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Game changing innovation and advancement

It was interesting last week with the 20th Anniversary of Shane Warne’s amazing ‘ball of the century’ to dismiss Mike Gatting on day two of the first test of the 1993 Ashes series (4th June 1993), at Old Trafford cricket ground in Manchester. The delivery was special in itself, but also special in the context of the game of cricket as it has been recognised as a key factor in the revival of leg spin bowling. While the ball itself was amazing I am particularly interested in how opponents react to such innovation and change. It could be argued that in this case the England cricket team didn’t, probably for a decade or so.

It was doubly of interest to me as last week I was also reading Bill Walsh’s book (produced by Steve Jamison and Craig Walsh) ‘The Score Takes Care of Itself: My Philosophy of Leadership’. The book explores the way the Bill approached leadership when Head Coach/General Manager of the San Francisco 49ers NFL Franchise in the 1980s. In it Walsh outlines two instances where he was involved in fundamentally changing the game of American Football at the professional level. The first was during his time at the Cincinnati Bengals relating to the movement of players along the line. The second time was when he was at the 49ers and developed what became known as the ‘West Coast’ offense. The development of this short passing game went against the traditional running and long passing game that was already established. Indeed at the time the approach was roundly criticised and ridiculed by the ex-pros and media. Although I think in the end Walsh had the last laugh winning three Super Bowls and fundamentally changing the way many NFL teams played the game (they say that imitation is the greatest form of flattery).

Which brings me back to how you respond to innovative developments in sport. It appears that the key is to understand, so in the words of Carol Dweck to have a ‘growth mindset’. To be successful you need to understand and adapt, and ideally incorporate or use the knowledge to further advance your game and performances. Sometimes sport evolves slowly over time and sometimes there is a rapid jump (such as the fosbury flop). But if you are going to be the best you need to be both open to, and ready to embrace (even relish) change. In an ideal world you will be in the vanguard of developments, but if not you need to catch up and overtake the opposition as quickly as possible. You could argue that it took England cricket too long to adapt 20 years ago. I think the sport has learnt from its mistake by trying to be the architects of change in the game rather than the victims as has often been the case in the past.

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