The Mission Viejo Nadadores swimming club in California holds the record for winning the most team titles in the USA (an astonishing 47 titles!). It propelled itself into fame when, at the 1984 Olympic games, its athletes won 13 medals, including 10 gold. Mark Schubert, the former head coach at the club and former USA Olympic Team Swimming Coach in 1980, 1984, 1988, 1992, 1996, 2000, & 2004, is someone who knows something about achieving excellence (consistent superiority of performance).
Interestingly, what underpins achieving excellence in swimming is not dissimilar to what underpins achieving excellence in innovation (or in many, many other things!). What is often surprising to people however, is what underpins excellence, whether it is in swimming, innovation, scientific research, or anything else. And that is doing lots of little things – lots of mundane things – exceptionally well. The difference between the person or organisation delivering excellence, and the person or organisation just one tier below, is rarely a big secret that no one else knows even exists; it is typically that excellence is being achieved because the little, mundane things are being done exceptionally well.
Mark Schubert, when asked about the coaches from all around the world who, every week, visit the Mission Viejo training pool, said this:
“They all have to come to Mecca and see what we do. They think we have some big secret. But of course there is no secret; there is only the doing of all those little things, each one done correctly, time and again, until excellence in every detail becomes a firmly ingrained habit, an ordinary part of one’s everyday life.”
We see this phenomenon playing out in innovation every single day. Organisations which talk the talk and do some of the important things really well, fail to consistently execute on the mundane things, and as a result, they don’t achieve innovation excellence. They’ll happily run a sprint or a hack day; they’ll even go on a tour of Silicon Valley to learn Google’s “secrets of innovation” but they don’t put the focus where it really matters: on executing on the little, mundane, but critically important things consistently. It is somewhat understandable: mundane little tasks are rather… well, mundane!
Importantly, as my colleague and Organisational Psychologist Astrid Snippe would hasten to add, there are critical links between motivation and mundanity. And the psychological challenge is to maintain mundanity. But we certainly don’t have time to get into that here!
What I would encourage you to do however, as even a first step in the right direction, is to start to become aware – develop a list – of the important little, but mundane things which need to be done consistently for you to really achieve innovation excellence. You might like to categorise these things into the 4 areas in the innovation hierarchy of needs. Seems like a mundane task huh? (See what I did there).
If you would like to have a chat about getting all the important little mundane things done well in your organisation, or anything else innovation, I’m always up for it: firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ve seen it all before and we can certainly help with getting some important, key things in place! Oh, and if you would like a copy of the innovation hierarchy of needs white paper, just let me know and I’ll flick a copy your way.