Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Ongoing Preparation for Innovation

C. Engdahl
The Big E of Big E Toys

After all, baseball isn’t anything like life. I think that was your point, sir, when you said there’s nothing real about it. In that sense I agree. In truth¸ nothing in the game appealed to me as much as its unreality. Baseball is all clean lines and clear decisions. Wouldn’t life be far easier if it consisted of a series of definitive calls: safe or out, fair or foul, strike or ball. Oh, for a life like that, where every day produces a clear winner and an equally clear loser¸ and back to it the next day with the slate wiped clean and the teams starting out equal.”

- from The Celebrant by Eric Rolfe Greenberg

In my youth I was considered a pretty good baseball player. In fact, there was a time in my mid to late teens during which some people would have argued I was perhaps one of the best pitchers in the state. All the strikeout pitches¸ tournament and state championships, and the Division I scholarship are all but memories now.

In recent years, after literally not touching a baseball for more than a decade, I began coaching my son’s team and have become more involved again in the sport. Just this past weekend I helped with some travel team tryouts for a group of kids a few years older than my own. I was scheduled to evaluate the live hitting element of the evaluations, but the person slated to pitch had a pinched nerve in his neck and thus was unable to throw. I got drafted.

I threw batting practice to about 60 kids that night. Upwards of 1500 pitches by my estimation. It was only batting practice. But even so it was a night of extreme, especially considering the baseball season is in its infancy and thus my arm isn’t even ready to throw a normal regiment of batting practice. By the end of this almost three hour session I was willing the ball over the plate. Needless to say my arm has been ragged for the last few days.

I came to realize just after college, while playing some town-team ball, why there aren’t many non-professional baseball teams comprised primarily of players over thirty. I was in my twenties at the time, and was now playing baseball for the first time on a part-time basis. My day wasn’t devoted any longer to strengthening and conditioning, pitch placement, the study of pitching charts, or regularly scheduled practice. I had a day job and was now playing baseball during my off hours. It was during this time I became convinced there aren’t many non-professional baseball teams comprised of players over thirty because there isn’t anyone to pitch for these teams. Fielding, catching, and throwing a baseball as an occasional act while playing shortstop, the outfield, or other utility position is relatively easy to do at any age. But as a pitcher, repeatedly throwing a baseball from 0 to 90 in less than a second can be a violent act. It can do a number on your arm if you’re not properly prepared for it.

In our globalized economy the speed of innovation can be break-neck. Product shelf-lives seem to be ever shortening. The pressure to develop products faster and more cheaply is on the rise. Going from 0 to 90 in less than a second can be a violent act. Yet unlike baseball players or most other professional athletes, the productive life of an innovator doesn’t end once you’ve reached thirty. Innovation isn’t necessarily based on your physical prowess and agility. Yet this doesn’t mean metaphorically speaking that innovation doesn’t require strengthening and conditioning, and practice. It’s an ongoing process at which you need to work. Previous triumphs, accolades, and glory do not guarantee continued innovation success. Know that if you stop attempting to actively innovate yet expect one day in the future to simply pick up the ball and have continued innovation success, you’ll likely be disappointed. All you may be left with is a sore arm.

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