Academic, News, Innovation

What sport can teach us about innovation

By Ducere Global Business School on July, 7 2017
Ducere Global Business School

“Successful innovation is not a single breakthrough. It is not a sprint. It is not an event for the solo runner. Successful innovation is a team sport, it’s a relay race” – Nguyen Quyen

In Australia we love sport, summer, winter, indoors or outdoors we can’t get enough, from Wooli’s Goanna pulling championship, Geelong’s rubber duck race and who could miss Brisbane’s annual Cockroach races – it’s fair to say whatever the activity, we’re a sporting nation.

Sport is filled with numbers, analytics and teams who innovate in a quest to win. At the time of Hawthorns dominance of the AFL - winning three premierships in a row from 2013 to 2015 - it was known “that Clarkson (coach) has been provided with an actual innovation budget which is a testament to his (and the club’s) desire to push new frontiers. 1

So why is innovation critical in sport?

From strategic game plans, defence, offence, structures and management of key personnel, sport, especially when it is played on a professional level, is no different to the business environment.

One of the key areas where sports innovation excels is the area of data analysis and knowing how and where to implement it. “The world of sport is twenty years ahead of the business world on how to get the best out of your performance by analysing data”.2

An example of where the effective use of data can change outcomes or ‘predict responsive behaviour’ was chronicled in the 2003 book and 2011 movie Moneyball in which OaklandGeneral Manager Billy Beane used sabermetrics to discover the secret of success in the imperfect science of baseball player evaluation”.3

This methodology, which was applied to devastating effect by Beane, was the ultimate disruptive change to over 100 years of ‘talent scouting’ as players were graded by statistics that measured their in-game activities. This process allowed Oakland Athletics, a low budget, ill-performing team, to fill their locker-room with ‘undervalued’ players that when put together performed exceptionally well in comparison to their well-funded, star-studded opponents.

Innovation has also seen a wave of sports doping scandals rock the foundations of many sports such as Lance Armstrong, the worlds most celebrated road cyclist, cancer survivor and profound drug cheat, who’s "ruthless desire to winruined the reputation of the sport, his teammates and the globally recognised organisations associated with him.

From the Tour de France, Essendon F.C. in the AFL to NFL, and NRL, you name it every sport has had their fair share of scandals, with global (WADA) and Australian (ASADA) sports anti-sport doping bodies on a mission to innovate their technology and processes to clean up sport on a global scale.

Innovation in sport doesn’t just apply to the teams, players and equipment; there is another area of innovation within sport that has changed the game in many areas.

Sports broadcasting has seen significant innovation through the use of drones, player GPS tracking data and ‘GoPro’ technology. The GoPro in particular was a significant innovation that changed the amateur sports market, as people loved filming themselves, their tricks or their achievements – some even making movies for future endorsement deals.

John Buchanan is the most successful coach in Australian cricket history and is passionate about coaching and the striking impact that quality coaching has on peak performance for individuals, leaders and teams.



The Parallels Between Sport and Business
John Buchanan – Ducere Global Leader

So what are the main lessons that we can learn from sport in terms of innovation that can be applied to the business world?

Similar to the application of John Nash’s Game Theory, businesses can learn about the human conflict & co-operation within a competitive situationby applying research and theory behind who or what is working and focusing on the where and when.

As Beane demonstrated with his Oakland Athletics, its not about being complacent, filling your team with superstars and expecting the best. It is about applying thought, theory and innovation into your business, your design and your architecture all in an effort to win.

Innovation in sport is no different than business, its just with sport it seems to be a ‘higher stakes game’ of win/loss – as you cant hide from the bright lights of the big stage if you fail – unlike many company executives – if your game plan doesn’t work, you lose.

When your enemy is making mistakes, don’t interrupt them – Billy Beane

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