Very few phrases induce more eye-rolls or are more effective in shutting down change than that.
But how can you argue when “how we do it here” works (for now), is what everyone knows, and is “consistent with our culture?”
You go Bananas!
In March, my husband and I traveled to Savannah to watch the Savannah Bananas play their cross-town rival, the Party Animals.
Over a year ago, I became obsessed with the Bananas, a collegiate summer team, and their unique brand of baseball known as Banana Ball. The rules are as follows:
Every inning counts: The team that scores the most runs in an inning gets 1 point, and the team with the most points at the end of the game wins.
Two-hour time limit: If the game is tied at the end of nine innings or 2 hours, then there is a…
1:1 Showdown Tiebreaker: In the event of a tie, 3 players are on the field (pitcher, catcher, fielder) and 1 batter who has to hit a home run or, well, it gets complicated and chaotic, so click here to get the details
No stepping out of the batter’s box
No mound visits
No walks: If a 4th ball is thrown, the batter takes off running, and every defensive player must touch the ball before it becomes live and a play can be made
Batters can steal first (I have been advocating for this since 1995, no joke, ask my dad)
If a fan catches a foul ball, it’s an out
Lest you think I’m the only crazy person who would travel for this spectacle, there were people from 24 different states at the game. The Bananas have led their league in attendance since 2016 and set a record in 2018 with 118,262 fans over 25 games.
Lest you think the Bananas are the Harlem Globetrotters of baseball, they won the Coastal Plain League in 2016 and 2021, and 8 Bananas were drafted in 2021.
So yeah, they’re good, too.
It started with “What if”
Despite record attendance and a championship in their first season, the Bananas’ owner, Jesse Cole, wasn’t satisfied. Even though they created a fans first experience, people were still leaving before the game ended.
You can read the full story of how Banana Ball was born, but here’s the gist:
Jesse’s dad said, “What if every inning was match play and whoever won the inning got a point?”
Jesse, the front office team, and the head coach brainstormed a handful of rule changes to “highlight the more exciting parts of baseball while also countering the slower aspects of the game that tend to bore your average fan.”
Jesse called his college baseball coach, then the head coach at Lander University, and asked if they could play a game with the new rules as an experiment. The answer, “Why not?”
It worked! The players loved it. The coaches loved it. Even the players’ girlfriends, who usually sat in the stands in did their homework, watched every minute.
They kept experimenting. Over 1.5 years (from 2018 to 2020), the Bananas kept tweaking the rules, adding new ones and removing ones that didn’t contribute to the goal of more excitement and a better fan experience.
What’s your Banana Ball?
Why am I telling you all this (besides the fact that I am obsessed)?
Because if a collegiate summer league team with a silly name can up-end (even in a small way) an institution as stodgy as baseball and convert its grumpiest purists, you can too!
Follow the playbook:
Don’t ever be satisfied: Things can always be better. It’s great to start with a sell-out, but if people don’t stick around, there’s an opportunity to improve.
Define your Why. What is your version of “highlight the more exciting parts of baseball while also countering the slower aspects of the game that tend to bore your average fan.”
Ask What if. Use analogies like Jesse’s dad did when he transplanted golf’s match play to baseball.
Run small experiments with friendly people. The Bananas didn’t play Banana Ball rules in the first game after drafting the rules. They called a friend and ran an experiment.
Gather all the data. The Bananas knew that the payers had to enjoy playing by Banana rules for them to stick, so they asked for feedback. They also realized that the girlfriends’ behavior change was data, even if it’s not the data the experiment was designed to collect.
Keep experimenting. One success is just that. You need a second, a third, and a whole bunch more before being confident it will last.
Have fun. Baseball is a business, but it’s also a game. Your job can be both, too.
That sentence is usually uttered as tough-love advice to a friend who can’t seem to let go of a guy that’s clearly let go of her. A few weeks ago, it was tough love advice to one of my friends who couldn’t understand why customers weren’t swooning over his company’s newest product.
They didn’t hate.
But most didn’t like it enough to buy it.
It wasn’t rejection that was killing the business. It was apathy.
It was painful to witness.
It is also solvable.
I’m a baseball fan. I’m also the first to admit that baseball breeds apathy amongst its fans.
4-hour games. At-bats that feel like 4 hours. Fan involvement that is limited mainly to the Wave and the 7th Inning Stretch. It’s boring.
