Who’s Warming Up in Your Innovation Bullpen?
One of the great, under-appreciated skills in the game of baseball is knowing how to manage a bullpen over the duration of a grueling, 162-game season. Knowing how to get maximum effort out of your bullpen pitchers can sometimes add up to 5-10 more wins each year — as well as the ability to eek out tight wins in pressure-packed situations during the playoffs.
In the same way, top managers in the business world need to think about how to effectively manage their Innovation Bullpen. After all, managers have a limited number of employees on their team to lead and execute on upcoming innovation projects. It’s not enough to rely on rising or established superstars to shoulder the workload — it’s necessary to have a robust cohort of employees with a variety of skills and experiences who can take on innovation projects as they arise. The game of baseball offers practical tips for maximizing the value of your Innovation Bullpen:
(1) Create a diverse mix of individuals with the talents and skills to handle any type of project. Just as great bullpens need a mix of left-handed & right-handed pitchers, flamethrowers & crafty curveballers, a great business bullpen needs individuals with a mix of experiences and skills to deal with any type of business opportunity that might arise. After all, an opposing lineup will begin to feast on a bullpen that only offers up the same type of pitcher, one after another — even if that guy consistently checks in on the radar at 100 mph. In the same way, an organization that only hires individuals with a certain background will be ill-suited for changes in the underlying structure of the market.
(2) Find individuals who excel in certain key roles. The truly great bullpens – the kind that takes teams to the World Series – have pitchers who understand their very specific roles. The “closers” always enter in the 9th inning when the game is on line. The “middle relief guys” have clearly-defined roles and can act as an effective bridge to the closer during the sixth, seventh and eighth innings. Finally, there are the “long men” in the bullpen who can eat up innings when games are out of reach, saving the closers and middle-relief guys from having to take on every project that comes down the pike. In the business world, this means developing talented individuals who are proficient at handling specific aspects of any project.
(3) Recruit specialists with hard-to-find skills. In the game of baseball, there will always be a market for the left-handed relief specialist who can get out the toughest bat in the opposition’s lineup. For years, the Yankees searched far and wide for a lefty who could match up with David Ortiz of the Red Sox. They just needed one lefty they could call in at critical times to get Big Papi out. Most managers, of course, lack the luxury of having a left-handed relief specialist. In the business world, left-handed relief specialists are the guys with some arcane skill or knowledge that is nearly impossible to find elsewhere. They are called on at very specific times, often when the game is on the line, to save a project.
Utilizing each of these managerial tactics is one way to maximize the efficiency of a bullpen and ensure that everyone stays fresh and rested for the stretch run, such as during peak business cycles or the end of the quarter. While the closer with the blistering, lights-out stuff who can strike out hitters in the 9th gets most of the attention, his role is set up by all the other members of the bullpen who “hold” the game for him. Many teams discover that middle-relief is the soft underbelly of their bullpen and even have a hard time getting to the 9th inning.
Baseball, it turns out, offers real lessons for successful business. Too many managers assume it’s only a matter of having one flamethrower in the bullpen (the hotshot MBA) and then “mixing-and-matching” their way through innovation projects with everyone else. Instead, they should be developing each of the individual team members who can help an organization take on the type of innovative, high ROI projects that form the basis for future business success.
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