When I’m not deeply engaged in innovation, I enjoy chess. Earlier this year I started a chess blog
as part of my own chess self-improvement plan. Well, I got a comment
last week reminding me that I have not posted on my other blog in a
while. Oops! Of course, my CEO is delighted by this because he feels
the more my game suffers the more the business thrives. He may be
right — especially these days. While the business is doing great, it
does take more care and feeding in the current economic climate than in
the past, a fact which is reflected in my work schedule.
Of course this extra attention to the business of innovation doesn’t
mean that I don’t get the chance to practice chess thinking. There are
many parallels between the worlds of innovation and chess.
You can only see so many moves ahead
are many factors that influence the business situation, and you will
never have full visibility to all of them. Because of this, you can
never make plans that will not need adjustment over time. This doesn’t
mean you shouldn’t plan; you absolutely must. However, you need to be
reviewing the situation on a regular basis and determining if your
plans are still the right ones. Are the market conditions still the
same? Is the breakthrough you had been considering still relevant? Is
a competitor changing the landscape? Is there a disruptive threat
emerging just over the horizon?
Strategy and tactics are equally important
grand plan poorly executed is just as ineffective as a bunch of
activity that is not aligned around a plan. It seems pretty obvious,
but I have seen many people fail at innovation (and chess) because they
focused solely on one dimension of execution. This is a fundamentally
flawed approach. Strategy and tactics are like the yin and yang of
innovation. They balance and play off of one another. You need to
have a vision of where you want to go if you plan to get there. You
also need to have the innovation skills needed to navigate the path to
where you want to be.
Bring your whole game, or go home
and chess are merciless to the uncommitted. There are many skills that
you must bring to the table in order to deliver on successful
innovation. If you have a weak point in your game, you will be
punished for it. It’s not enough to have an idea—ideas are cheap. The
difference between winning and losing in innovation is realization.
Are you engaging your entire value delivery network to maximize the
potential of your innovation efforts? Are you employing innovation
best practices to ensure that you are delivering the optimal
manifestation of your concept to the market? Is your innovation
process enabled to achieve this best deliverable in the most efficient
Think proactively not reactively
the game actively. Whether in business or chess, it’s never
comfortable when your competition has the momentum. Turn the tables by
putting the completion on the defensive. Futurist Daniel Burrus
advises to identify your most urgent issue and skip it. On the surface
that may sound odd, but there is great wisdom in this suggestion. Your
most urgent issue is usually a response to yesterday’s problem. By the
time you respond, you are already too late. The cost of that late
response was the opportunity to get ahead of the curve by creating the
game-changing innovation that will put you in front of the pack.
Practice makes perfect
you play a lot, your game gets sharper; when you haven’t played in
while, you feel rusty. For companies that plan to succeed at
innovation, the message is clear. You can’t expect to resuscitate your
innovation capabilities when you feel an urgent need. You must build a
sustainable innovation program that makes innovation practice a part of
what you do every day. People are examining issues all the time.
Every one of these issues represents an opportunity to reinforce the
skills of innovation. Provide the culture, the process, and the
infrastructure so that your workers can hone their innovation
capabilities, and you will see significant improvements in the value
creation achieved by your organization.
As you can see, chess and innovation are very similar. Regardless
of which arena you are in, my best advice is always play to win.