When is a cyclist not a cyclist? Well, pretty much all of the time if truth be told. If there is one thing which successive British wins in the Tour de France has shown us it is that there is no such thing as a typical cyclist. There are sprint finish specialists and those who triumph on the mountain stages, time trial experts and those who have overall stamina and enough lasting power to end up in the yellow jersey. And there are the “domestiques,” the power horses of a team who never win glory but whose job is to provide the back up and support which their specialists need to take them to the winner’s podium.
Each team may have a different mix as they vie for one or other of the overall competitions but every rider in every team is there in pursuit of a common goal, a team victory. Sometimes injury or circumstance may force a team to go for stage victories or point’s victories rather than the ultimate prize but whatever the mix, the goal is for the team to perform better than every other unit in the race.
In fact when you break The Tour down to its essences, it bears remarkable similarities to businesses in pursuit of an exceptional culture of innovation. Sitting on a bike and pushing the pedals isn’t hard but to win the tour takes hard work. Building a culture of innovation isn’t hard, but changing an organisations culture does take hard work. And along the way both need leaders who are adept at “figuring out how to do something better than it has ever been done before”.
At heart, both cyclists and leaders need to be able to answer the simple questions: “how much do you want to win and how much are you prepared to change to succeed.” I acknowledge the answer is not the same for everyone. The bigger an organisation gets the more complex it becomes and the more innovation averse its infrastructure becomes. The culture of creative thinking, agility and spur of the moment, entrepreneurial gut feeling decisions that drove the start-up business, become sidelined as safe decisions, streamlining, autonomy and sustainable delivery of KPIs creep in.
But scale is not a barrier if you have the willingness to change and it is that willingness in people to change everything in pursuit of something more that I think holds organisations back. You could call it innovation appetite! If the appetite is there and if the CEO and the leadership team are prepared to push forward then creativity and energy flows and it makes it far easier to tackle the challenge of embedding innovation into organisational culture.
And now we are back to cycling again. Just as the team leaders plan out each day’s racing, looking at the route ahead and mapping out the optimum way to gain advantage, so the business, which is moving towards innovation, needs to map out its pathway. I call this the sat-nav approach. A sat-nav system uses satellite and input data to safely deliver you along the best pathway from origin to destination. It may dynamically reroute you round obstacles and you may have to change course but the system will always get you back on track to the destination.
Similarly a business needs to work out where its culture is at the start (origin) and define the best pathway to success (destination). This will involve understanding and plotting out what innovation activity is needed to reach the goal of aligning innovation with corporate strategy. Planning, teamwork and clear communication all play their part and if the road is a little bumpy at times, by making innovation a real strategic priority, it won’t be hard to keep on track.
“Differentiated Innovation, Differentiated Leadership & Differentiated Culture for Next Generation Organisations.”
Every team dreams of winning The Tour, every business says they want to innovate but few actually succeed. We may not be cycling specialists but if you want your organisation to be one of the few who become exceptional by driving innovation then I can help you get there.