Innovation: First, Learn the Rules and Then Break Them!
A couple of summers ago, my son Sammy wanted to learn how to play catch. I was eager to teach him, he was eager to learn, and we both looked forward to spending that quality time together. So off we went to the nearby park, baseball gloves and ball in hand. This was going to be fun. And it certainly was!
Over the course of several weeks that summer, we enjoyed these father-son moments of coaching and enjoying each other’s company. Nothing makes a dad more proud than watching his boy grow up. Helping him learn and master a new skill brought me great joy. (It still does.)
Often during these play times, Sammy would entertain me with his “advanced” baseball skills. By “advanced” I really mean “goofy.” (He’s a chip off the old block, after all.) After several minutes of throwing the ball back and forth – focusing on improving his throw and his ability to catch the ball – it was time for Sammy to get creative.
Abandoning the fundamentals, he added spins and pirouettes to his throws, not to mention a slightly maniacal grin… (Did I mention he takes after his dad?) We enjoyed a lot of laughs as Sammy introduced more and more “innovation” to the game.
Of course, he was still learning the fundamentals. He hadn’t mastered them yet. His throw was getting better all the time, and his catching skills were improving. But he was still learning. When we had both enjoyed his crazy antics for several minutes, often I would remind him of a very important principle.
“First learn the rules, then break them!”
“Sammy, first learn all the rules, and then you can break them.”
We had this conversation several times during these father-son moments. Sammy understood this to be my gentle reminder to not lose sight of the fundamentals of the game, to focus on honing his skills (while still having tons of fun). In between the laughs we both enjoyed as a result of his great sense of humour, we spoke of the importance of learning the basics before getting too creative. In other words, before you start breaking the rules, you have to learn them first!
The Golden Rule of Business Innovation
Whether you’re a 7 year-old boy trying to learn baseball with his dad, or a business owner/leader trying to build a successful organization, the same principle applies. Innovation is critical in today’s over-saturated and competitive landscape. Consumers are tired of “the same-old, same-old.” Companies must focus on providing products and services that stand out.
But here’s the dilemma. Many business leaders have failed to embrace the fundamentals. They haven’t learned the basics. They are trying to build a successful business on a shaky foundation. They are much like Sammy and his crazy baseball antics. Highly entertaining. Not very effective.
The Golden Rule of Innovation starts here. First, learn the fundamentals of your business and industry. Study best practices. Know what works and what doesn’t work. Figure out the difference between essentials and non-essentials, etc. In other words, learn the rules.
Once you have mastered the basics and clearly understand the strengths and weaknesses of your business and industry, focus on business innovation. Get creative. Build on the pluses and capitalize on the minuses. Look for ways to offer your products and services in a different way than your competitors. Ask the hard questions that no one else may be asking (or too afraid to answer), and aim to become a game-changer and industry-influencer. In other words, break the rules.
Focus too much on innovation without possessing a strong grasp of the fundamentals, and you invite ruin. Do things strictly “by the book” and you may find yourself quickly outpaced by others in your field. Learn the rules, and then break them. That’s the key to business innovation and success.
- What business fundamentals do I need to master?
- What boundaries do I need to break?
The answers to these questions could be game-changing.
To your success,