Playing not to lose

As a kid, I really enjoyed the stories about how the earliest explorers would set out for the new world, frequently returning whenever the water got a bit rough. Then, once they finally reached the other side of the ocean, they would literally tread water for a while until they could locate the perfect landing spot, only turning back if they met the slightest bit of a resistance.

Wait, that’s not how you remember it?

Most companies’ approach to innovation is equally uninspiring. Worse yet, it just doesn’t work.

Far too many aren’t playing to win but, instead, are playing not to lose.

I worked on a new venture where whenever we met with the CEO he spent most of the time talking about ways to mitigate risk rather than on what we could do to improve our likelihood for success.

“We’ll spend the money on marketing once we know that there is consumer demand.”

“We’ll put dedicated resources on the team once we get a few stores open.”

“We’ll start talking about this with the press once we know we are committed to rolling it out.”

Needless to say, this particular idea now languishes as an also-ran amidst more committed competition.

This is not a call to be reckless. But if you are signing up for a strategy where best case you finish third, I have to ask “why bother?”

You can do better. We can do better. What better time than now?


4 thoughts on “Playing not to lose

  1. Agreed! I see it often, we lose sight of the goal and start focusing on obstacles. Creativity loves obstacles – provided the goal remains. Otherwise it’s just being short-sighted or lazy.

  2. Steve, I couldn’t agree more. The safe middle is, as my friend Curt Bailey of Sundberg Ferar product design firm says, “Porridge”. They’ve painted “NO MORE PORRIDGE” on a huge wall in their workspace.

    It’s way more fun to play at the fringes and in the rough waves. That’s where new ideas are lurking in just about every area of insights and activation.

    It’s hard to push clients to the edges, but it’s our job. The shoppers are the ones who vote with their footsteps and their wallets. Let’s not disappoint them with safe, let’s try to rock their boats with fantastic.

  3. Very much the norm, at least in the CG and business information worlds.

    I listened to an owner talk about wanting to bring innovation to his medium size firm. The target 40% growth. The technique….no discernible change to the organization or it’s makeup to achieve those results.

    Another owner of a unique business services firm has watched his market stagnate and begin to decline. The response to a variety of approaches to change results….”let’s wait and see.”

    The fear of the unknown might just outweigh the certainty of what is known today.

    Nice Piece!

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