Innovation is Inherently Disruptive!
We draw inspiration from across the business, sporting, and technological worlds and work hard to apply their lessons to our work in Scaling Conservation. Despite their incredible innovations, the path to advancements is so often littered with resistance, scepticism, and sometimes even, outright hostility. The inertia of the status quo creates an environment where ground-breaking ideas are initially met with resistance, only to be embraced as the new norm once their success is undeniable. This phenomenon is vividly illustrated almost everywhere we’ve looked and we’ve outlined some of our favourite examples below.
Football: From Traditional to Tactical Revolutions
Football, historically, has seen a significant evolution in its tactical approach. In the past, particularly during the 1980s, the game was dominated by a straightforward, physically aggressive style of play, often characterized by the ‘long ball’ strategy. This approach prioritized physical strength and direct play, valuing long passes aimed at quickly moving the ball upfield. The introduction of more nuanced tactics, such as ‘passing football’ or the concept of the ‘false nine’, marked a stark contrast to this traditional style. Initially, these innovative strategies were met with scepticism, criticism, and even ridicule. They emphasized skill, precise positioning, and intelligent movement, offering a more refined and tactical approach to the game.
The transformation in football strategy became more pronounced with the rise of teams like FC Barcelona, particularly under the guidance of Pep Guardiola. Guardiola, ironically drawing inspiration from historical tactics such as the ‘false nine’ used by the 1930s Austrian National Team, reinvented these approaches for the modern era. His philosophy centred around ball control, positional flexibility, and intelligent off-the-ball movement, challenging the conventional wisdom of the time. The success of Barcelona, culminating in numerous major victories and a distinctive, attractive style of play, played a pivotal role in changing perceptions around these tactics. What once was revolutionary gradually became a new standard in football strategy, influencing teams and coaches worldwide. This shift highlighted a broader trend in sports and other fields, where revisiting and adapting historical concepts can lead to ground-breaking innovations and a redefinition of what is considered the norm.
Cricket: Embracing the Aggressive Batting Paradigm
In cricket, the traditional approach once centred around patience and conservative batting. This was perhaps best exemplified by players like Geoffrey Boycott of Yorkshire, who was known for his meticulously slow scoring rate, including an instance of facing 38 balls before scoring his first run in a match. However, the introduction of Twenty20 cricket marked an absolute shift towards an ultra-aggressive batting style. Initially met with scepticism and viewed as a crude deviation from the sport’s spirit, the fear with this approach was that it might negatively alter the game. Despite resistance, including campaigns against the advent of Twenty20, this explosive form of play has not only gained acceptance but has also contributed to cricket’s rise as the world’s second most popular sport, adding dynamism and making the game more diverse and inclusive.
This transformation in playing style is now extending beyond limited-overs cricket to the traditional Test format, particularly evident in the England Test Team’s recent approach. Under the leadership of Brendon McCullum, known as ‘Baz’, and with players like Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler, the team has adopted an aggressive, high-risk strategy termed ‘Bazball’. This new approach, emphasizing rapid scoring and bold decision-making, is seen as a potential saviour for the future of Test cricket, keeping it relevant and exciting in an era dominated by shorter attention spans and a wider range of viewing options for fans across the globe. The evolution from conservative to aggressive playstyles in cricket reflects a broader trend of innovation and adaptability in sports, challenging norms and reshaping the game for modern audiences.
The NFL: The Evolution of the Passing Game
The evolution of the passing game in the NFL represents a significant shift in the league’s strategic approach, moving away from a traditional run-dominated game to one that emphasizes passing efficiency and innovation in the aerial offence. This transformation can be traced back to the 1980s visionaries like Bill Walsh, whose West Coast Offence revolutionised offensive play. Walsh’s strategy focused on short, horizontal passing routes, designed to control the ball and time of possession, while methodically advancing down the field. This approach was a complete contrast to the then-prevalent strategy of relying on the running game to establish offensive dominance. This approach made the game more open, more entertaining, more diverse, and more inclusive both as a spectacle and in terms of those who could play professionally.
In recent years, this evolution in the NFL’s passing game has continued to develop. Teams are now integrating elements of the college-style spread offence, which emphasises spreading out the defence and using the quarterback’s mobility as a key component – something previously thought too high-risk and not in the spirit of football. This has led to a new generation of mobile and versatile quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson, and Josh Allen, who are as adept at running with the ball as they are at throwing it.
Additionally, the rise of analytics in football has further influenced passing strategies. Teams are increasingly relying on data to make decisions, such as the increased use of fourth-down conversions and passing in traditionally run-heavy situations. These developments represent continued innovation in the NFL’s offensive strategy, showing that the league is not just about adopting new tactics but also about continuously evolving them. As the game progresses, these current evolutions in the passing game are setting new standards and redefining what is considered an effective, entertaining and championship-winning strategy in the NFL.
