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Curling your way to innovation success

The Winter Olympics are just about to kick off in Beijing, China.  One of the interesting sports that catches the eye each Winter Olympics is the Curling.  It is a unique sport that comes out of Canada and looks a bit like lawn bowls on ice – but there are some fascinating aspects to the sport that remind me very much of playing the game of building sustained success and innovation in business.

These include:

  • It is the only sport where the flight path of the released projectile is actively managed after release.
  • The way a stone curls on slippery ice seems impossible, but the physics are not as complex as you might think.
  • The trajectory of the stone all comes down to friction management.

Sounds to me a lot like the facets of innovation and building sustainable success in a business, in that:

  • An innovation has to be shepherded from ideation to implementation, with leaders ‘sweeping’ the path.
  • Innovation seems like some magical concept that happens by chance – until you understand it and can practically help it emerge.
  • Innovation is all about understanding and responding to ‘frictions’ to make your business more efficient and effective in serving its customers, and understanding where you wan to be in future.

How are you ‘curling’ your business to sustainable success?

The ‘curling’ in Curling

One key element of curling is that the stone slides in a straight line with a slight spin from release, until the sweepers attack the ice with their brooms just in front of the stone.  This increases the temperature of the ice just enough to change the friction at the front of the stone compared to the back (when the temperature has decreased again).  This creates more grip at the back compared to the front, imparting a sideways motion because of the spin applied at the start.

Think of this like your business  – it glides along on its current trajectory and can completely miss the target of delivering real value to your customer (as they shift to new levels of expectation).  By recognising and managing the frictions that will keep the stone just sliding along, we can innovate incrementally and get the sliding stone to turn to generate better results.

The 4 frictions

Innovation in a business starts by recognising and responding to 4 key frictions.  Responding and removing these – like sweeping in front of the gliding stone – shifts the whole course of what is possible.

The four frictions emerge as the gap between what you are doing and the expectation your customer has in being perfectly served by you.  These emerge over time – your customer continues to change based upon so many factors, in unpredictable ways and at unknown speeds (for example, think of how cars no longer have cassette players, but instead have touch screens and mobile phone integrations.  If you were still selling a car with a cassette deck, how popular do you think it would be?). However, it is so easy for businesses to keep doing what they have always done and slide right on by where the customer has shifted to.

The competition of Curling is like the competition in business – the organisation that is best at removing the unwanted friction is most likely to hit the customer target and win the match.

The four frictions are:

  1. The friction that exists between you and the customer (uniquely doing business with you, that they don’t feel from your competitors)
  2. The friction that exists between your customer and the industry (dealing with you and all of you r competitors)
  3. The friction your customer experiences in the ‘ecosystem’ (of their life).
  4. The friction your staff experience trying to better serve customers as they want and need different things.

In each case, friction slows down the ability of you customer to be best served by you.  Remove the friction in front of the customer, and curl the customer experience to a winning result.

Notice that the first 3 frictions are customer based – if we solve the problems the customer has, we can immediately help them get a better outcome.  The fourth friction is often overlooked – we often put friction in the way of our staff – who want to better serve the customer but are often mired in outdated or dysfunctional process and systems, that inevitably make serving the customer harder than it needs to be.

How are you paying attention to the frictions in your business?

So if you want to win in business, then use practical innovation to remove the frictions that give your ‘stone’ inertia away from the best outcome.  Search out the frictions emerging in your customer and staff experience and start solving them – create solutions that decrease friction between you and your customer and change the trajectory to one of greater success.

There are lots of ways you can approach this in your business – one of the easiest might be to give me a call and we can have a chat about the practical steps you can take to drive innovation practices in your organisation.  Like the physics of Curling, it may be less complex and ‘magical’ than you might be expecting….

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