Constantly in life we find that people love to pigeon hole or label things. Everything has a place and should be boxed accordingly. Sport is a prime example of where tradition and innovation sometimes have a hard time getting on. While there has been many breakthroughs in sport using science and innovation (think Moneyball and swimming), there are equally a lot of stories where tradition has triumphed over change.
And so it would seem that there are two trains of thought in sport.
One, each sport is unique and they have their own way of doing things and therefore can't change or be interchanged. Or two, all sports share similar principles and therefore each sport can learn from the other.
I'm a big believer in the latter. Especially when you start applying science to the different techniques used in every sport. And while science has been a part of sport since the introduction of the stop watch (perhaps even earlier), it doesn't always go hand in hand (no pun intended, I think). So when I came across a video on Facebook that demonstrated the science of one sport being used in another, I was intrigued.
Playing on the Hop
The video was created by Auburn University's softball team and in it they discuss a new defensive technique called the 'hop'. Auburn's Softball Head Coach Clint Myers, explains in the video why the teams management and coaching staff liked the new fielding technique. But more interestingly, he explains further as to where they 'stole' the idea from. The hop as he explains was taken (stolen) from tennis.
In tennis, the hop is actually called a split step. The split step is crucial to a tennis player as it allows them to move in any direction – forward, backwards, left or right, in a fraction of
a second as their opponent is returning or serving the ball. Professional tennis players and coaches have been using the split step for a long time now as they explicitly understand the edge it gives a player in perfecting it.
Using a Growth mindset
Myers recognised that the split step technique could be extremely beneficial also to softball as it enabled the infielder to 'eliminate any false move and be able to move faster to the ball'. Dr Wendi Weimar, Associate Professor and the Director of the Sport Biomechanics Laboratory in the School of Kinesiology at Auburn University, is also interviewed in the video and explains the science behind the 'hop' and why it is important. (Warning there are a few sciencey words in the video below but Im sure you will be fine.)
Myers insight into how the split step could be used in softball seems to have paid off. Since employing the hop in regular play, the Auburn Softball team has now become one of the best defensive teams in their League.
And while doing further research on the story, I came across an article in 'College Baseball Daily' that asked the question "Should Auburn Softball Defensive Hop be used in Baseball?" The article points out that the Boston Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia has been known to do a similar type of hop. And interestingly, the comments to article all refer back to the split step in tennis. So it would seem using a growth mindset in sport isn't completely unusual or foreign. He's some more evidence.
It's just not Cricket
Famously (in Australia) the biggest break through in Australian sport came when Mike Young, an American minor league baseball player and coach was appointed as the Australian Cricket teams fielding coach in 2000. Up until then, fielding had long been an under-developed aspect of cricket, as teams mainly concentrated on developing bowlers and batsmen. The Australia Cricket Board recognised that fielding was a central part of baseball and wanted Young to coach their players on catching, throwing and positioning. This in itself was a revolution.
Baseball has always been considered to be an american sport and has nothing to do with cricket. So to employ an american baseball coach to train our cricketers in throwing and fielding was complete (sporting) blasphemy. But as any honest purist would admit, throwing in cricket was quite pedestrian compared to baseball. With long loopy throws back to the keeper or bowler, a batsmen usually had more than enough time to complete a run safely because of the very nature and style of throwing cricketers employed. Any other way (to throw) just wasn't cricket. Or so it was thought.
However, Young disrupted this thinking and taught the Australian Cricket side how to throw and field baseball style. And during Young's tenure, the Australian Cricket team's fielding dramatically improved. They became world renowned and became feared for their fielding prowess. Fielding now joins batting and bowling as a must have ability for any young player wanting to compete at the highest level. In fact, Young's baseball influence and impact was so profound that Australia almost lost one of it's greatest bowlers at the time, Brett Lee to baseball. (Not that this was Young's intention).
Switching codes: from wicket to mound
In 2003, Lee was invited by the Arizona Diamondbacks to a trial as they were keen to determine whether Lee’s ability to bowl a cricket ball at 160km/h would translate to the pitcher’s mound. Turns out it did. Lee was clocked (using a radar gun) throwing in the early to mid-90s (miles per hour) or 145 to 153km/h using the metric system. To put that in perspective, the top pitchers today throw around the 95-100 m/ph mark, so Lee would have been quite at home on the mound in baseball. However, his passion and desire to represent Australia in Cricket outweighed his (latent) natural ability as a baseball pitcher.
