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Maybe there is an 'I' in Teamwork?

by Rick Baker
On May 24, 2008

In the past, I've written strong critiques of cliché talk about Teamwork in Business 

I've really objected to sayings like, "There is no 'I' in Teamwork".

And, I've penned a new organization structure that would fit both well if business and team sports truly wished to be similar. 

So, I admit I'm not inclined to overstate the similarities shared by business and team sports. However, comparing business to team sports can help us firm up our thoughts about business goals, rules, action, and success...and, of course, about ourselves, other people, and how we can work together. After all, people are people. 

[I recognize professional sports teams are businesses, however, that’s a whole different topic.] 



Some points to consider when comparing business and team sports:  


  • In business, the puck or ball isn’t so easy to define or see and whether or not it can be seen as a tangible thing of possession it is rarely carried by a single person.


  • In business, most roles are heavily skewed to either offense or defense...in business, there are value-addition roles and there are quite different and typically quite separate value-protection roles. 


  • In business the defensive players have significant day-to-day influence over their team’s offensive players and this isn’t common in team sports. 


  • In business, we don’t get to hear tens of thousands unite to create thunderous noise and we don’t get to see standing ovations when we achieve our annual targets. On the other hand, we also don’t get to hear real-time Bronx Cheers or see octopi projectiles coming our way - in fact, stuff like that is frowned upon in business.


  • Most business consultants would be very troubled by managers or leaders who have a style like that of NFL Coach Bill Parcells. In fact, most people in business would say and do whatever they could to make Bill Parcells change and conform to much softer, kinder, and more-empathetic ways.




When we have business goals and we are committed to achieving them it is possible to separate our work into 2 broad categories: work designed to move us toward our goals and work designed to stop action that could reduce our ability to achieve our goals. We could call these offensive and defensive roles.

While there are radical differences between the work of team sports and the work of business a team sports metaphor, laced with offense and defence, can help us sort out our thoughts.  

In sports, there is offensive work and there is defensive work. In sports like North American football the lines are clearly drawn between offense and defence. There are offensive players, trainers, coaches, etc, and there are defensive counterparts. That doesn't mean the roles are permanent. In football one interception causes everyone on both teams to reverse roles instantaneously. For basketball, soccer, volleyball, etc, a change in possession of the ball causes most players to immediately shift their focus from offense to defence and vice-versa.

In many sports, possession of the ball is subject to task-completion/failure rules. In baseball one team gets to be on offense until it fails enough to have 3 outs. If we ignore the pitchers [or at least ignore some of them some of the time] baseball players are half-game defensive players who have the opportunity to take turns being the key point of offense a few times during the other half of each game. It seems to me that must also be happening in cricket but I'm going to need a lot more time to figure that out.

Again, in certain team sports the rules of the game require a sequence of repeated failed offensive actions to cause a change in possession of the ball…that applies to baseball. In other team sports failed offensive action can cause an immediate change of possession where the offense is required to leave the field of play…that applies to North American football. In other team sports, possession changes frequently and as a consequence all the players alternate frequently between offensive and defensive roles and action…that applies to soccer, basketball, and hockey. 

In sports like soccer and basketball, where most or all of the players split their work regularly between offensive and defensive action, the players often focus on one of those roles. Forwards are primarily offensive while defensemen are primarily defensive. However, both types of players alternate roles and take the action that best suits the situation. The situation is defined in terms of many things such as: where are we located on the field?, who holds possession?, and how much time is left in the game? We could describe these team sports players as 'majoring' in one type of work while 'minoring' in the other.  Often possession of the ball dictates their choice of action and always the rules of the game limit the extent of the action.

But, who is carrying the ball in business? 

Does any individual player ever actually carry the puck in corporate business? 

In business, the puck or ball isn’t so easy to define or see and whether or not it can be seen as a tangible thing of possession it is rarely carried by a single person.

Do we ever pull the Purchasing VP with less than a minute on the clock so we have one more person in the Sales Department?



In sports, players cannot gain unfair advantage by going offside and stepping out of bounds carries consequences. 

While there are many official rules, the sports coaches can set bounds on action tighter than the rules of the game. Αs an example: (while I haven't really spent much time on hockey since the Leafs completed their first couple of decades of playoff lackadaisy), maybe goalies are not allowed to cross the centre line? That could be the rule for hockey. On the other hand, the coach could set a team or individual rule that limits the goalie's forward progress to the blue line. The coach may set similar restrictions on defensive players…restricting some players to be defensive defensemen while allowing others to be offensive defensemen. Or, some forwards could be told to back check while others could be set up ice to cherry pick. 

