3 Things R.A. Dickey Teaches Us About Innovation
Once in a blue moon a sports phenomenon crosses over and joins the mainstream media discussion. The stories that come out of left field aren’t born from the Jordan’s, Gretzky’s and Woods’ of the world. They – the omnipresent sports star – have been in the spotlight their entire careers where greatness was expected and failure was the oddity. It’s the non-star, the true underdog story that we love and in this moment in time there is no greater tale than a scraggly looking knuckle-baller who tosses every 5th-day for the team hailing from Flushing, NY. We’re of course talking about New York Mets starting pitcher R.A. Dickey. When you examine his tale, his struggles and his recent triumphs, three amazin’ lessons in innovation float right up to the top.
R.A. Dickey – An Innovator on the Hill
If you don’t know his stats or perhaps you just don’t follow baseball or sports, let’s bring you up to speed quickly. As of today – June 22nd, 2012 – he’s sporting a league best record of 11 – 1 with an Earned Run Average (ERA) of only 2.00. He’s the leading candidate to start the All-Star game for the National League and he’s a clear early season candidate for the Cy Young award rewarded to the best pitcher in baseball come regular season’s end. In other words, he’s had a career half-year and it’s his road to this point we should examine further.
The Persistent, Win
Ever notice those who have success typically had to go through incredibly difficult times before knocking one out of the proverbial park? In innovation, winners were usually losers first. They failed, they failed a lot, and when most would decide it’s time to stop attempting, those who push through and try again are the ones who emerge a winner.
Did you know R.A. Dickey was drafted in the first round (18th overall pick) in the 1996 draft by the Texas Rangers? Did you know he was offered a size-able $800K+ signing bonus, only to have it drastically shaved down to $75,000 after a physical exam revealed he was simply missing a crucial ligament in his elbow? After several mediocre and poor seasons with the Rangers, Dickey thought the best way to extend his career was to further develop a knuckle-ball pitch he had been tinkering with for seasons. The Rangers gave him one more shot as a starting pitcher in 2006, naming him their 5th starter out of five, in a typical rotation. Unfortunately for Dickey, in his first start as a true Knuckle-baller, he allowed 6 home runs and was demoted to Triple-A after the effort. His decade long career in the Texas organization was effectively over.
Over the next few years R.A. found himself up and down from Triple-A, back to the majors with both the Mariners and Twins organizations. All the while, he was steadily becoming a better pitcher. In early 2010 he signed a minor-league contract with the New York Mets and after a solid 2010 season, signed a multi-year, multi-million dollar deal. He was firmly back in the “bigs”.
This year, the man has simply been un-hit-able and at the ripe “old” age of 37 – which is rather old for a Major League pitcher – R.A. Dickey is off to a start even Bob Gibson might envy.
When most decide to quit, it’s those that keep attempting that seem to usually win out. Keep in mind, as we just discussed in a recent post – Are You Building the Death Star, Again? – we’re not talking about repeating what you’ve always done and hoping you somehow succeed. We are talking about the combination of undeniable persistence with the willingness and wherewithal to experiment. Which leads us nicely into our second point on the art of mastering.
The Road to Mastery is Paved with Failure
R.A. Dickey became amazing not because he mastered 4 or 5 pitches. He has a mid-80′s fastball he can decently spot and a traditional off-speed pitch you will rarely see. He is not a generalist. R.A. Dickey is the epitome of a hyper-specialist, throwing what is being hailed as the hardest knuckle-ball ever seen. He has a certain control of this floating pitch that has also never been matched. Where traditional knuckle-ballers have stumbled, control and consistency on the pitch itself, R.A. has become a master and you just read a few paragraphs on how long it took him to achieve such a level.
His road to mastery is paved in a million micro-failures and this is a way you can treat your innovative efforts. You must be willing to experiment, fail, learn, tinker, try again, fail, tinker… until you succeed.
At TopCoder, we of course talk often about how Enterprise Open Innovation (EOI) can help you take many more swings at lower levels of risk and it’s the same premise re-applied. Whether innovating traditionally or through a global community, you must be willing to fail in order to succeed.Interested in better understanding TopCoder’s Enterprise Open Innovation platform and competition methodology? Join us for our next webinar - REGISTER HERE - Space is limited.
Know Your Core
Whether you are a start-up or a billion dollar enterprise, you should know your core. You should know why you exist, your purpose, the things that matter most to you and every single one of your efforts should bolster what are your core principles.
One piece of the R.A. Dickey story that doesn’t get reported as much is his scaling of Mount Kilimanjaro that took place between the 2011 and 2012 baseball season. Dickey risked his entire 2012 salary – a very handsome $4,250,000 – and pledged to donate the millions to a charity combating human trafficking in India if he and a few friends couldn’t complete the journey. He did in fact complete the climb and through his efforts raised over $100,000 in donations for the charity he was illuminating. This from a man who struggled mightily for so many years to break-through. At his core, he was just doing what he thought was right.
At your core, no matter where you are at in your path to reaching your goals or continuing to grow, never lose sight of what drives you and innovate with the purpose of bolstering your core principles each and every time you take to the hill that is innovation.
Technology, Open Innovation, the Future: Subscribe to the TopCoder Blog
image credit: mets.com, success.org, jonmroz.com