Scaling Innovation: Whiteboards Versus Maps (Part 1)

Bill Schmarzo

Part 1 of a 2-part series. Read Part 2.

I love watching the NBA’s Golden State Warriors play basketball. Their offensive “improvisation” is a thing of beauty, with constant ball movement in order to find the “best” shot. The team is a well-oiled machine, optimizing split-second decisions in an ever-changing landscape that is heavily influenced by questions such as:

  • Who is my defender?
  • What are the strengths of my defender?
  • From where is help likely to come if I make a move to the basket?
  • Who is likely to be open if help does come?
  • Who has a defensive mismatch?
  • Who is hot?
  • What’s the game situation?
  • What is the shot clock status?
  • Is this the “best” shot or should I keep looking?

The coordinated decision-making is truly incredible, but here’s the challenge: How would you “scale” the Warriors? You can’t just add another player to the mix – even a perennial all-star like Boogie Cousins – and have the same level of success.

One of the biggest challenges in this age of digital transformation is how organizations can exploit new technologies such as the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence to “scale innovation.” How will diverse teams of skilled experts perfect “organizational improvisation” to coordinate split-second decisions to achieve success within an ever-changing competitive environment?

It’s a question of efficiency versus efficacy. Efficiency is the ability to achieve maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort or expense, while efficacy is the ability to produce a desired or intended outcome.

This “innovation scaling” challenge is laid out well in General Stanley McChrystal’s book Team of Teams. In the book, General McChrystal describes the challenges the American and coalition forces faced while neutralizing the insurgents in Iraq. The U.S. troops had more training, resources, technology, and firepower, but they constantly found themselves chasing the insurgents around the battlefield.

Whiteboards versus maps

I think the analogy of “whiteboards versus maps” captures the innovation-scaling problem very well. Most organizations’ business execution strategies can be best portrayed as a map – a highly engineered, carefully depicted document that predefines the competitive threats to an organization’s business and market strategies.

Unfortunately, in a constantly morphing business environment, that map can quickly become a liability, exploited by a quicker, more agile competitor who has embraced one of these new digital technologies to disrupt the existing business models and disintermediate existing customer, partner, and channel relationships.

It’s hard to swim with sharks with a business strategy anchored in cement.

Whiteboards, on the other hand, represent a “way of thinking” whereby ideas can be quickly captured, explored, refined, morphed, and possibly discarded. Cross-functional teams collaborate and brainstorm to understand and monetize market patterns and relationships, flesh out responsibilities, draft plans, and create a business strategy that can be constantly tweaked based upon new market dynamics.

Old methods and structures must be challenged and changed to prepare the organization to flourish in an environment where innovation can’t be a one-off activity. “Scaling innovation” requires a bigger conversation than just hiring a chief innovation officer and teaching everyone design thinking.

Will diverse teams of skilled experts understand the nuances of “organizational improvisation”? Based on what I’m learning about scaling innovation across a data science community, here are my four critical takeaways.


Keys to scaling innovation:

  • Create a common vision
  • Create a common language
  • Encourage organizational improvisation
  • Built a culture of sharing, openness, and trust

In the next blog in this series, I’ll go into more detail about each one of these key tenets.

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn and is republished by permission. Hitachi Vantara is an SAP global technology partner.

Bill Schmarzo

About Bill Schmarzo

Bill Schmarzo is CTO, IoT and Analytics at Hitachi Vantara. Bill drives Hitachi Vantara’s “co-creation” efforts with select customers to leverage IoT and analytics to power digital business transformations. Bill is an avid blogger and frequent speaker on the application of big data and advanced analytics to drive an organization’s key business initiatives. Bill authored a series of articles on analytic applications, and is on the faculty of TDWI teaching a course on "Thinking Like A Data Scientist." Bill is the author of “Big Data: Understanding How Data Powers Big Business” and "Big Data MBA: Driving Business Strategies with Data Science." Bill is also an Executive Fellow at the University of San Francisco School of Management, and Honorary Professor at NUI Galway at NUI Galway J.E. Cairnes School of Business & Economics.