Regardless, in many team sports the players alter their actions swiftly back-and-forth between offense and defense. There are game rules. There are also team/coach rules. In most sports there are considerable rules governing what defensive and offensive players are allowed to do: penalties for offsides stands out as a general rule that applies to many team sports.

[Attention to the rules is very important in sports while in business, particularly smaller and mid-sized business, there often is no detailed rule book.]

In business, most roles are heavily skewed to either offense or defense…in business, there are value-addition roles and there are quite different and typically quite separate value-protection roles. 

There are business-development roles and there are business-risk-management and business-control roles.

This is a key area of difference.  

Ideally, the value adders in business will be considerate of the risks and temper their action when required. Ideally, the risk managers and controllers in business will be considerate of the need to grow through expanded commerce and ease their rules and actions when required.



In business the defensive players have significant day-to-day influence over their team’s offensive players and this isn’t common in team sports.

That is another key difference between team sports and business. As examples: CFOs, legal counsel, and credit managers can dictate policy that limits the day-to-day actions of purchasing, marketing, and sales people.

This control isn't limited to pre-game, pre-set rules...it also happens in an ongoing way during the day-by-day actions of business.

If business and team sports were similar at the action level then we might regularly see many defensive players repeatedly screaming “Be Careful” or “You can’t do that as their offensive players pressed toward the other team's goal. And, if team sports were like business then maybe Bobby Orr would have only scored short-handed goals when he got really lucky flipping the puck in from centre ice? 

This difference identifies a key need in business that seems to go without saying in team sports: in business we need to make efforts to optimize the balance between offense and defense...not just in theory and in practice but also in action throughout the game.



In sports, the scrutiny on action is intense, sometimes off the Richter Scale. Consider penalty kicks, breakaways, and bases-loaded at bats. In these game situations at least 2 people are under intense scrutiny: one offensive person and one defensive person.

Scrutiny of action is extreme in sports. Feedback is immediately-rewarding in sports. Fans scream, sound systems wail, the jumbo screen flashes, and coaches ride emotional roller coasters. [And if you are in Tampa Bay then you get to see a pirate ship fire its cannons.] 

In sports the rewards of the immediate, intense feedback can be positive or negative. In fact, most often it is both positive and negative at the same time. Your team and your fans cheer your success while at least some fans who root for the other team yell insults and deride you and your performance even if it clearly was a terrific piece of action and a scored goal.

Those who watch you perform in sports are biased…and many of them are not timid at all about showing it, wearing it, screaming it, or, from time to time, rioting during or after the game to prove it.  We don’t see that often in business.  In business, feedback about our actions is much more subtle. As business individuals, our action isn’t monitored by a zoomed-in camera lens.  

In business, we don’t get to hear tens of thousands unite to create thunderous noise and we don’t get to see standing ovations when we achieve our annual targets. On the other hand, we also don’t get to hear real-time Bronx Cheers or see octopi projectiles coming our way…in fact, stuff like that is frowned upon in business. 

We see and hear even less immediate feedback in the day-to-day commercial trenches while we are doing the buying and selling action of business. Business people can operate with some privacy, whereas, sometimes, in some sports stadia, your own fans give you that Bronx Cheer.

In sports, sometimes your coach hugs you while tears stream from all eyes. At other times your coach screams vulgarities at you and you can watch replays of the whole thing over and over on the jumbo screen and later you can watch it on the Sports Channel when you get home from the game.  

Missing a penalty shot or letting an overtime goal sneak by you – that’s newsworthy.

Failing to make a sale or paying too much for some raw materials – that’s not newsworthy. 

Scrutiny of performance and feedback on performance – in sports versus in business – are areas where huge differences exist. In sports winning is revered. Winning is revered to the point where critics and fans and coworkers applaud the end result and they also applaud the means to that end result whether the coach is Bill Parcells [known to be a tough autocrat] or Tony Dungy [known to be a real people person].

In business, we often hear coaching-and-counselling advice about teamwork. We hear, “There is no ‘I’ in teamwork”. I suppose team-sports players may hear the same counsel? That counsel seems to be an attempt to state that something about individuals must be of lesser something than something about the team. That interpretation should come across as nebulous. That’s because comments like “There is no ‘I’ in teamwork” are nebulous. Perhaps, the common interpretation isn’t nebulous. Perhaps, the comment means each individual should be prepared to sacrifice personal needs whenever they conflict with team goals. If that’s the case then there are better ways to express that sort of thinking. The reality is: every team consists of individual people, each of whom is an ‘I’. So, rather than talk in terms of letters of the alphabet we should be more specific. For example, we could say the key to team success is optimizing: optimizing the balance between the team’s goals and each individual’s goals and optimizing the balance between each individual’s goals and the goals of each other individual. That would at least allow us to focus on each person’s needs/goals and the needs/goals of the team. We could seek an understanding of whether or not the various goals are similar and aligned. We could talk about individual compromise in objective ways. We could work out acceptable individual adjustments.   