But there is no doubt whatsoever the effect baseball (throwing and fielding techniques) has had on Cricket around the world. Every professional cricket player today around the world throws flat and hard from anywhere in the field. As they know that the less time or opportunity a batsmen has to score a run, the better. No longer is there a place for the long loopy throw from the outfield. Long hops (where the ball is thrown low and fast and bounces once back to the receiver) or in some cases, low and flat throws on the full is the preferred method for all players when throwing from the boundary.
Lessons from a growth mindset
Not everything can cross over or be applicable in other sports. But the key is to develop a mindset that allows for all possibilities. This is a growth mindset. It's the ability to be able to challenge the status quo based on sound science and reasoning and not just through obstinance.
The lessons from using innovation, science and a growth mindset in sport has paid dividends to those that have dared to challenge the traditional way of doing things. Moneyball is a great example of this. In 2002, the Oakland A's' Major League baseball Club took advantage of more analytical gauges (sabermetrics) of player performances to field a team that could better compete against richer competitors in Major League Baseball (MLB).
In other words, they discarded the traditional method of selecting and recruiting players and looked to choose players that got on base more either through hitting or walking. And it worked. While they didn't win the World Series that year they did create a MLB AL record with 20 consecutive wins in a season. The previous record was held by the NY Yankees with 19 consecutive wins in 1947. Eventually, other Clubs started using a similar system and using sabermetrics has now become the norm when selecting and recruiting players in MLB. But it took a courageous team to do it first.
But these lessons can extend to all areas of our life and work. When we look outside the constraints of our thinking or our cognitive bias (occupational or fixed thinking) we can start to grow and change our position and outcomes for the better.
Use the probationary period to your advantage.
Getting a job can be difficult. But when you have landed one, no doubt you will be put through a probation period. In Australia, these probationary periods can last between 3-6 months (in some cases 12 months!).
During this time the employer is assessing whether they have made the right choice or not. Can you do the job? Do you fit in with the culture? Do you work well with the other employees? Am I paying you too much for your skill level. Did you lie about your abilities?
So naturally we will do anything to get through the probationary period, especially if it was difficult getting the job in the first place. We want to fit into the role and the culture. And this could mean we compromise on what we want from the role. There is sometimes this belief that you have to do anything it takes to get through the probationary period unscathed. We put on our best behaviour and stress ourselves out by saying yes to everything. But this thinking is completely wrong.
Why we have got it all wrong
We have been using the probation period the wrong way. While we do need to treat the organisation and employer with respect during the probationary period, we should also be using the time to learn everything we can about the new role and the organisation itself. In politics, leaders get judged on their first 100 days in office. People expect immediate change and rightly or wrongly, the first 100 days is how they measure the effectiveness of the
politician voted in.
Your employer is no different. They really do want you to hit the ground running and just get on with the job they've hired you for. And so you should. But we shouldn't be people pleasing either. Too often we sacrifice our dreams, beliefs, values and even our sanity just to have a job. Sometimes we simply have no choice and we have to take what we can get. I understand that. When you need to bring money in, then any job seems like a life line. It's a horrible position to be in. But regardless of your situation, you should still use the probationary period to your advantage.
Using Design thinking for a better role
The probationary period is your best opportunity to work out if you really want the job. While your employer has a legal clause to terminate your employment during the probation period with limited legal obligation on them, you also have a great opportunity to learn, define and formulate your ideal role or career path. As this one may not be it.
Three step approach – immersion, identification & implementation.
So while you are being paid, use a three step Design thinking approach in your new role — immersion, identification and implementation to work out if this role or career path really is the one that you want to be on.
Good companies have an induction program. If yours doesn't then design one for them. This is your chance to immerse yourself into what the company does. It's a great way to see where and how you fit into the bigger picture. Ask to spend some time (at least one day a week) over the next 2-3 weeks in different departments. But depending on the size of the company, it might not be entirely possible or feasible to immerse yourself in every department in the company.
So be strategic. Which departments directly effect your role? Moreover, who above you will be approving yours or your direct managers decisions? How can you work better with them to ensure your manager gets what he/she needs?
