Two Ways to Test Innovation Based on Potential Impact
Testing the Waters with Incremental Improvements and Fundamental Shifts.
Innovation in Traditional Business
I was lucky to recently attend a session where Chris Marinak, Chief Operations & Strategy Officer of Major League Baseball, talked through how they have innovated within a traditional business. In 2023, baseball implemented several rule changes designed to improve the on-field product such as a pitch clock, wider bases, and eliminating some shifts. Chris spoke a lot about listening to the customer (fans, players, coaches, owners, etc.) and having a minor league system to do effective R&D to test the impact of new ideas. More broadly, he talked about two different ways to innovate based on the situation.
Small Thing - Quickly Test and Go
Some ideas are incremental improvements and can be quickly tested. One example was the use of catchers and pitchers sending pitch signals electronically (vs. the old way of using signs from the catcher that all could see and be stolen). They tested this in the minor leagues, it got an overwhelmingly positive response, and within a couple of months was brought up to the major leagues. This change helped adjust a frustrating process for pitchers and catchers, improved integrity, and helped speed the game along.
Bigger Thing - Getting it Right Before Rolling Out
Some ideas will be met with resistance and have a bigger impact - these ones require the solution to be a little more complete before rolling out. One example was the pitch clocks to help speed up the game. This had been tested in various forms in the minor leagues for multiple years to get right. There were lots of variables in terms of how to use them, where to place them, penalties, adjustments, etc. It was thoroughly tested enough that the impact on reducing game times 20-30 minutes per game was all but certain. While players and fans are still adjusting, there has been great early feedback on the impact and desired outcome.
While your business may be different, I liked the framework of thinking though quick incremental changes vs. larger fundamental shifts to guide how you test and implement the idea. Furthermore, find where to do your R&D (e.g. MLB uses minor leagues) to allow you to constantly iterate on your core solution and make improvements to keep up with the times.