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The Precursors of Innovation: Lessons from Sport

We want to engage our employees in our innovation process” is a statement we hear in many of today’s corporations, just like we hear, “I want to be an Olympic champion” in fifth grade classrooms during the Olympics. Both are of course possible for some, but how many will actually take the necessary steps to accomplish these very challenging goals? Interestingly, for these two very different objectives, I see many common denominators.

You need to be truly confident — believe it

We often hear about the importance of confidence to be successful, but if we agree that confidence comes with success, how can we get there in the first place? The answer of course is with baby steps; each step gives you the confidence you need to make the next step. When I hear a young athlete tell me he or she wants to win the Olympics, I say: “Great! Now focus on what you have to do today to be better tomorrow. Do that every day and one day you will have the skills and truly believe you can make it.” Having coached a few Olympic champions, I have witnessed the exact moment when ability leads to the unwavering belief that they can become an Olympic champion.

You need to be open to hear the truth — be coachable

Thinking you are doing everything right and that you know everything are the perfect attributes for failure when you compete against the world. Perhaps you had the opportunity to be the best in your club, but because you were too content winning there, you did not realize that someone elsewhere was building themselves an army of knowledge and skills at the same time. We often hear great coaches talk about how coachable their remarkable athletes are. What do they really mean by that? It means that the athletes who were already good wanted to know more to be better. More importantly, these athletes are open to receive blunt feedback about what they do wrong and what they can learn from others.

You need to be willing to fail — take reasonable risk

The biggest risk is to take no risk — this is probably one of the most famous clichés in sports, but a cliché is often a proven theory and it sure applies when wanting to be an Olympic champion. Make sure you do not confuse this cliché with “go big or go home.” The latter one is often used when one knows they will fail for sure and in desperation they do something beyond their limits to give themselves a good excuse for failing, or to say at least they tried. The Hail Mary is sure fun for us in the stands, but I can guarantee you that no well prepared coach has it in their playbook.

You need to think out of the box — be innovative

I do not believe that simply training harder and harder until you make it is the right approach — it would be way too easy if it were. Rather, you have to train intelligently and be willing to do things differently by going out of your way to find what is best for you. Developing an athlete, like building a business, is not a cookie cutter system, yet many organizations treat it as such. Everyone is different with diverse needs and we need to find ways to maximize each and everyone’s full potential. The athlete needs to be a part of the process of innovation; likewise, if stakeholders are not, you can forget about the gold medal or innovation, and all the hard work was just a waste of resources.

Follow these steps, and you’ll see that both engaging employees in innovation and standing at the top of Olympic podiums are simply the result of continuous high performance behaviors — always striving to be better.

In addition to being the Director of Progress at SoapBox, Dominick Gauthier is also the cofounder of B2ten, a privately managed funding body for amateur sport,  and has worked directly with more than 20 Olympic medalists for Canada as a coach, program manager, and advisor.


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