In business, we are much more conflicted about management style and often we hear advice that the likelihood of winning increases under certain leadership and management styles.

Most business consultants would be very troubled by managers or leaders who have a style like that of NFL Coach Bill Parcells. In fact, most people in business would say and do whatever they could to make Bill Parcells change and conform to much softer, kinder, and more-empathetic ways.

[In recognition of another way of looking at it - Bill Parcells did get to present some of his sports-to-business leadership thoughts in Harvard Business Review. The message he presented in HBR made sense. It is interesting to consider his HBR words while watching him in action at the sidelines.] 

Whether Bill Parcells or Tony Dungy, for team sports differences in leadership style, coaching style, and management style are embraced. Style differences are embraced by owners, fans, players, and media critics. Style differences are embraced while a potential to win is in the mind of the sports critic. When the potential to win is no longer in the mind of the sports critic the sports critic often promotes leadership change specifically to bring about a change in leadership style. If the failed sports leader was viewed as ‘too nice’ then the critic would promote a change to tougher leadership – more discipline, more control, and a firmer hand. If the failed leader was viewed as ‘too autocratic’ then the critic would promote a change to a more easy-going leader. Interestingly enough, these sorts of radical changes in style often do bring about near-term success in team sports.  

Sports fans love this stuff...they call in to talk shows, watch the highlights and the pundits, etc.

But, what about in business?  

In business, how often do we hear, “Let’s bring in an autocratic leader to inject a good dose of discipline into this organization”? 



People invented sports.

People invented business.

Both business and sports are fundamental to our human condition.

While business and team sports are both constructs that combine human cooperation and human competition, they are so different it is dangerous to assume too much similarity.

It is particularly dangerous to think the concept of teamwork in business is interchangeable with the concept of teamwork in sports. Business might be much easier to perform if it was performed in a manner similar to the relatively simple way sports teams perform.

Courage - The Key Business Value

by Rick Baker
On May 10, 2008

Courage is our company’s Key Value.

In summary, we have chosen Courage for our Key Value because:

  1. Courage enables Self-Knowledge and

  2. When it is backed by Courage, Self-Knowledge can be the foundation of most, if not all, other major values, traits, qualities, and attributes that contribute to character.

If our personal value systems are like dominoes then Courage must be the first domino of desirable character. When it comes to personal character, no other domino can take the place of Courage.


Dominoes fall in sequence…






That domino sequence was simplified…in practice, it would be a more complicated sequence:






Here I mean ‘Self-Education’ in its broadest sense. It includes other dominoes like introspection and [if we want it to] autosuggestion [self-talk]. The main point is, when Courage is present Self-Confidence can grow. If we remove Courage then Self-Confidence cannot grow. Courage enables Self-Confidence. With dedication, Self-Confidence can be self-taught. Coaches can help us understand the dominoes but they cannot give them to us. We have to create our own dominoes and we have to use them regularly.

The process of developing Self-Confidence only works if it is backed by Courage.



Self-Confidence is a ‘great enabler’.


Courage is the ‘great enabler’. 




We may have different views about the routes the dominoes of personal character take.

But, we should agree Courage enables some very-positive things…




























Considering all these dominoes linked to Courage, it is easy to see...

Courage enables positive Change  



Footnote:  In his 1937 classic, ‘Think and Grow Rich’, Napoleon Hill selected ‘Unwavering Courage” as the #1 attribute of Leadership. 


Marketing | Spirited Leaders | Values: Personal Values

Seeking Simple

by Rick Baker
On May 1, 2008

Synchronicity always causes me to pause and reflect.


For example: I was browsing Bryan and Joyce's (2007) book 'Mobilizing Minds' when I came across a section titled 'Unproductive Complexity'. I had just written an e-mail, in response to a question. In my response e-mail I had talked about how it seems to me people frequently take simple things and make them or view them as complex...that is, 'making mountains out of molehills'. We were discussing a 3rd party's communication with us and it seemed to me that party was really over-complicating the matter at hand.

Shortly after, I was reading the Mobilizing Minds section titled Unproductive Complexity, which began as follows: ‘For a while in the 1990s, we thought that digital technology would enable us to overcome our communication challenges.' Facts and figures were provided by the authors. And, they stated the following: 'In a 2005 survey conducted by the McKinsey Quarterly, of senior and top executives, 60 percent said their company's size and complexity have made it somewhat difficult, or much more difficult, to capture opportunities than it was just 5 years ago.'


