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Café Innovation – Tennis, Business Process, Facebook, and such

This past weekend I was in Cincinnati to celebrate the birthday of a special 13-year old – we were at the Western & Southern Open (a 1000 point Masters Event) where the current Who’s Who of tennis had gathered ahead of the US Open commencing next week in New York City. It was a phenomenal experience combining celebrity (tennis) sightings, autograph madness, and raw tennis power on display. In addition there was an acknowledgment of social media having become a mainstream expectation with mobile devices being a dominant facilitation factor. Instant updates on Twitter via smartphones were as common as beer and lemonade stands!

The experience at a tournament such as this can be addictive. So we started to look for tickets at other upcoming events during the rest of the year. A little browsing revealed an interesting fact. Booking tickets through Ticketmaster now incorporates Facebook integration, such that one can see where one’s friends are going to be seated before one makes seat selections. The potential success of this approach is pregnant with possibilities including smarter marketing and quicker buying decisions, and potentially fewer instances of lost revenue.

Returning to the experience in Cincinnati – also, on offer was a set of lessons from the tennis world that could be applied by those seeking to innovate in other realms!

Mardy Fish the highest ranked American man among tennis players is currently experiencing a tremendous surge of form that ultimately enabled him to topple world No. 2 Rafael Nadal at this tournament. His next battle with world No. 4 Andy Murray did not result in success but it was a more competitive match than Fish has generally experienced with top 5 players in the past. The pundits will offer many explanations, but the one that strikes me as most relevant is that Fish plays a game that is quite different in some ways. He adopts a far more consistently aggressive serve-and-volley approach than almost anyone else on tour. What this means is that he can in most cases change the nature of the game in his favor when most others are content to hit from the baseline. The lesson to learn here is that an organization seeking to improve its competitiveness should actively seek out game-changing ways to impact processes. For example, it might not be sufficient for an organization to look at enterprise mobility as a priority by itself. It should consider the impact on data proliferation  that increased mobile use can have, and the need for predictive analytics; then ask the question about managing big data perhaps leveraging in-memory computing. An approach that doesn’t just seek to answer a requirement but works to change the fundamentals is going to be way more impactful for the organization.

Roger Federer, arguably the most decorated male tennis player of all times, lost his match to Tomas Berdych in the quarter-finals of this tournament. The analysts and critics have been having a field day with this, but what many did not notice is that after his disappointing performance, Federer was back on court on a blistering hot day for two straight hours practicing his serves. When something is not working, and the world is changing rapidly around you, with competition breathing down your neck, there isn’t much time to be lost. The strategy needs to be revisited, refined, and reworked – and quickly. Often innovation is about reworking old processes to suit new conditions and not necessarily about coming up with a silver bullet solution. An appreciation of this was evident on that hot day in Cincinnati.

In the end it is about process – whether it is one that is uniquely defined (as Fish has attempted to do), or one that is refined (as Federer no doubt is working on). It is also about thinking past the immediate and looking at a broader canvas – focus is good until it leaves out the consideration of that which is bound to be impacted by what you are changing in the short term. Pervasive use of mobility in the enterprise world cannot escape the need to corral in the rapid proliferation of data and its impact on performance.

So revisit your strategy, look for that game-changing process, and act on responding to the demands of your organization and business network in a way that is far-reaching. Prepare by establishing a strategy and then play hard to win – Game, Set, and Match.

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