If you don't think winning in football has anything to do with success in business, stop reading. For the rest of you, the winners, you will continue to objectively and humbly take cues on how to win. I will say, if you did not play a team sport in school you missed much about how real teamwork functions. This being said, I've learned what is most damaging to success in business or on the football field is not to go with the best plan or product, not to put the best team on the field, to allow lies to flourish and to allow favoritism to get in the way. Successful organizations focus upon executing solutions that will enable victory or achievement of goals and the people that are originating or executing such solutions. The best solutions also best serve the customer.
Football is a game that very closely parallels business and the teamwork it takes to win. Winning on the football field, like in business, takes place long before the game is played out. There are so many vital aspects to winning. First, one must acquire a great team, then forge a great plan built around that team, the team must prepare to execute the plan and finally the team must execute the plan and make adjustments in the process of executing. Yes, I did play college football and even once made a double pancake 6 yards deep in the end zone (fullback & outside backer). I also coached in high school, so I know enough how things work in football to parallel it to business. So don't mess with me (LOL)!
Great innovation, requires great risk. It requires pushing the envelope to develop the most promising opportunities and talent. Maintaining the status quo and only aiming to be GOOD ENOUGH vs. GREAT is a formula for FAILURE.
Innovation requires building upon initial success as the foundation more success. It's no shot in the dark or guesswork. Industry altering innovation is only arrived at by means of attaining massive industry knowledge, which enables one to have to an accurate vision of where the industry is heading and where opportunities exist. Innovators armed with this knowledge may lead the industry by being the first to develop the innovation (if proper resources are available) that is demanded and that will beat competitors.
Great innovation first takes great talent and a great plan, but it also takes persistence by all in the organization to trust in the leadership and team to execute the plan. The organization needs everyone to do their assigned job or task at hand in timely fashion for the team to have a chance to win. It requires hard work and trust in each other. When this breaks down, the organization will fail to meet it's objectives and will in due time collapse or decline to a point of irrelevancy. Luck can help to swing the difference among strong competition, but that is it's limit. Luck or timely fortune is created where preparation and opportunity meet.
Ironically, the 49ers are every bit as innovative as the city they call home, San Francisco, which is of course well known worldwide as a leader in technology innovation. The Niners know winning as well as does Apple, Facebook, Visa, Twitter and Google. Bill Walsh the 49ers Head Coach in the 80's. He pioneered what was called the "West Coast Offense" and was able to assemble great players to execute his innovative offense that won four Super Bowls in the 1980's. Joe Montana paired with great players such as Jerry Rice, Roger Craig and Ronnie Lott to dominate the NFL for a decade. But would the Niners have seen the success they did without employing the innovative new offense or without the great players and teamwork? Of course not! They may have won one or two Super Bowls, or none at all. It took everyone working in concert to achieve the success they did. So without Bill Walsh, without Joe Montana, without Dwight Clark and without Rathman, less and less success would have taken place. Of course always overlooked are the linemen that without great players there as well, the team may not even had made the playoffs.
So now today, the Niners appear to be on the verge of again winning yet another Super Bowl and perhaps several more in this decade. Once again the 49ers organization made the right moves by hiring Coach Jim Harbaugh. The organization followed his advice and leadership by drafting Colin Kaepernick. Then they trusted him to build the team's entire success around the offense Colin ran at Nevada. This Nevada offense, run by Colin, set all-time NCAA records for rushing and passing by a Division-1 quarterback.
So, why did Colin go 36th in the draft vs. the top 5? He played for Nevada, not USC, Texas, Alabama or Stanford. But this is a familiar story, Jerry Rice was drafted 16th because he played at Mississippi Valley St. and Randy Moss was drafted 21st because he played for Marshall. The mistake by other teams to not have drafted any of these players earlier was due to a lack of vision and that they did not think they could parlay their success at small colleges to the NFL. But Coach Harbaugh got it right and has vision.
But drafting Kaepernick was just the first step towards the success the 49ers have had this year. Next came the boldness to stick with Kaepernick even though Alex Smith was once again healthy. Alex Smith, prior to his injury and 2-week absence, was a rising star quarterback and had an NFL high 70% pass completion ratio. He also was clearly not producing all-star number in regards to touchdowns and yards passed to compare with Brady, Rogers and others. It was clear to all that if the Niners league leading defense played well and Gore gained near 100 yards per game the Niners could win a Super Bowl. They were just one or two poor plays away from making the Super Bowl the year prior with Alex Smith as QB.
Coach Harbaugh's next and perhaps most bold move came with wrapping the future success around not just Kaepernick, but also the "Pistol Offense," one Kaepernick ran with near perfection at Nevada. To be clear here, the success the team has had required successful execution and adjustment to the Pistol by the entire offense, including Alex Smith whom now provides extra eyes for Colin as backup.
