How misfit toys can rule the world

Or, to innovate first be creative

Creativity is the union of person, process, and environment that leads to a novel and meanzingful outcome. If creativity is defined as novelty with meaning, then innovation is the adoption of that novelty and meaning as a changed behavior. So another way of seeing innovation is as a creative product that causes systematic change.

If I see a gap between desired future state and current reality as a problem, mentally I may cast all my gaps in a negative light. But if I were to see a gap as an opportunity for meaningful change, I might begin to embrace those gaps as ways to improve my standing or way of life. Were I to then form a habit of seeing gaps as opportunities, my creative approach might take on a behavioral change in others. The potential for my novel approach to problem solving would likely influence my team to also view problems in a counterintuitive fashion:

  • How might we build trust and rapport in the face of crisis?
  • What are all the ways we can surprise and delight our users when we fix this bug?
  • What if we took advantage of this challenge as a new way to see our purpose?

The essence of creativity is novelty: asking open-ended questions, turning a conventional thought process on its head, refashioning the meaning of a current circumstance to see it from another perspective. Employing novelty as a way of doing things moves a team from a creative approach to a single challenge to an innovative culture in which it works and creates value.

Creativity is the plumb line that leads to building a common innovation structure for every new project. The more intentional a team becomes in asking questions designed to reframe the discussion, the more endemic the approach and the more likely it will apply new ways of doing things to its work routines. So much so our “routines” themselves stand the chance of becoming novel disciplines that differentiate our outcomes.

The genesis of the Moneyball phenomenon was a novel question: how does a small market baseball team compete for talent with large market teams when their operating budgets are orders of magnitude apart? By necessity, the Oakland A’s focus needed to shift from assessing talent based on traditional scouting techniques, known as the classic ‘5 tools’ (hitting for average, hitting for power, baserunning skills and speed, throwing ability, and fielding abilities), as an indicator of team success. By reframing their monetary challenge (“What if we were to buy runs to win games, not players?”), they began to see value in players who were considered liabilities to the rest of major league baseball.

The solution? For every high profile player lost to free agency, The A’s recreated the player in the statistical aggregate. That is to say, if they could not afford a player whose on base percentage is .347 (makes it on base nearly 35% of his at-bats), then they found cheap players whose collective average equals a high OBP. Why cheap? Because MLB viewed each player through a lens that suggested the players are defective in some way. To remain competitive in an unfair market, the A’s found value in undervalued players to create an Island of Misfit Toys who could be just as competitive as big money teams. Their line of thinking eventually became disruptive enough to major league baseball for teams such as the Boston Red Sox to adopt their approach – and win two world championships as a result.

A creative approach to money management led to a disruptive force in an industry. And it all began with a simple question: how do we compete in a field where we are doomed to fail?

Immediate takeways for any team

What questions best open up your team discussions for a creative approach to solving critical challenges? And how have you found those approaches turning into a way of working?

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