This struck me with synchronicity.


As I read on...'The problem is that today companies rely on a model designed for the 20th century, one that depends on vertical, top-down hierarchical authority. The problem is that in the 21st century, the key to creating value is not just in providing top-down direction, but also in enabling and motivating self-directed, thinking-intensive professionals and managers to work with one another horizontally across the firm.'

The book referred to big companies, success-limiting silo organizational structures, band-aid matrix overlays, and troubles due to hierarchy.


It seems to me the problem of complexity should be approached in an as-simple-as-possible way.

Considering…'The problem is that in the 21st century, the key to creating value is not just in providing top-down direction, but also in enabling and motivating self-directed, thinking-intensive professionals and managers to work with one another horizontally across the firm.'

At first reading, the advice of that quoted sentence seems to be on the right track.

I don't think it is new or provocative advice. It is different wording but the various messages in that advice have been stated by others and they were as pertinent 25 years ago as they are now, in the 21st century.

We do need to set adding value as the key goal of business. We do need top-down direction for order and control as we achieve that goal. And, we do want to have as many self-directed, thinking-intensive professionals and managers as we can. And, of course, we want them working together in harmony to achieve corporate goals. All of that makes sense.

Put in other words...

Our organizations need effective hierarchy and we need to employ talented, self-starters who work together effectively, add value, and achieve desired goals.


How do we do that?


A Question to Consider:

Can we handle the complex better by concentrating on the simple?


Considering the excerpt, '... enabling and motivating self-directed, thinking-intensive professionals and managers to work with one another horizontally across the firm'

While we probably agree that piece of theory is directionally correct, how do we put it into practice?

We could assume people ‘get it’ and so they will naturally be able to take action to make ‘it’ happen. That could be a very dangerous assumption. It could be very dangerous for big, well-established organizations. It could be even more dangerous for smaller, more-entrepreneurial organizations.


That set of words contains considerable complexity, for example:

  • enabling and motivating
  • self-directed, thinking-intensive professionals and managers
  • work with one another horizontally across the firm

These things strike me as complex because they raise many questions, for example:

  • Can one person motivate another person?
  • If a person is self-directed, thinking-intensive, and professional then does that person need external motivation?
  • How do people successfully 'work with one another horizontally across the firm'?


Some thoughts on how we could help people work more effectively with one another...

  • have a simple, clear, and concise Corporate Vision
  • have a simple, clear, and concise Corporate Mission
  • have Corporate Values and define them in simple, clear, and concise words
  • display those Corporate Vision, Mission, and Values at high-traffic areas of the office
  • regularly, both internally and externally, have conversations about those Corporate Vision, Mission, and Values
  • state Corporate Goals in simple, clear, concise, and SMART words, repeat them frequently at Business Unit, Department, one-on-one, and other meetings
  • state Business-Unit Goals in simple, clear, concise, and SMART words, repeat them frequently and explain how those Business-Unit Goals align with the Corporate Goals
  • state Department Goals in simple, clear, concise, and SMART words, repeat them frequently and explain how those Department Goals align with the Business-Unit Goals and with the Corporate Goals
  • provide Role Descriptions in simple, clear, and concise words
  • state Individual-Employee Goals in simple, clear, concise, and SMART words and explain how the Individual-Employee Goals align with the Department Goals, with the Business-Unit Goals, and with the Corporate Goals
  • at the Corporate, Business-Unit, Department, and Individual-Employee “levels”, review performance regularly, under defined process, using simple, clear, and concise words.
  • help Individual Employees understand how their roles and their performance impact on others, directly and indirectly, throughout and outside the company.


In addition to these basic things,


Create ways to help people understand how they and others fit in.


Perhaps, start by looking at your business as a jigsaw puzzle. That jigsaw puzzle can be created by using 10 pieces, 100 pieces, 1,000 pieces or 10,000 pieces or more. 10 pieces could represent the number of pieces you could use to describe your Corporate picture. It’s a big picture, so you could choose to use many more than 10 puzzle pieces, but don’t. Choose to use 10 big puzzle pieces. While some will argue “That kind of puzzle would be worse than childish: a big colourful 10-piece puzzle would be something one would give to an infant.”

That is true.

It is also true that communication and branding experts spend careers seeking the essence, the concise, the clear, and the simple message in an effort to truly connect with other people. While, communication and branding experts are doing that sales experts are teaching about 30-Second Elevator Commercials.