Unless you’re in Savannah, GA.
If you’re in Savannah to see baseball, you show up 2 hours before the game starts. When the gates open, you rush to your seats because you don’t want to miss a moment of the pre-game festivities. During the game, you bounce in and out of your seat so much that it counts as a workout. After the game, you spend another hour dancing and singing with the band and the team. By the time you get home, your voice is hoarse, your head is spinning, and you swear you never knew a baseball game could be so fun.
How does a collegiate summer baseball team sell out every game since 2016 and routinely attract people from around the world?
More importantly, what can you (and my friend) learn from them?
1. Do Your (customers’) Job (to be Done).
Most people go to baseball games to have fun and make memories. Most MLB franchises are focused on making a profit and winning trophies. Not a whole lot of overlap there.
The Bananas promise “to provide an electric atmosphere at all of our games! Our fans come first, and we’re dedicated to entertaining you!” There’s a complete overlap between what the fans want – have fun and make memories – and what the Bananas offer.
2. Deliver an end-to-end experience
For most businesses, designing and delivering an end-to-end experience is about investing in technology to make buying their products “frictionless” and training customer service to be more “helpful.”
The Bananas invest in delivering delight. Here’s what happened after I spent a whopping $50 to buy two tickets:
I received an email telling me I had just made the “best decision of my life” and sharing a video of the “live” view of their offices when my order came in (dancing and chaos)
Three days later, Carson called to thank me for buying tickets
Two weeks before the game, they emailed to help me “mentally prepare” for the experience.
One week before the game, they sent a permission slip to give to my boss to get out of work early.
On gameday, they emailed a Spotify playlist so we could prepare for the game
The day after, they emailed a handwritten thank you note from the owners
A week after the game, they emailed a video montage of the game we attended
3. Be human
Most companies “run lean” and use technology to improve efficiencies because humans are expensive.
The Bananas are human. Carson emailed the permission slip. She also called to thank me for buying tickets. Nick sent the gameday email. He also gave me the wristband required to get to our seats. The owner, Jesse Cole, spent the night running around in a yellow tuxedo hyping up the crowd. His wife wrote a thank you letter.
4. Give thanks. No strings attached
We’ve all received the “Thank You for Your Purchase” email after an online transaction. We also know that the email will ask for something more – track your package, write a review, post on social media, buy another product.
The Bananas say, “Thank You,” then give you something more – a funny video, a permission slip, a Spotify playlist, a handwritten thank you note. They don’t ask you to buy merchandise or post about your experience on social media, or leave them a review.
If you don’t care about your product, no one else will.
In a world of baseballs, be a banana.
There are dozens of other things the Savannah Bananas do that make them unique and delightful that your business (and MLB) would struggle to copy.
But there are at least five things you can copy to stave off customer apathy and inspire die-hard, life-long, “tell all your friends” loyalty.
What did I miss? What have YOU experienced or done to be a banana?
In Part 1, you learned the What, Why, and How of 5 popular Innovation Frameworks – Human-Centered Design (also known as Design Thinking), Systemic Design, User-Centered Design, Lean Start-up, and Agile.
But as anyone who grew up in the 1980s and watched G.I. Joe will tell you, knowing is half the battle.
The other half is doing. More specifically, doing the right thing at the right time.
This brings us to Part 2 – the When of our 5 Innovation frameworks.
The Innovation Process
Before we get into the specifics of when to use each framework, let’s get clear on the activities that need to happen and the order in which they need to happen. In other words, we need to define an Innovation Process.
I know that sounds like an oxymoron. After all, you know that innovation is not a linear process. At best, it’s iterative. Usually, it looks and feels like this:
But you also know that this image doesn’t inspire confidence in senior leaders because it looks like chaos and doesn’t haven’t a timescale.
So to make the process more palatable to the powers that be, the Innovation Process is often shown as linear. Something like this:
Of course, that means that we, the innovators, must explain that the work isn’t, it’s an infinite loop with exit points at each step, and not every project can or should complete all the steps. It’s not perfect, but it serves its purpose (reassure senior leaders that we have a plan), so we’ll use it to help guide us to when to use each Innovation Framework.
Frameworks in the process
Now that we know the basic order in which activities should occur, we can return to our frameworks to determine which ones will best serve us in each step of the process.
