An Innovation Mindset
The following is an extract from my new book ’59 Lessons – Working with the world’s Greatest Coaches, Athletes, & Special Forces’ where I share my greatest insights into what makes winners truly great.
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
– Henry Ford
Eddie Jones, the current England rugby coach, was someone who demonstrated innovation to great effect. I was introduced to him by Australian fitness coach Dean Benton and was immediately struck by what a progressive thinker Eddie was, which was no surprise as that sums Dean up too. I’d send him emails early in the morning and Eddie would reply within minutes, even though it might be the middle of the night in Australia. He was always looking for new ways to find an edge. Eddie brought in Australian Rules coaches to upskill the squad in catching and psychologists to speak to his staff about mental wellness. He recognized that there was a lot to learn from non-rugby sources, and such open-mindedness helped him create a refreshing way to coach the England squad. It also helps keep things interesting for the players and encourages them to broaden their thinking.
Eddie Jones – England Rugby Coach
You need outside ideas and to consider what others in your area are not thinking about. To quote Henry Ford, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
I also began to notice that the most innovative coaches all appeared to have one other thing in common: most of them worked with teams and organizations with limited resources.
When I first met Eddie, he was with the Japanese national rugby team. His head of fitness John Pryor (JP) was an ingenious coach, and with Japan, he was able to squeeze maximum results from a virtually non-existent budget. JP had to be incredibly inventive and creative.
Rather than having a world-class gym like most national teams, they’d use low cost equipment like sand bags and bands to prepare the players. He was able to apply everything he knew in a restricted environment to get results.
This paradoxically appeared to have two effects –
- A more positive training environment and more adaptable players.
- Most of all, complacency was never a problem.
Working with other teams where budgets were unlimited, I found the answer to an issue always seemed to be money-related, rather than true problem solving. The trouble is, that’s rarely the answer. Eddie Jones did an exceptional job with that team, sowing the seeds that eventually saw them defeat South Africa at the 2015 Rugby World Cup in one of the sport’s biggest upsets. Eddie’s staff showed how to be creative on a low budget while with him in Japan.
Necessity is the Mother of Invention
I also came to realize that you need to be on the lookout for opportunities to learn from unexpected sources. Many years ago while studying for my PhD, I was lodging in the postgrad student dorm during the summer. There were very few people around, but a visiting expert was staying in my building for a few days. One evening he came into the common area while I was watching TV and introduced himself as Giannandrea Poesio.
Learning from Ballet
At the time Giannandrea was a dance correspondent for the Guardian newspaper in London and was visiting the University of Limerick to teach. He had been an understudy to the legendary Rudolf Nureyev and led a fascinating life. Giannandrea helped choreograph movie scenes and had stories about so many performers, from James Stewart to Dolph Lundgren (yes, another Ivan Drago anecdote). He taught me that if you want to be the best, you have to apprentice with the best.
Rudolf Nureyev Russian Ballet Dancer
My conversations with Giannandrea left a lasting impression – you can learn something of value from anyone in any domain. It was here I first started to formulate concepts in ‘Game Changer’. You can’t cocoon yourself inside your comfort zone. A wise man can learn from a fool, but a fool cannot learn from a wise man.
Dan Pfaff – Innovative Solutions
Of course, you can innovate and learn from within the sporting community as well. Dan Pfaff helped me understand running and movement not just within track events, but also in the context of team sports. He has a unique way of troubleshooting athletes’ issues. An excessive amount of lateral movement, for example, might involve a myriad of contributing factors, from muscle activation and mobility to quadratus lumborum dysfunction. Dan’s thorough understanding of anatomy, ability to listen to his athletes, and technical know-how are all world class. Even in areas related to recovery, Dan was investigating certain therapies decades before anyone else.
Dan Pfaff – Master Sprint Coach
A lot of coaches I’ve encountered rely heavily on strength training, while others emphasize technique above all. Dan masterfully balanced both. He never thought he had definitive answers, but would say, “I think this is what’s going on. What about you?” Instead of professing to be an authority on everything, Dan would lean on other experts in various domains, learn from them, and incorporate their best practices into his own coaching.
How innovative is your staff? Are you leading or following the herd?
A critical yet often overlooked aspect of adaptation and survival in both business and sports is innovation. But innovation without reason or for its own sake can be detrimental to progress. Not everything will work, and it’s foolish to equate each new technology with progress. You must be sure implementation will deliver results and not just create unnecessary work and greater complexity.
Ingenuity can come from many sources. Occasionally you will be inspired by ideas from completely outside your realm. Much innovation comes from necessity. Very often those working with limited budgets are the most creative thinkers.