Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower. I didn’t say that, Steve Jobs did. And boy, was he right. Because many times, it is tough to break things that don’t appear broken.
Recognize What Is Broken
In 2011 I joined the Erie SeaWolves as team president. At the time we didn’t have that dilemma; we knew some things were broken. Five years later we’ve made great strides. We’ve set team records for sponsorship revenue and we’ve received accolades for our commitment to community service. We continue to improve the business year after year.
Innovation Through Experience
Even though we’ve made great strides, we aren’t (historically speaking) among the most innovative teams in Minor League Baseball. We haven’t pioneered glow-in-the-dark uniforms, positioned ourselves on the leading edge of ApplePay technology, or decided to move our Sunday games earlier to capture the brunch crowd. Innovation isn’t an overnight concept. With that said, I suspect you’re going to hear about more innovation coming out of Erie, Pennsylvania over the next few years.
For the past year I’ve had the opportunity to get to know Jim Gilmore of Strategic Horizons LLP. Jim is the co-author of The Experience Economy: Work is Theatre & Every Business a Stage and Authenticity: What Consumers Really Want. Fortunately for the SeaWolves, he’s a baseball fan and lives in nearby Ohio.
During a recent discussion Jim shared an exercise with me that I think is remarkably simple and incredibly applicable. With apologies to The Jackson 5, you might say it’s as easy as A-B-C.
Develop, Create, Rebuild
During my 18-year career I’ve sat through, or at times endured, strategic planning sessions. Despite the availability of a white board, post-it notes, scented markers, food, drinks, and even a magic 8-ball, a brainstorm session sometimes yields nothing but a light mist of regurgitated ideas from other teams.
But what if the innovation process was changed just a bit? What if you only needed to come up with one concept, lead, or category each starting with a different letter of the alphabet? We’ll even make it a little easier; we’ll lump X, Y and Z together so you only need to come up with 24 ideas.
In some ways it’s a little like playing the board game Scattergories. Instead of having one letter and multiple categories though, you get one category and multiple letters.
Catering To New Groups
There are many applications where innovation can occur. In group sales, teams are experienced at mining major categories like schools, churches and youth sports leagues. Could you identify an unserved or underserved segment by applying this exercise? Could you identify new sellable experiences within your stadium or arena?
As for the SeaWolves, we’re applying it across a variety of fronts. We’re using it in the aforementioned ways, but we’re also using it to add depth to our promotional calendar and identify new sponsorship inventory and prospects.
So if you’re stuck in a creative rut or you’re looking for a new set of results, it might be time to go all the way back to basics. Sometimes all you need to come up with a new idea is a letter opener.