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Changing the Game

Rasmus Nyerup was designing a museum and at the same
time admitting ignorance. It was not just his lack of knowledge he was
lamenting, but everyone’s. The year was just 1806. He was the director
of an organization that would become the National Museum of Denmark.

He wrote in his book, Review of the Country’s Ancient Monuments,
“…everything from the earliest heathen period hangs before us as if
in a thick fog, in an unmeasurable period of time. We know it is older
than Christendom, but if by a few years or a few hundred years – even
maybe over a thousand years – older, is sheer guesswork and at best
only likely hypotheses.“

Ten years later he appointed Christian Thomsen head of antiquarian
collections in what was then the Museum of Northern Antiquities. To
organize his objects for exhibition Thomsen developed the three-age
system, placing ancient objects into one of three periods: the Stone
Age, the Bronze Age and the Iron Age, named for their tool-making
technologies.

It was a game changer. Thomsen introduced a framework that forever
shifted the way people thought about the ancient past, removing it from
the fog and parsing it into three neat chronologies that the average
person could readily understand. There were many problems with the
system of order, and no shortage of critics. But the basic concept
spread and was soon infused with additional layers that spelled out
other associations including how societies were organized and even
religious developments.

The term, Game Changer, refers to anyone who fundamentally alters the
rules of play for an activity that involves skill and luck. In this
book I am discussing the game of business, the activity of buying and
selling that hopefully generates profitable returns whether you define
profit as cash left over when all is said and done or mission
accomplished in the case of non-profits. If business is the game,
innovation is the changer.

Let’s go back to dating objects of antiquity for just a moment. In 1949
Professor Willard Libby at the University of Chicago again changed this
game fundamentally.  There he led a team of scientists who
developed carbon dating, a process to determine the age of organic
matter (wood, flesh, pottery, eggshells, metal casting ores, wall
paintings, soil and lake sediments, and so on) up to about 60,000 years
of age.

This breakthrough generated real value for a myriad of disciplines,
received the Nobel Prize in 1960, and spread rapidly. Further it made
possible other kinds of dating which worked for objects much older than
60,000 years.  For that, the same principle is used but something
other than carbon is measured.

The result is that our picture of our world comes into greater focus.
We have a more accurate understanding of time and this makes possible a
myriad of breakthroughs. Suddenly there is a shift across disciplines,
like a pulse that goes through the entire system changing everything,
changing the game. The pulse is rapid and widespread.

Innovation in business is no less dramatic.

When I started working with leaders on change in the mid 1990s it was
not unusual for a CEO to come to me for assistance in implementing a
well-thought out scheme for improving business. “Here is a new piece of
technology,” he or she would say. “Help me to roll it out. I need to
get uptake, traction, and support. I need this to spread so I can build
capacity, increase effectiveness across the organization.”

Today it is very different. Most of my clients come to me and say
something like, “I want to grow, but I am not sure how. The market is
changing so fast and it is hard to get a grip on what is possible. I am
now competing not only with young, brash contenders who are playing by
different rules, but even with my own customers who are building new
applications and developing better ways of doing things. The market is
in turmoil, too. Most of my clients are dealing with financial issues.
New technologies are disrupting our standard business practices and our
major product lines. And new business models are emerging. Can you help
us through this confusing, rapidly shifting morass?”

I have supported over 100 CEOs in the last sixteen years and learned by
working hand-in-hand with them on really tough issues. By taking the
best of what works across industries and sectors, by identifying the
successful patterns I have identified three distinct activities that
distinguish the road to success:

    1.   
Change the Game
– Become an agent, take an active role as a defining force in your market

   
2.    Generate Value
– Ally with stakeholders to
identify, make full use of and benefit from worthy pursuits

   
3.    Sustain Innovation
– Build an organization
that operates consistently and systematically in the innovation space

The leaders who are getting innovation right develop and master these
competencies.