The Innovation Difference-Maker: YOU!

At Stage-Gate International, our pursuit to understand what it takes to achieve sustainable innovation performance goes beyond observing successful innovation leaders, teams and companies. We learn by researching champions of all types, including successful professional sports teams. Don Shula is the winningest coach in NFL history. He has coached more wins than any other NFL coach.  He attributes the repeatability and portability of his success to leading by example.

Does this apply to innovation? You bet it does. Our research confirms that the real difference-maker for innovation success at the company level is the role played by its leaders. Yet, a recent poll of US-based business leaders reveals that many simply do not know how to lead innovation by example.

What NOT to do:

  • Roll up your sleeves and jump into projects. You don’t expect a coach to jump into a game when his team is losing or to make the big play. This doesn’t work with innovation projects that are struggling either. While your intention may be honorable, we call this ‘meddling’. In most cases meddling does more damage than good and demonstrates a non-confidence vote in your team.  The leader has a different skill set to leverage to steer innovation success.
  • Lower your expectations. Projects that struggle to articulate a value proposition are struggling for a reason. Allowing these projects a free pass by skipping over the tough work because, well, it’s tough to do, is no different then a coach telling his team to skip physical conditioning work because it’s hard to do. The leader’s job is to know what is necessary to win and to set high expectations to steer your teams to victory. Everyone wants to be on a winning team!
  • Give up the playbook. During important or challenging games, athletes enter ‘the zone’. This intense concentration helps them to focus on executing their specific role perfectly because the success of the play depends on it. However, this concentration comes at a cost, they have to let go of keeping track of the bigger picture. The coach knows this and enables his players to focus intensely on their specific roles because he has the big picture.  At key turning points, he influences the team by showing them how to work together to execute a critical play. He uses the all-important playbook to keep his players on the same page.  Everyone knows their role. Everyone plays their role. Everyone wins together. Everyone loses learns together.

The business leader requires the equivalent of the ‘playbook’ for innovation.  The most widely implemented and cited innovation ‘playbook’ is Stage-Gate® for its science-based design and proven results. Its significance to a company’s performance is the same as the playbook is to a winning sports team. The broader, more encompassing Stage-Gate® Framework is the same as the broader football program.

Top performing business leaders often spend time with Stage-Gate innovation experts to customize a Stage-Gate Playbook unique to their own business. Many organizations that have customized a Stage-Gate Playbook, have ‘plays’ for each unique type of innovation the company intends to pursue (i.e. breakthrough innovation, new products, new technology applications, minor product improvements, etc.).

Stage-Gate is effective because it is function-neutral, meaning each function retains the set of best practices they use to excel in their craft. Just as each position on a football team relies on different skills and practices to excel in what they need to do best.  The Stage-Gate Playbook helps each function know how and when to excel individually and when to work together as a team to execute the critical plays.  It illustrates how all members of a winning team can lead by example.

Learn what is necessary to win at product innovation and development and how to lead by example.  Join us on the Stage-Gate Masterclass Tour. Next stop – Miami!

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