The most recent issue of Consumer Goods Technology has a cover story that indirectly reveals some secrets of successful innovation. Alarice Padilla’s “Game-Changing Innovation: The maker of Louisville Slugger Revolutionizes the Sporting Good Market with Bionic Glove Technology” describes the rise of a new sports glove that gives athletes better control. The glove has a unique padding system that fills recesses in the fingers and palm for better contact with whatever the hand is holding. This results in a better, more relaxed grip.
What I’d like to emphasize is that this innovation was the result of successful open innovation that began with a random encounter. Bill Clark of Hillerich and Bradsby Company, the company behind the Louisville Slugger and Powerbuilt Golf, was visiting the Louisville Slugger Museum when he met James Kleinert, a famous orthopedic hand surgeon. They began talking, and this would later lead to collaboration and the successful introduction of the only sports glove on the market designed by an orthopedic surgeon.
The real secrets for success behind this story, in my opinion, involve efforts to build and maintain relationships. First, Bill Clark wasn’t sitting at his desk. He got out into an environment where he could meet outsiders that might share some interest in the kind of products his company made. Then he took the initiative to talk with others and learn from them. When he found someone interesting through a chance encounter, he obviously took the initiative to follow up and keep that relationship alive long enough to explore the possibility of learning from or working with the new contact. I wish more had been reported on these steps, but it’s clear that it began with a seemingly random encounter enhanced with follow-up and and a willingness to collaborate for innovation.
Maybe Hillerich and Bradsby Company just got very lucky, or maybe they actively encourage open innovation approaches that motivate innovation leaders to get out and meet people, follow up, and collaborate when it makes sense. I hope the latter is the case. Whether it is or not, all of us can learn from this success. Creating an open innovation culture in your company and in your life will greatly increase the chances of random meetings leading to non-random success in innovation.
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