[…] Innovation – do you WANT to win? Well, do you? by @bpluskowski […]

2 11 2010

I thoroughly enjoyed this article. “Desire to Win” is a competitive differentiator in effect– I couldn’t agree more!

16 12 2010
Bill Glass

Great Post! The points you make are critical to the success of any business especially a small business.

26 01 2011
Andy Schoepke

Great post, Boris! I believe the “Desire to Win” is a human character strength that companies must focus on when recruiting new staff but also must focus on monitoring and maintaining during their regular operations. If recognized and rolled out properly, “Desire to win” exemplified by the right people in an organization becomes contagious and extremely powerful to drive strategic efforts like Continuous Improvement, Innovation, etc…

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