Innovation: Hotpants vs. The Knockout Mouse

Jan 18th, 2013 | Posted by
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It seems a good time to remind you about our innovation competition, with just over a month to go to our annual Insight & Innovation Day in Boston (more details here).

As food for thought, I’d encourage you to listen to this podcast/videocast that I came across this week. Tim Harford describes himself at as the Financial Times “Undercover Economist” and has a successful radio programme in the UK (“More or Less”) where he debunks the (misused) stats used in the media. If you’re a numbers nerd like me, you’ll enjoy it and you can subscribe on iTunes or on the BBC.

He’s now started another show (or on iTunes) called Pop-Up Economics. The episode I’m referring to is called “Hotpants vs. The Knockout Mouse”. It’s not about banking, but a fascinating tale nevertheless.

I don’t want to spoil the fun (and the reason for the blog  title), but the essence of the story is this.

Team GB’s success at the Olympics at track cycling – they won 70% of all the Gold medals plus a silver and a bronze – was in part due to a man called Matt Parker. Matt has a job called Head of Marginal Improvements. He looks for those tiny incremental changes that make the difference between winning and losing. In short, he is innovating in all but name, with other teams now copying what he implemented.

Tim then went on to talk about the scientist Mario Capecchi. For those of you unaware of Mario, his life story sounds like an improbable Hollywood blockbuster, but is probably the reason the person Mario is. Mario is convinced that incremental changes will only create only create incremental improvements, and that we ought to strive for the achieving the impossible. He was told something was impossible – and he eventually went on to win a Nobel Prize for not only doing that impossible task, but exceeding it to.

The moral for me then is that innovation isn’t one thing, but tackling the problem from both ends.

My entry:

Innovation is about thinking both big and small.

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