Immersion gives you the chance to not only see where you fit in overall but also enables you to establish relationships with other people in the organisation sooner than later. As these same people may also be the ones who will be ultimately making decisions that effects your work and position. Later on it will be a lot easier for you to talk to these people and negotiate a better outcome because you have already introduced yourself on a deeper level, rather than just a passing face with a name they have forgotten already.
Be an outsider looking in.
Don't forget your customers. Good companies ensure you go out and see your customers. Great companies organise for you to spend a day or two with them to see what they do firsthand. I still remember the first company that did this. I spent a two whole days out in a franchise office getting an understanding of what they did. It allowed me to use it as a way to validate my ideas or decisions based on what they do and needed day to day.
Walking a day in your customers shoes gives you invaluable insights into their workload and decision process. You cannot learn this any other way. Observing, talking to them, getting yours hands dirty and seeing your product in their environment is the best way to learn and know how they feel. Do they really want what you are selling them? Can you improve what you do and give them a better solution? What other products/services do they use? Does your new company sell those? So why aren't they buying them from you then?
In the immersion phase, observe and absorb everything you can. Be an outsider looking in. This will allow you to start seeing patterns and where the pieces fit.
The immersion phase allows you to identify not only the different key stakeholders and decision makers throughout the company, it also gives you a sense of where you fit in overall. How is your role viewed by other departments? Do they get it? Do they care? What position in the decision making process are you? Can you see some of the cultural, resource and financial weaknesses within the company? How will this affect your role? And your morale?
It's a good opportunity in this phase to converse with your employer (manager) and gauge how receptive they are to change, and how flexible your job description really is. Is it set in stone? Or is it a malleable position? How do they see the role?
Undeniably, you get more insight once you are in the role than you would've at the interview stage. But what did they tell you about the role? Is it the same story now? Or is it slightly different?
Always eat lunch in the break room.
The identification phase is your chance to conduct a good old fashion SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) on the company while you are on the inside. What looks good from the outside may not be all that good once you are in. So use the immersion phase to gain as much insight about your role and the company as you can. Discreetly though. Remember you are still being paid to do a job. So you will need to accumulate information as you go. Use your one day customer and department induction (immersion) time to learn as much as you.
Always eat lunch in the break room - Two of the best places to gain insights into the culture and heartbeat of any organisation is the kitchen and/or the break room (sometimes they are one and the same depending on the size of the organisation). A lot of people will let their guard down while they are making a cup of tea or eating their lunch. It's a great way to see how people greet you and include you in their conversations. Of course, if they are huddled in corners whispering away then this is never a good sign. So eat your lunch in the break room for at least the first 3-4 weeks, even if you have to buy your lunch, bring it back to the break room to eat it.
The last phase is where you design your ideal role. Using your SWOT analysis approach, determine if the role and organisation is everything you wanted and thought it was. What are the strengths? Where are the weaknesses? Are there any real opportunities for you to grow? i.e. 1) in your role? 2) within the company? What promotion opportunities are there? And who or what are the main threats to your position?
You may find at the end of this phase that the job isn't quite the role you thought it was. And worse, you may not be able to do anything about it as your employer isn't interested in changing it. (Note: this is something you gauged in the identification phase). So you will have to make a decision. Do I stay or do I go? By using a Design thinking approach you are defining what your ideal role looks like. If the role you landed doesn't resemble the role you want, then it might be time to move on.
A note: All jobs have areas that we really dislike. But that's not the exercise here. What we are looking for is those jobs that makes us bounce out of bed and want to get to work. Using this approach allows you to find your true purpose and calling in life and not just a job that pays the bills. This is not why we live.
I would recommend using the first 4 weeks for the immersion phase. This would depend on how many departments and customers you are able to see and immerse yourself in for a day or two. Then spend the next 4 weeks identifying the strengths and weakness (SWOT) about your role and the company. Then, 1-2 weeks designing your ideal role and defining your purpose or calling.
Presenting your ideal role
Generally, there is a review meeting at the end of the probationary period. This is where your employer tells you whether you get to keep the job or not. Sometimes though, the
probationary period drifts into a non-probationary period. So again, if there has been no feedback about your performance during the probationary period, request a meeting to discuss your role and your performance.