It seems to me these people are seeking simple

If 10 puzzle pieces is the right number for Corporate-level picture/puzzles then perhaps 100 pieces would be required to complete a Corporate puzzle that contains Business-Unit details. If the company doesn’t have Business Units then perhaps 100 pieces would be required to create the picture containing some Department details. That is: if we need 10 puzzle pieces to adequately show the Corporate picture then we will need at least that many pieces to describe each Business Unit and each Department. So, when we add the Business Units together or when we add the Departments together or when we add both of those we will have something like 100 puzzle pieces…that’s the order of magnitude. Or, as an alternative, maybe having more detail is important…maybe we need 1,000 pieces. Regardless, as we construct the more-detailed picture/puzzle we have two choices.

  1. we can keep the size of the puzzle pieces the same and so the whole picture/puzzle gets a lot bigger or
  2. we can shrink the size of the pieces so the whole picture/puzzle remains more-or-less the same size

The picture/puzzle metaphor takes on another leap in order of magnitude when we move from Business-Unit-level detail to Individual-Employee detail. Instead of thinking in terms of a 10 piece or a 100 piece or even a 1,000 piece picture/puzzle, we need to think in terms of a 10,000 piece or a 100,000 piece picture puzzle. And, as the details and complexity expand, we have two choices:

Choice #1: we can look at the entire picture while losing the ability to look at the tiny individual pieces or

Choice #2: we can look at some of the tiny individual pieces while losing the ability to see the entire picture.


If we step back and think about it, we are likely OK with that 2-choice limitation…as long as we can alter our choice whenever we wish.

We know Choice #1 is the most-desired answer in certain situations while Choice #2 is the most-desired answer in other situations.

The problem is – in practice, we get mixed up. We regularly make the wrong choice.


Missing the forest for the trees.

From the Individual Employee’s perspective...

That old metaphor has some meaning in this picture/puzzle metaphor. If we choose to freeze the size of the puzzle pieces so we can see the details then our business picture/puzzle is huge. The picture is so huge we cannot see most of it let alone all of it…so we miss the forest for the trees. Conversely, if we freeze the size of the picture/puzzle so we can keep the big picture in focus then the pieces become so tiny we have no ability to see and understand them. What’s worse, as Individual Employees we lose the ability to understand how our personal pieces fit in our company’s picture/puzzle. When this happens there are many negative implications such as: our orientation is at risk; our connection is at risk; our focus is at risk; our ability to know corporate culture is at risk; our ability to work in harmony is at risk; our ability to add value is at risk, etc.

To excel as Individual Employees we need to understand our pieces of the puzzle and we need to see the big picture. We need to do both. But, we need to construct our picture/puzzles with care.

We need to plan the picture/puzzles.

To excel as Individual Employees we need to understand certain other Individual Employee`s puzzle pieces and how those pieces fit together with our own and how they fit in the big picture. At the detail level, likely of most importance, we need to understand how our pieces mesh with our boss` pieces.

To excel as Individual Employees we need to accept we will never be able to see or understand all the pieces in the puzzle. Even if that were possible, it would be inefficient and ineffective. So, we must trust those numerous other pieces are either in their proper places or moving toward that direction.


Getting back to that quote from Mobilizing Minds

'The problem is that in the 21st century, the key to creating value is not just in providing top-down direction, but also in enabling and motivating self-directed, thinking-intensive professionals and managers to work with one another horizontally across the firm.'

How do the people and the various pieces they bring to our business picture/puzzle do top-down direction, enable others, and work with one another horizontally across the firm? [Note: I have intentionally left out the motivating pieces - that’s a whole other puzzle.]

It seems to me the answer is we must encourage our people to 'seek simple' and not to 'express complex'.

Every Individual Employee should understand and be able to describe his/her business’ Corporate picture in simple terms…the Vision Statement, the Mission Statement, the Corporate Values, the Corporate Goals, etc.

Every Individual Employee should understand and be able to describe his/her Business-Unit picture [if applicable] and Department picture…in simple terms…starting with Department Goals.

Every Individual Employee should understand and be able to describe all the other Business-Units [if applicable] and Departments in the Corporate picture. And, every Individual Employee should understand and be able to describe how his/her Department fits in the Corporate picture and how his/her Department is related to other Departments. The same applies to Individual-Employee roles vis-à-vis the roles of certain other Individual Employees. We must always keep the big picture in focus…zooming out regularly to make sure we don’t lose it. And, at the same time, for certain selected areas of the picture/puzzle we must be able to zoom in so we can see the details of our individual connections.

Obviously, a person’s ability to understand and express his/her knowledge of the big-picture and his/her unique ‘individual picture’ will depend on many factors. For example, on average new employees will be less capable of understanding and expressing these pictures than more-experienced employees.

Regardless, the Corporate Culture should encourage proficiency.

To promote picture clarity between Departments and between Individual Employees, we need to discuss the work, the impact of the work, and the flow of the work…from work donors, to work doers, to value recipients.