“But wait!” some of you may exclaim. “Can’t we use them all?”
You can, but you don’t need to. Human-Centered Design and User-Centered Design are incredibly similar, and trying to use them both is more likely to confuse than clarify the work to be done.
“I knew it!” others will laugh, “that’s why I only use (fill in the framework).”
You can, but you shouldn’t. Every innovation has its strengths and weaknesses. The most successful innovators pull the best approaches and tools from each framework into their process.
Here’s how I think things fit together:
How to Interpret: The thicker the colored band in a column, the better suited the Innovation Framework is for the phase in the process. For example, Human-Centered Design is excellent for Diagnose, Design, and Develop phases, useful in De-Risk, and ok in Deliver. In contrast, Agile is not at all suited for Diagnose and Design but is excellent for De-Risk and Deliver.
In Diagnose and Design, lean heavily on Human-Centered Design because it keeps you open to all the types of people involved in the problem and the solution (not just users). If you’re operating in a complex environment, like healthcare or education, being in Systemic Thinking to make sure you don’t miss non-human elements like regulation, technology, or geopolitical dynamics that could also have a significant effect on the problem and eventual solution
In Develop, start weaving in elements of Lean Startup, especially its focus on building business models and not just individual products or services. Tools like the Business Model Canvas are a huge help here and reveal critical but non-product/service assumptions that need to be tested.
In De-Risk, Lean Startup and Agile become (relatively) interchangeable, so use the language that best resonates within your organization. The key here is to apply the Scientific Method to your solution through rapid prototyping and testing.
In Deliver, you’ve launched your solution, and the goal is to scale. Agile is designed for this, but it’s essential to keep the human/user at the center of continuous improvement efforts.
Popular “Innovation” Frameworks: Now What?
You’re now even more of an expert on five popular innovation frameworks, ready to talk the talk and walk the walk with the best of ’em. Right?
This is all the opinion of one person in a world of experts who think and who do. So what did I miss? What did I get wrong? Drop a comment, and you’ll make us all smarter!
Click here to automatically download the What, Why, How, and When Cheat Sheet
On April 26, 1937, Nazi warplanes, at the request of Franco’s Spanish nationalists, bombed Guernica, a town in northern Spain’s Basque Country. Bombs rained down on the city center for two hours, killing hundreds of people, primarily women and children.
On May 1, Pablo Picasso read an eyewitness account of the bombing and immediately began sketching. Over ten days, he created more than 50 sketches – some barely more than scribbles, others with crisp and clear pencil lines forming tragic and horrifying figures, and yet others in bold hues of yellow, purple, and blue.
On May 11, Picasso stretched and prepared a canvas so massive that it could not stand upright in his studio.
In July 1937, Guernica was unveiled at the Spanish Pavilion at the Paris International Exposition. At approximately 11.5 feet tall and 25.5 feet wide, the grey, black, and white oil painting with images showing the horrors of war was met with mixed reviews.
Today, it is regarded as one of the most moving and powerful anti-war paintings ever created and hangs in a custom-built gallery at Madrid’s Museo Reina Sofia.
What does this have to do with innovation?
Look again at the timeline above. In only ten days, Picasso learned about Guernica’s bombing, was inspired to create something in response to it, drew initial sketches, and started work on the final product.
To translate this into a (somewhat poor) analogy for innovation, in only ten days, Picasso went from identifying a need (respond to the terrorist act) to brainstorming a solution (make a painting), to developing prototypes (sketches), to preparing to launch (stretching the canvas).
Of which almost all were spent prototyping.
How does that compare to your innovation process?
How much time do you spend identifying a need? Brainstorming solutions? Developing prototypes?
If you’re like most companies, you probably have a 10/80/10 split – 10% of your time understanding customer needs, 80% of your time in brainstorming, and 10% of your time developing and testing prototypes.
If innovation is all about solving problems and the number one reason startups and products fail is lack of product-market fit, why do you spend most of your time coming up with ideas instead of making sure they’re the right ideas?
(Don’t) Go Big or Go Home
You know that listening to your customers is crucial because they ultimately decide the fate of your innovation. You know that prototyping is essential because all ideas are initially more wrong than right.
Yet, most companies adopt a “Go Big or Go Home” philosophy. They push innovation teams to stop worrying about the “details” and “fail fast” by getting to market (and revenue) ASAP.
