Innovation is an evolutionary process to get better at something

I ran into a former training partner over the weekend, I hadn’t seen him for almost a year since we were teammates in a basketball team. As we were reflecting on the past I was reminded that there are lessons to be extracted from anywhere, it doesn’t necessarily need to be a business case to learn something.

Last year I got invited to play on a basketball team and compete in a basketball tournament, our team trained two times a week for two hours. At the beginning my conditioning was off and I knew I wasn’t going to feel too good with myself (and not help the team) if I didn’t perform at a high level, so in order to accelerate the process of getting back into basketball shape I started experimenting with different work out routines at the gym.

At the gym I tried mixing it up with more resistance exercises but some of the things I tried didn’t yield any results for me, so next I thought that instead of driving to practice I should ride one of my electric bikes to practice (5 miles both ways) to get some strength to my legs. This worked pretty good but I felt that it wasn’t enough, I wanted something that gave me agility, strength and resistance at the same time in a short amount of time so I kept looking for better ideas.

I started thinking of where I could find accelerated workouts like they do in movies to get actors in shape in a short amount of time, and in my research I found my answer in Men’s Health Magazine where the workout from the movie 300 was being promoted. I downloaded the PDF off their website and printed it so I could take it with me to the gym the next morning.

By the next morning, I knew I had what I was looking for because the workout was beating me and I was struggling to stay on my two feet but it felt really good, it felt different. It’s a ridiculous workout, so much so that I had to cut back on the reps because I wasn’t finishing the workout.

In our next basketball practice I wasn’t struggling to catch my breath, my legs felt powerful and my energy level was very high. My teammates noticed right away and started asking me questions about what I was doing and two weeks after I started that workout I got my teammates to do it themselves.

All in all getting back in shape took me 3 weeks, before this I hadn’t played in a basketball team since I was in college (5 years).

So what does this have to do with innovation?

Innovation is an evolutionary process, you try lots of stuff and keep what works all in an effort to get better at something. That’s essentially what I did, I didn’t innovate anything really nor was I trying to, I just found a way to get better at something by experimenting with different things until I found a better ‘combination of ideas’ that gave me that boost I wanted.

I knew what I wanted, it was just a matter of finding a combination of activities that accelerated that process.

Key takeaways

  • Try different things and keep what works. New ideas come from old one’s. What you need is permanent evolution where you constantly search for a better combination.
  • Break out. I could’ve just kept on doing the same workouts and relying on getting in basketball shape organically just by playing but I wanted to break that pattern and get better faster.
  • Know what you want. What’s your goal?
  • Look elsewhere. Somebody somewhere has had a similar problem for which they found a solution, look for it no matter if it’s not in your domain.



P.S. There is another side to this story, adoption, which I’ll post about here tomorrow.

Also published on Medium.