So, we need to catalogue and understand work-process and work-flow systems.

Work needs to be systematized, to the extent that is possible and reasonable. When we discuss work-process and work-flow systems we need to do it in concise, clear, and simple ways. Discussions need to be frequent, and they need to be repeated. To show the logic trail for work-flow know-how we need to start with Corporate Goals. Then we need to zoom in on Department Goals and inter-Department Goals. We need to zoom in even farther to show how Individual Employee Roles are connected…work-flow impact, work-flow cause and effect.

As we plan and construct the pictures of our business we need to be seeking simple.

Then, when we do the zooming in to our detail pictures and the zooming out to the corporate big picture – as we do our daily jobs well – we will be finding the value that seeking simple ensures.


Entrepreneur Thinking | Seeking Simple!


by Rick Baker
On Apr 14, 2008

In one of my dictionaries, a Gage Canadian Dictionary, the word 'innovation' is defined as:

  1. A change made in the established way of doing things
  2. The making of changes; act of bringing in new things or new ways of doing things: He is strongly opposed to innovation of any kind.

At the front cover of his book 'Innovation', Tom Gorman uses the following Peter Drucker quote:

"Innovation is the specific instrument...that endows resources with a new capacity to create wealth."

At Chapter 1, Gorman uses the title, 'Innovation = Problem Solving'. And, in a caption that appears to be a dictionary excerpt, Gorman provides the following definition:

in • no • va • tion

  1. A new product, service, process, or approach to a problem
  2. A new way of thinking about something
  3. The act of innovating, as in "Innovation occurs in every culture"

I know from recent experience, the discussion of innovation can very quickly get deeply philosophical. Here are some questions, which capture some of the differences in the ways people think about innovation:

  • Must innovation, by definition, be a physical/tangible thing? 
  • Must innovation, by definition, be linked to change?
  • Should innovation, by definition, be linked to problem solving?
  • What's the difference between creativity and innovation?

Perhaps, creativity describes new things that can be enjoyed for their own sake rather than for any change they may bring about? If that is the case then change may be an important facet of the definition of innovation but of little or no importance when considering a definition of creativity?

In other words - perhaps we should acknowledge utility is less tangible for creativity and more tangible for innovation?

Perhaps, for creativity utility can be so nebulous it should not even be a facet of definition?

Are creativity and innovation mutually exclusive? Or, is one a subset of the other? If so then which one is the broader thing...which is closer to concept?


Business and Innovation:

Overall, I'm wondering if one of the largest rifts between our thoughts about innovation is around technology. Must a business innovation contain some aspect of technology or can a business innovation exist independent of technology?

For business purposes, would it make sense to define innovation as 'a thing or action that solves a business problem'?

Maybe we should state innovation - a thing or action - must have the effect of creating a change...or, should we be more specific and state innovation must create a change of commercial value?

The 'change' part of that sort of definition is consistent with my Gage Canadian Dictionary. And change is simple and it is a broad enough thing (say, a concept) so it should not generate any confusion or controversy. However, the 'adding commercial value' part isn't so simple...it is a qualification but it is a subjective one. My Gage Canadian Dictionary does not express the nature of change it expresses in its definition of innovation. While we may want to assume Gage Canadian Dictionary intends the change to be positive rather than negative or of value rather than valueless, that isn't stated in my Gage Canadian Dictionary. In fact, the sample italicized in my dictionary definition - "He is strongly opposed to innovation of any kind" - provides a clear message that some people are opposed to innovation...presumably, that's the case because those people do not see innovation as either positive or value-adding. Or, perhaps the opposition is simply a resistance to change.


For business, could we start by considering the following type of definition:

          Business Innovation (def'n):

          A thing done or provided to add value by solving a customer's problem or satisfying a customer's need.


Embedded in this definition are:

  1. A business innovation must be tangible...a thought or an idea isn't enough to be considered a business innovation. Only when that thought or idea is converted into physical reality - a product, a service of action, etc - can it be considered an innovation. 
  2. An innovation in business begins with a customer need or problem...all business innovations should be traced to a specific, identified customer need or problem. 
  3. An innovation in business will cause and be a change. That change will be measured in terms of value added from the customer's perspective...as a specific, identified customer need is satisfied or as a specific, identified customer problem is solved. 
  4. So, to qualify as a business innovation the thing must be customer-centric. 
  5. A business innovation need not be tied to technology. Technological innovations in business would be a subset of business innovations. 
  6. Potential questions about 'direct' and 'indirect' value, as seen from the customer's perspective, questions about the ability to discover with precision customer's needs, and questions about the ability to measure the value added from the customer's perspective, etc. (Such is the essence and challenge of Marketing).


