In my first blog piece I wrote about the importance of horizon scanning for responsible innovation and how I personally identified Zone7 as being a major technological innovation that will help shape the sports performance environment over the next decade. In this follow up article, I’m going to focus on the challenges of introducing something new like Zone7 and how you can attempt to sustain such innovation within a sports performance environment for long term success.

If you are the person horizon scanning, striving to implement and sustain an innovative change in your organisation, you will almost certainly face significant but not insurmountable challenges to convince people about your intentions and to make the innovation stick.

Firstly, you will need to identify the ‘right people’. If implementing innovative change is new to you, I would recommend that your efforts are focused on the people in your organisation that are curious, receptive, and willing to test your new idea first. Such people are commonly known as early adopters. If you can successfully make your innovation stick with them, you’re on your way to making it a sustainable success.

Communicating directly the why, the how, and the what - a framework referred to by Simon Sinek as ‘The Golden Circle’ is an effective way for you to define this reasoning. Addressing this framework when presenting an innovation will, I believe, allow your idea to best resonate with early adopters and to those that become interested at a later date.

I’ve frequently heard performance professionals from many different disciplines talk about their own innovation failures and I have also personally learned the hard way of how not to do innovation in a sports organisation. When trying to introduce vision and cognition coaching as an innovative training intervention, I failed to build on early curiosity and failed to sustain it because I didn’t clearly define and communicate the why, the how, and the what behind the concept.

At Zone7, I now help those exploring and adopting our technology by using these clearly defined parameters.

Image: The Golden Circle by Simon Sinek

Why

The ‘why’ is recognised as the fundamental foundation to this framework, therefore defining and communicating Zone7’s ‘why’ is extremely important to innovators looking to introduce Zone7 into their environment.

Current methods of leveraging available performance datasets to mitigate injury risk for athletes are laborious, heavily flawed, cause extreme data fatigue, and expose organisations to professional knowledge leak during staffing changes. Zone7’s ‘why’ is to address all the aforementioned pain points by providing a better, more robust way to leverage performance data for injury mitigation.

As Christoph Biermann writes in his 2019 book Football Hackers: The Science and Art of the Data Revolution, “The future of sport will belong to those that not only collect data or who have the best data but those who leverage it best.”

How

When introducing an innovative new solution like Zone7 to your environment, people naturally want to know the ‘how’. This element of the framework can be multifaceted and where the details matter, as people require a lot of deep layered information on how your innovation works, how accurate it is, how valid it is, and how it differentiates from other existing tools or processes.

When explaining the ‘how’ in relation to Zone7, I inform them about the data science behind our product and how Zone7 uses machine learning to detect complex risk patterns in performance datasets that are invisible to the human eye. If I personally cannot go deep enough into these specifics, then I ensure the most appropriate member of the Zone7 team does.

Aside from the technical details, I frequently find myself explaining how Zone7 is different to other business tools that already exist in the sports organisation’s technology stack. With a plethora of data generating hardware technologies and several athlete management data storage solutions available, it is important I spend time articulating that Zone7 really is an innovative new offering as it occupies a different layer of the tech stack altogether as a pure AI driven analytics tool.

Rich gives instructions to players during a training session at Swansea City's Fairwood Training Ground. Copyright Athena Picture Agency Ltd

What

The final element when implementing an innovative change for sustainable success, rests with people clearly understanding what exactly your innovation is going to deliver and the potential positive impact it will have.

Applying the ‘what’ element when introducing Zone7 means I spend time showcasing the end user experience, explaining what information our algorithms provide and what impact the system has had for other users when acting upon the insights.

So What

However, there remains one further aspect beyond the golden circle framework that is critical for your innovation to be a sustainable success and that is what I refer to as the ‘So What’. Making innovation a sustainable success is only possible if the professionals engaging with it find ways in which the innovation can be practically applied for a positive impact.

In Zone7’s case this can relate to whether the end user wants to be data driven or data informed. Regardless of preference, Zone7 facilitates conversations that cross reference subjective opinion with objective data to allow practitioners to make decisions on how to manage the athlete with psychological security. The end result should mean better decisions to minimise injury risk and optimise performance.

Ultimately, when looking to apply an innovation into your sports performance environment, whether it’s with Zone7 or something else, it’s important to make sure that you fully understand and apply the why, the how, and the what but also ask yourself, “So, what?”