But this approach puts the project and the company at risk by increasing the likelihood that money, people, and reputations will be spent on projects that do not solve a pressing customer need and, as a result, fail in the market.
(Do) Go Small to Go Big
A better approach, one more likely to lead to market success, is to “Go Small to Go Big.” Instead of a 10/80/10 split, spend 40% of your time finding the problem, 10% ideating, and 50% refining your idea through prototypes.
After all, if Picasso wasn’t willing to start painting until he first did some sketches, why are you willing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to launch something you never prototyped?
Looking back, I realize that much of my childhood was also about embracing the AND.
Mom AND Dad
Nursery School Teacher AND Computer Engineer
Finger paint AND Calculus
A few years ago, I wrote about my mom, the OG (Original Gangster) of Innovation. She was what most people imagine of an “innovator” – creative, curious, deeply empathetic, and more focused on what could be than what actually is.
With Father’s Day approaching, I’ve also been thinking about my dad, and how he is the essential other-side of innovation – analytical, practical, thoughtful, and more focused on what should be than what actually is.
In the spirit of Father’s Day, here are three of the biggest lessons I learned from Dad, the unexpected innovator
Managers would rather live with a problem they understand than a solution they don’t.
When Dad dropped this truth bomb one night during dinner a few years ago, my head nearly exploded. Like him, I always believed that if you can fix a problem, you should. And, if you can fix a problem and you don’t, then you’re either lazy, not very smart, or something far worse. Not the most charitable view of things but perhaps the most logical.
But this changed things.
If you’ve lived with a problem long enough, you’re used to it. You’ve developed workarounds, and you know what to expect. In a world of uncertainty, it is something that is known. It’s comfortable
Fixing a problem requires change and change is not comfortable. Very few people are willing to sacrifice comfort and certainty for the promise of something better.
What this means for innovators is that it is not enough to identify, understand, and convince people of a problem. In order to make progress, we need to also identify, understand, and convince people that the solution is a better option. When people agree there is a problem but refuse our solution, it’s not because they’re lazy, dumb, or something worse. It’s because we haven’t given them a solution they understand. We have more work to do.
Pick Yourself up.
Dust yourself off.
Start all over again
My dad had an office job doing office stuff. We never really knew what he did, to the point that when True Lies came out, we (my mom, sister, and I) just started telling people that he was a spy.
Like everyone who has office jobs doing office things, Dad had lots of meetings and projects which means he also had some frustrating days. As I stepped out into the world, he knew I would have some frustrating days, too. So he gave me this Ziggy cartoon with a little note: “Keep things in perspective – it’s always a new day and a new opportunity for a fresh start.”
Not an easy thing for an impatient perfectionist to remember.
And isn’t that what innovators are? We’re impatient, we believe things can (and should) be better, and we don’t always react that well when other people don’t see what we believe is blindingly obvious. Sometimes we handle it well but sometimes we fall down (lose our tempers, yell at people, etc.).
Innovation, especially innovation within an existing company is hard. We will fall down because we’re trying to do something that’s really hard, drive change. But we can’t stay down. We need to pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and try again.
Sometimes a good THPPFT can help you get through a rough day
Mom was the silly one. Dad was the serious one. So it was a bit surprising when I received this card from Dad a few days before Finals.
He was right.
It’s important to remember that a good THPPFT, or burst of laughter, or *&%$#, or 30-second dance party can get you through a rough day. It breaks up the intensity and the self-imposed seriousness of whatever is happening.
Innovation, especially Design Thinking, is rooted in child-like wonder – curiosity, creativity, surprise, and joy. As innovators, if we get mired in the seriousness and stress of work, we will lose the joy and humor required to create and change. We need a good THPPFT to stay effective innovators.
One final nugget
In previous blog, I’ve mentioned a poem that Dad gave me, probably in HS, that I think about regularly. I am quite sure that there were times he deeply regretted sharing this with his head-strong, opinionated, and slightly anti-authoritarian daughter, as evidenced by the hand-written note on the paper version – “don’t think you’ll always be right.”
While I was right that I would never use calculus (or physics or chemistry) after school, he was right to share this with me. And now I share it with you:
A few weeks ago, I wrote a post using quotes from “Moneyball” (the movie, not the book) to describe the experience of trying to innovate within a corporate setting.