If we can agree on a definition of Innovation then we will have a solid footing upon which we can build as we answer other important questions, such as:

  • how do we want to define the relationship between innovation and entrepreneurship?
  • how do we want to nurture and promote business-innovation processes in our workplaces?
  • how do we place ourselves in our customers' shoes and with precision understand their needs and problems then deliver measurable value through innovation?


Definitions - Spirited Words Defined | Entrepreneur Thinking | Marketing


by Rick Baker
On Mar 25, 2008
TurnAhead: def’n

For businesses experiencing distress, TurnAhead means delivering a planned combination of a turnaround and a leap ahead to a much-more profitable place
TurnAhead Concept: def’n

In 100 words of less, our idea of the problem and how we will turn it ahead to an opportunity.
TurnAhead Proposition: def’n

In 75 words or less, our S.M.A.R.T. explanation of the problem and how we will turn it ahead to an opportunity.
[S.M.A.R.T =  Specific, Measureable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-Bounded]

Designed to help people focus on the very important part of business, the territory known as:
TARget MARkets, VALue PROpositions, Differential Advantage - TARMARVALPRODA.


Definitions - Spirited Words Defined

Some thoughts on‘Good to Great’, ‘The Tipping Point’, and Business Start-Up or TurnAhead

by Rick Baker
On Mar 24, 2008

If a good business idea exists and the right people to implement it are in place then there is a chance to attract money, create and build a successful business.

The good idea part and the having the right people part were captured by Jim Collins in ‘Good to Great’…‘Hedgehogs’ and ‘Buses’. Jim Collins used the flywheel metaphor to capture the thought - success builds momentum as people push together.

Malcolm Gladwell believes business success can achieve tipping points, where epidemic-like growth can occur. Three ingredients are required: Mavens, Connectors, and Salespeople.

Some of our thinking about how to succeed at business start-up or business TurnAhead borrows thoughts from these two authors.

How does this play out?

How might one borrow thoughts from ‘Good to Great’ and ‘The Tipping Point’ then go about building a successful start-up business or doing a business TurnAhead?

Perhaps, the answer is clearer when we split the business activity into 3 separate components…



To use Jim Collins’ Hedgehog Concept, we first need a business idea. It has to be an idea people can get passionate about. If the ambition is to grow a large/great business then people need to think big, like – “What can we do better than anyone else in the world?”   But, whether large/great/best-in-the-world or not…how does one go about starting that business? Let’s assume we agree a good first step is to establish the Hedgehog Concept for the business…ie, clearly establish:


That sets the framework for the business – it is the overall strategy for the business. The overall strategy must be set and done. In other words, there can be no second-guessing of the Hedgehog.

With the Hedgehog done, what other strategic work should a business do?

The Hedgehog establishes the strategic footings… what about the strategic foundation walls? What do those next-level strategic supports look like? How much? How much detail?

What are the right next-level strategic questions?

The answer: we need to begin by thinking about the People.

Using the Collins’ metaphors:
  • Does the business have the right people on the bus?
  • Are those people pushing the flywheel as required


Business start-up or TurnAhead will be relatively fast-and-easy if the business in question has perfectly established its Hedgehog and filled its bus with perfect people…the flywheel will spin ever faster…and faster and faster, maybe even to tipping-point speed.

But, what if the Hedgehog is set, the people are on the bus, and the flywheel doesn’t seem to be spinning and accelerating as quickly as it should be?

What is wrong?

What’s the problem?
  • Is it a Strategic weakness?
  • Is it People problems?
  • Is it something else?
  • Is it some combination of the above?

Let’s assume an audit proves the strategy is sound…let’s assume the Hedgehog is a good one.

If the ideas are sound then the next consideration is the people. Using Collins’ words – “Are the right people on the bus?”


Embedded in all this, the business ideas/strategies are captured before and at statements and pictures called the Hedgehog. Those ideas are the spark of the business.  The spark inspires passion, passion-in-people…that’s part of the Hedgehog. The spark must inspire passion in a sufficient amount of people. When enough people are inspired by individual or shared passion those people will act and they will act in ways that align with the Hedgehog, they will start the flywheel spinning…in other words, their combined action will cause the company to achieve its desired goals. When that’s happening, Collins would describe it as – “The right people are on the bus!”


But, how would a business go about finding then putting the right people on the bus?

Or, how would a business go about making people changes if it becomes evident the right people are not on the bus?

Nobody will argue - People are the critical aspect of success.