Elite Cycling: Team Sky’s Methodical Approach
In elite cycling, the British Team Sky (now known as Team INEOS) represents a paradigm shift in how the sport is approached. Their philosophy, often described as the “marginal gains” approach, focused on optimising every conceivable element that could affect a cyclist’s performance. This method, championed by Sir Dave Brailsford, involved meticulous attention to detail – from the most aerodynamic equipment and the most effective training regimes to optimising nutrition and recovery strategies. This comprehensive approach was initially met with scepticism, as it moved away from traditional focuses targeting training and endurance. However, Team Sky’s dominant performances in events like the Tour de France, where they secured numerous victories, effectively validated their strategies. These successes illustrated how a systematic, data-driven approach could provide a competitive edge in a sport where victory is often decided by mere seconds.
Team Sky’s influence extended beyond their own victories, setting new standards in professional cycling. Their focus on marginal gains inspired other teams to adopt similar approaches, leading to a broader transformation in the sport’s competitive landscape. Technology played a significant role in this transformation, with advancements in bike design, aerodynamics, and wearable technology contributing to enhanced performance. For example, the development of more aerodynamic cycling suits and the use of wind tunnels for testing became standard practices in the peloton. Furthermore, Team Sky’s legacy is not limited to technical innovations; they also influenced the strategic aspects of racing. Their emphasis on team dynamics and the role of domestiques (support riders) in controlling the race pace and protecting the team leader has been widely emulated – another idea borrowed proudly from historic tour teams. As a result, professional cycling has seen a shift towards a more team-oriented approach, contrasting with the previous focus on individual stars. This evolution, driven by Team Sky’s methodical and innovative strategies, underscores the impact that a single team’s philosophy can have on an entire sport.
The Double-Edged Sword – Unsuccessful Innovations in Sports and Business
While successful innovations become norms, failed ones are often vilified (if not forgotten). Early failures in renewable energy projects or experimental sports tactics are used to reinforce the safety of conventional methods, hindering progress and providing keyboard critics with plentiful ammunition to attack those trying to change the business or sporting world.
In recent times, sports and automotive industries have witnessed several innovative ideas that failed to become game-changers. In football, the much-hyped ‘Libero’ or ‘sweeper’ role, which saw a revival attempt in modern football, failed to integrate successfully into contemporary tactics dominated by fast-paced and high-pressing styles. Similarly, in cricket, the introduction of the ‘Powerplay’ rules in One Day Internationals underwent several modifications. Some of these variations, like the batting Powerplay chosen by the batting team, were eventually discarded due to strategic imbalances they introduced in the game.
The automotive industry, particularly in its pursuit of sustainable alternatives, has also seen its share of unsuccessful ventures. For instance, the early models of solar-powered cars, while innovative, struggled with practical viability due to limitations in solar technology and efficiency. They failed to gain mainstream traction as a reliable alternative to traditional or electric vehicles. In another example, some of the early autonomous vehicle technologies, which promised a revolution in personal transportation, faced setbacks due to safety and regulatory concerns, delaying their widespread adoption. These examples underscore the inherent uncertainty in the process of innovation. While some ideas hold the potential to change the game, others falter, often providing valuable lessons and paving the way for future advancements.
Learning from the Past, Looking to the Future
Innovation, while often met with initial resistance, holds the key to transformative change and the redefinition of norms. Embracing both the successes and failures of innovative endeavours is crucial, as it embodies a commitment to progress and improvement. The essence of living is to strive for advancement; stagnation is not an option, especially in our quest for Scaling Conservation. Our mission to generate positive environmental and social impacts is intrinsically linked with the need for constant innovation and change. While the path is fraught with mistakes, criticism, and opposition, the alternative – to uphold a deteriorating world marked by the climate crisis, biodiversity collapse, and decline of local communities – ultimately means accepting the end of life on earth.
The pursuit of innovation in our work often wonderfully draws inspiration from historical concepts, reimagined for the modern world. Wind turbines, for example, are in many ways a contemporary take on traditional windmills. Similarly, regenerative agriculture, though not our primary focus, is rooted in age-old farming practices, re-envisioned to meet today’s ecological challenges. We aspire for our innovations to mirror the transformative impacts seen in sports, technology, and industry. By making environmental and rural communities more vibrant, diverse, and inclusive, we aim to contribute positively to the world; environmentally and socially. The changes we advocate, though controversial to some today, could well become the standard practices of tomorrow. This vision underscores the importance of challenging the status quo for the sake of our planet and future generations.