Bill Walsh: The Innovator

If you’ve been following my blog it’s no secret that I like to draw parallels between sports and leadership/management.  The greatest NFL coach in the 1980’s, and perhaps of all-time, was Bill Walsh.  Over the course of just over a decade he won three Super Bowls with the San Francisco 49ers, and turned the once struggling franchise into a dynasty.

So what made him and his teams so successful?  Well, first and foremost, he was ahead of his time in regards to offensive football.  Walsh was one of the early pioneers of the “West Coast” offense, which confused teams and defenses for years to come.  Many successful coaches of that era won a lot games running the traditional schemes of the day.  There was nothing wrong running “status quo” offense at a high clip.  But what separated Bill Walsh and his teams was his innovative approach to offense; doing something that no one else was doing in the NFL.

This principle of innovation as a key to success can easily be applied to business.  It is safe and easy to continue with the status quo.  In fact, I don’t believe that there’s necessarily anything inherently wrong with sticking to tried and true methods, and trying to do them well (think “In n Out” burgers).  However, I believe that innovation and trying new things can lead to breakthroughs that safe, or “conventional wisdom” doesn’t easily afford.

It can be risky to try and navigate uncharted waters, and it may lead to an increased risk of failure.  But I believe that leaders can’t be afraid to try new things and to innovate.  This is part of what lead to the rise of Apple and Steve Jobs, or more recently Tesla and Elon Musk. My challenge to you is to take some time to reflect on how you can do something better than you’ve been doing it; look to innovate.  Doing so may lead to a breakthrough that you may otherwise never have discovered.




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