If you follow college football you know Vince Young was the star QB that delivered the victory with his running ability in the 2006 Rose Bowl and BCS Championship game. When I saw Kaepernick run wild in the playoffs this year it reminded me of Vince Young. So what happened with Vince Young in the NFL, whom was drafted as the 3rd pick in 2006? Why has he not had the same success as Kaepernick? The Tennessee Titans did not go far enough as did Harbaugh in crafting the offense around Vince Young. Perhaps Kaepernick has a better arm and a 36 on the Wonderlic test does not hurt either (this number is astronomical!). However, the story of Vince Young could have been one of Kaepernick's, if only the organization had gone all the way and not stopped part way. Wild success is only possible with innovation when it is given a chance grow and mature. This takes the entire environment be set around the innovation and innovators to give it the best chance. Innovation already has as it's enemy the competition. Disruption or the lack of full and adequate support within an organization will kill innovation, thus keeping it from taking the field or causing it to limp into the marketplace with rocket power that fails to launch it into orbit.
The bottom line is, the story of 49ers success is perhaps more about trust, faith and perseverance to not abandon innovation and the innovators before it has the chance to blossom and prove it self out. Though this great story is a familiar one in sports and business, it is the exception vs. the rule.
So a few questions I pose to you. Do you want to achieve great things? Do you want to do them for your organization? Is your organization willing to do all it takes to achieve greatness? Are you willing to risk, trust, remain faithful to a project or person that still holds promise and could change your company's future? Are you ready to address reality and walk in complete integrity? Do you have the system in place that is on the cutting edge and is likely to remain relevant for years to come? Do you have the talent in place that you will need to dominate your competition and execute your plan? Do you have the guts and willingness to go with the person or project that is risky but has unlimited upside? Are you willing to make all the right moves and field the team and leaders in place? Are you willing to go with the talented and tenacious, but unproven on the "Major League Level" to carry out your plan? If not, that's OK, just know your organization may be soon be losing out to your competition that is willing to do so all the above.
Now sadly to say, business is not as fair as football, and often innovation is killed to just keep the status quo in place as long as possible. What kills innovation in an organization is division and failure to stick with leaders that are executing, even if not at a pace as promised, but executing. The question to ask, if this is the case, does this project or company have all the resources it needs to succeed? Does it have the same resources as competitors do? If you are depending upon this new product or company for the future success of your company, what will you do if it does not succeed?
Do not let pride and fear get in the way of success. They are the creators of chaos and top killers of innovation. If you want greatness, you must at times sideline your current leaders, products and projects in favor of the up and comers that will keep the company relevant and successful. You must not allow lies and politicians in your organization to take credit for the innovation when they had little to do with it or allow them to kill the innovation you know will make your company succeed. You must support those with vision and are hard workers. You must be objective and informed in your analysis lest you heed the call to be too conservative and compliant with the status quo to succeed. You must make the tough calls to support the risky and bold moves and the people making such calls.
There are only so many Jim Harbaugh's, Bill Walsh's, Jerry Rice's, Joe Montana's, Colin Kaepernick's, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg's and their slightly less successful counter parts out there. My suggestion is when you see one of them available that can make your team better, grab them while you can. Over pay them, believe in them, trust them and enable them to be the innovators you believe they can be by making sure they are given ample resources. Of course not everyone of them will bear the fruit you hope they will. But like in baseball or venture capital if two out of ten times they hit safely and one out of 10 times they hit big, then you will win and your company and career will be successful.
So the formula for success has been laid out and I'll let you draw further parallels to draw between football success and success in business. But behavior that has to go, in order to win and have innovation see the light of day, is selfish behavior. Such there is no room for it in the organization. If allowed, it will steal resources and cause division in an organization. It will disable the plan from being carried out. Rest assured Coach Harbaugh does not put up with such, nor did Steve Jobs. One must remember what happened to Apple when they shoved out Steve the first time and one cannot ignore his success after he returned. Both Harbaugh and Steve used knowledge and foresight to lead their team and company to victory and success.
No matter the size of a company, organization or venture these principles never change. Ignore them at your own peril, with the price to pay being failure. I urge you to not be the one to stand in the way of your company's success. If you don't follow in line with those chosen to lead, yes, you may very well have the power to kill innovation and take down with it the success of the entire company. If your company culture is not one that is going to follow this game plan for success, then I suggest you find a company that will, lest the ship you are riding in is soon to sink.
By the way, I'm a free agent, with some assets and ideas in tow. I am hereby entering the 2013 draft to play for and develop the best Mobile Wallet in the industry. I have my favorites and if you go back and read my stories you may be able to know my vision for the future of Mobile Wallets and what it will take to succeed. To be sure, I have my own "West Coast or Pistol Offense" in mind and ready to fire, though I'm always open to improvements, adjustments and audibles. I await the opportunity of joining an organization that will back innovation and is well positioned to carry it out. Until then, I will contunue to write to such an end to fulfill this goal.