It was great fun to write, I received tons of feedback, and had many fascinating conversations (plus a fact check on the year the Red Sox broke the Curse of the Bambino), so I started searching for other movies that inadvertently but accurately describe the journey of corporate innovators.
The Princess Bride
If you have not seen The Princess Bride, stop reading and immediately go watch it. Seriously, there is nothing more important for you to do right now than to crawl out from the cultural rock you’ve been under since 1987 and watch this movie.
If you’re reading this, you’ve clearly watched the movie and know that it is packed with life lessons and quotable quotes. It also captures the reality of innovation within the walls of large companies
“You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.” – Inigo Montoya
A company’s focus on Innovation usually begins the moment a senior executive, usually the CEO, declares it to be a key strategic priority and promises Wall Street analysts that significant investments will be made.
It then trickles down to business units and functions, with each subsequent layer told to “be more innovative” and “come up with more innovation.”
Then, one day, the responsibility for innovation lands in someone’s lap and stays there. To be honest, it’s usually an exciting day for the person because they’ve been asking questions, suggesting ideas, and pushing for innovation for a long time, and now the powers that be have permitted them to do something about it. They may even have been given a title and budget specific for innovation.
But “innovation” was never defined.
The CEO may think it is an entirely new business, something flashy and new that rivals anything coming out of Silicon Valley.
The Business Unit and Functional Heads may think it’s a new product or technology, something just different enough from the current business to be newsworthy but not so different that it changes how things are done.
And the new Innovation owner thinks it’s new ideas, lots of brainstorming sessions, and networking with entrepreneurs and startups.
Without alignment as to what “innovation” means and what it needs to deliver, the stage is set for misalignment, frustration, and ultimately failure. Al because that word, “Innovation,” does not mean what you think it means.
“We’ll never survive.” – Buttercup, the Princess Bride
“Nonsense, you’re only saying that because nobody ever has.” – Westley
Let’s imagine for a moment that a common definition and set of expectations for innovation is established and everyone up and down the corporate hierarchy is in agreement (this actually does happen, but it takes effort).
The innovation owner has a clear mandate and is hard at work building an innovation pipeline – they’re having lots of qualitative interviews to build customer empathy, they’re facilitating brainstorming sessions to get ideas, they’re building prototypes to get customer feedback. Most importantly, they’re sharing their work with anyone who will listen, asking for feedback, and building supporters and champions.
And then, the chorus begins.
“This will never work”
“You’ll never get approval for that”
“If we do that, we’ll lose customers”
“If you do that, you’ll be fired.”
In these moments, the dark seeds of doubt are planted. The innovation owner must dig deep, reminding themselves that people are only saying those things because it hasn’t worked yet, no one got approval yet, customers haven’t yet weighed in, and you haven’t tried to do that yet.
After all, just because something has never been done, doesn’t mean that it can’t be done.
“Thank you so much for bringing up such a painful subject. While you’re at it, why don’t you give me a nice paper cut and pour lemon juice on it.” – Buttercup, the Princess Bride
Let’s be honest, most corporate innovation efforts don’t result in the world-changing, life-affirming successes we hop for. Innovators are, by nature and necessity, an optimistic bunch so when things don’t work out as we hope, it hurts. It hurts as much as a paper cut with lemon juice poured on it.
But there is one truth that cuts across all attempts at corporate innovation, no matter whether the journey ends with wild success in the form of massive business growth, happy success in the form of new products and revenue streams, satisfying success in the form of improvements and greater efficiencies, or bitter disappointment because nothing changes and everyone goes on to old or new jobs.
“I supposed you think you’re brave, don’t you?” – Vizzini
“Only compared to some.” – Buttercup, the Princess Bride
Those who took on the work and responsibility of innovation are brave.
Not only compared to some but compared to most.
It takes guts to try something new. To ask questions. To challenge the status quo. To continue seeking a yes amongst a thousand no’s. To put your reputation, your bonus, and maybe even your job on the line.
And that’s what corporate innovators need to remember – that whatever happens, they were brave. They worked hard, they battled the odds, they did make change happen. Even if it was only how they see and understand the world. Even if it only to get smarter and stronger and prepare for the next time they are called upon to drive change.
Because in that moment, innovators must be ready to say “As you wish.”