Gladwell talked about 3 types of people who seem to be present when there is a tipping:
  • Mavens: technical specialists who seem to love to both know and talk about the gory details
  • Connectors: people-persons who introduce unrelated people who then do commerce together
  • Salespeople: naturally charismatic people who persuade other people with ease

As a business seeks people for its bus, or as a business goes about trying to make people changes when it appears the seats of the bus are not properly filled, perhaps the three people-categories above can be of help.

If I understand Gladwell accurately, Mavens, Connectors, and Salespeople stand out as noticeably different from other people. They possess qualities that make them important to businesses that aspire to rapid and/or large growth. If a business employs these 3 types of people then the chances for success and even tipping increase. Implicit in this, I am assuming the people embrace the business’ Hedgehog.

Success Formula:
Collins’ Hedgehog + Gladwell’s (Mavens, Connectors & Salespeople) = Business Success


In words:
If a business has an accurately-thought-out Hedgehog and employs enough Mavens, Connectors, and Salespeople then the business will achieve business success.


To ensure the right people are on the bus, the qualities of Mavens, Connectors, and Salespeople should be understood and care should be taken during recruiting to make sure the people possess these qualities.

Obviously, other skills and traits will be required to perform the specific functions of the specific business…these could be described as Industry-Specific technical skills and traits. These people skills and people traits will vary from business to business. These skills and traits can cover a broad spectrum…from super-technical speciality to general business acumen.

What if the business does not employ Mavens, Connectors, and Salespeople…can it still succeed?

It seems to me:
  • A business cannot achieve quick or large success if it does not have more than one talented salesperson on the bus. The salespeople do not necessarily have to be as naturally-gifted and impressive as those described by Gladwell, however, it is tough to argue that Salespeople of that calibre will both hasten and expand business success.
  • A business may be able to succeed without Mavens and Connectors on the bus, however, people on the bus must at least know how to connect with Mavens and Connectors. I would describe these people who know how to connect as Ally Seekers.

Ally Seekers

Are Ally Seekers salespeople like Gladwell describes Salespeople?
  • Perhaps.
  • While they may or may not be Salespeople, Ally Seekers must possess a strong desire and some skill at seeking out other people who can ‘fill the commercial gaps’. Ally Seekers do not need to be naturally charismatic…as in born salespeople. Ally Seekers do not need to be persuasive…ie, persuasion being the key skill of the salesperson. Ally Seekers need to have pleasant-enough personalities and they need to believe people [only people] get things done. For example, if the business is lacking salespeople then that business’ Ally Seekers would have their antennae out – looking for salespeople.
  • While Ally Seekers do not have to be Gladwell-described Salespeople, they can be Gladwell-described Salespeople. Salespeople would make excellent Ally Seekers.
  • Ally Seekers may become very skilled at making connections and that is a key aspect of gaining trust and a network of contacts. All of this could cause Ally Seekers to want to develop skills at sales. So, Ally Seekers could be Salespeople-in-training.
Are Ally Seekers technical experts like Mavens?
  • Likely, no.
  • Ally Seekers do not have to possess the technical or detailed knowledge as Mavens do. Ally Seekers need to know how to find [connect with] Mavens. With the easy-availability of information, an Ally Seeker could prepare Maven-seeking plans then sit at a desk most of the day scouring the Internet…seeking Mavens.
  • Over time, Ally Seekers may become well known. They may become well known for specific technical expertise and they may be thrilled to possess detailed information. They may become Mavens.
Are Ally Seekers true Connectors?
  • No.
  • If I understand Gladwell correctly, Connectors know huge numbers of people…like a multiple of 10 times what average people know. Gladwell’s Connectors strike me as shotgunners who know where their pellets hit so they can sharpshoot at will. Or, Connectors are connectors who have numerous rifles and they are skilled at shooting all of them at a variety of different targets…so, when someone calls them they pick the right rifle and use it to connect with the desired target. Whereas, Ally Seekers need to be skilled at shooting certain guns at certain targets.
  • Ally Seekers must be proactive, whereas, it seems Gladwell’s Connectors do not…people come to Gladwell’s Connectors because people know they are connectors by reputation. Conversely, Ally Seekers may have little or no incoming interactions.
  • It is not clear how Gladwell’s Connectors became the Connectors they are. Clearly, they are much more gregarious than the average person. If an Ally Seeker sincerely wants to be a champion of the Ally-Seeking role then certainly, over time, an Ally Seeker has the opportunity to build a large network of contacts. Ally Seekers may be Connectors-in-training.


  Collins’ Hedgehog
Gladwell’s (Mavens, Connectors & Salespeople)
Ally Seekers     
Business Success


The bottom line is: Ally Seekers can fill the gaps where Mavens, Connectors, and Salespeople are lacking.



Entrepreneur Thinking

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