In the meeting, gain an understanding of how they saw your performance and how you fit into the role and company as a result. Invariably there will be a chance in the meeting where they will ask you how you found the last 3-6 months. This could be straight off the bat or later in the discussion. Be prepared either way. As this is your opportunity to outline everything you learnt during the immersion, identification and implementation phases. But don't be too negative or personal. Use extreme caution here.
Present any weaknesses as challenges but have a solution for each weakness/challenge on the table. Keep the discussion to your role. Do not talk about anyone else. Above all else, don't turn a favourable performance review into a detrimental outcome for you. Choose your timing and words carefully. Always stay or leave on your terms, not theirs.
Design thinking for a better career By designing your own induction program and immersing yourself in different departments and customer shoes shows to your employer that you are proactive and keen to learn. Taking initiative is never a bad thing. How they react to this initiative may tell you all you need to know about your employer.
If they are receptive to the idea of you immersing yourself in other departments and customer shoes, then you are on the right track (and company). If they aren't receptive, then you may not even have to go through the process. As this invariably gives you all the information you need about the company and its potential.
Essentially, the Design thinking approach is for you to decide whether the job is right for you or not. And if the career path you have chosen is the one you really want to be on. You don't have to share what you learnt at all but use it as a guide as to where you want to go next in your career. Find purpose. Live life to the fullest.
In business, we are constantly presented with new ways of doing something. Whether it's the latest marketing technique or a whole new business model, it can be quite easy to get bamboozled with the latest idea or methodology.
Without exception, there has been a lot of talk lately about Design thinking. Companies and organisations such as IDEO, Stanford University and our very own UTS in Sydney have all been talking about Design thinking as a new way of doing things in business. And it seems that a lot of businesses and organisations throughout the world are now adopting it as a way to develop new products, services, processes and strategies.
"A methodology for innovation that combines creative and analytical approaches
and collaboration across disciplines." – d.school, Stanford University.
So what is Design thinking?
The term Design thinking refers to the process someone would take when looking to create a new idea or solve a problem. It allows you to combine 'right-brained' creative thinking with 'left-brained' analytical thinking. Design thinking offers a process and a set of tools to our decision-making process while ensuring the organisation runs effectively and efficiently.
New idea or passing fad?
Design thinking isn't necessarily a new idea. The notion of design as a 'way of thinking' can be traced back to Herbert A. Simon's 1969 book, ’The Sciences of the Artificial’. In Peter Rowe's book, 'Design Thinking', he describes it as methods and approaches that are used by architects and urban planners. During the 1980s, Rolf Faste started teaching "design thinking as a method of creative action" at Stamford University. And in 1991, David M. Kelley, a Stanford colleague of Faste's and founder of IDEO adapted Design thinking for business.
"You‘ve got to start with the customer experience and work back
toward the technology - not the other way around" – Steve Jobs
Start with the customer first
At the core of Design thinking is what they call a 'human centered' approach. There has been a tendency for companies and organisations to be very product orientated and forget about the customer or end-user.
Design thinking forces you to start with the customer or end user first and develop ideas or solutions based on insights from their perspective. Empathy is the key driving force behind Design thinking. When we can put ourselves in the shoes of others, we get a much better understanding of their needs.
Thinking as a process
Contrary to belief, creativity needs to have a structure around it for it to be effective. When there is no structure or process, our thinking becomes wayward and unfocussed. By using a Design thinking approach, it enables people who aren’t trained as designers to use creative tools to address a vast range of challenges and generate viable ideas and solutions.
Empathy > Define > Ideation > Prototyping > Testing
Over time, different Design thinking methods have been developed. Stanford's d:school uses five key elements in their Design thinking process; Empathy > Definition > Ideation > Prototyping > Testing.
This process can be used to create solutions based on customer/end-user insights. Both Stanford and IDEO couple this approach with three key factors; (human) desirability, (technological) feasibility and (commercial) viability.
Where innovation is found
Life is too short to be creating something that nobody wants to buy or use. By applying a customer/user-centric approach for your organisation, you are ensuring your products and services remain desirable, feasible and viable in a constantly changing world. Solutions are found when you focus on the needs of others. And empathy is the key to unlocking those crucial customer insights.