For my family, baseball is not traditional, it is a tradition. My dad's love for the Yankees is known by all, and the time spent with him learning how to keep score and anticipating the thrill of a homerun, make up some of the best memories I have. Of course, the fact that I married a die-hard Red Sox fan is still a point of contention after twenty-six years. But the game itself is very traditional, change is not welcome, and preserving America's favorite pastime is something taken very seriously by those with any say-so.
Where Does Innovation Fit Into This Story?
It doesn't. Which is what makes this story so important. I first wrote about Grady Phelan, founder and inventor at ProXR, around 2013 in one of my early blogs, and I caught up with him again recently because something amazing just happened. Red Sox player Hanley Ramirez hit a 117 MPH, 432 foot shot over the wall, breaking a Fenway Park record... and he was using a ProXR bat.
What's the Difference?
ProXR touts their designs as being ergonomic, safer, and cost-efficient with the ability to save the MLB millions of dollars by preventing common hamate injuries. So why did it take Phelan over ten years and all of his savings to get the MLB to listen up? Because sports industry is no different than any big industry, and as Phelan put it, "It's like pushing string up a hill, attempting to bring change to age old honored traditions." The same is true in business, so this inventor's story should make us both celebrate the homerun, but also heed the warnings below, as Phelan recalls his biggest strikeouts and lessons learned.
Everything will take more everything. Hundreds of thousands of dollars, and a decade later, Phelan says he wishes he would have made a plan of the amount of time and money he needed and then multiplied that by five. There were costs he never could have anticipated, which he admits, and this is one of the reasons I always recommend bringing in an expert. Phelan has taken this trip mostly alone, and while it is commendable (especially given his progress) it is also risky, and part of the reason I offer the advice and content that I do. I know what it feels like to risk everything and then wait, fingers crossed, dotting i's and crossing t's, to make sure my business partner/husband and I could put food on the table. Bringing in an expert might cost your startup in the beginning, but the costs it could save you later in the process, which is too late for some startups, is invaluable.
Big industry needs innovation but resists it. "I knew I really had something and it seemed like everyone else knew I really had something, but that still wasn't enough to gain traction," said Phelan. Refer back to number one on this, everything takes way more time than you might imagine, even when you are onto something that could innovate an entire industry, or historical pastime. If you plan to be an innovator, and carve out a new path, plan to walk that path alone for as long as it takes. You might feel like you are pushing string up a hill, but you'll feel that much more validated when you reach the top.
Validate internally first. Because of the resistance, it's going to be tough to get others to validate your invention or product. To counteract this, you can validate internally first, before you ever attempt to go to market or industry. Phelan did this by learning all of the standard rules and regulations for the design of a bat the MLB and NCAA would accept. Using those standards, he designed something he knew wouldn't be called out because of a design flaw or something simple he overlooked. Don't rush and overlook research. Don't let simple mistakes take you out of the game. Validate every single piece of your design/product that you possibly can, test it, and then validate some more.
Ask why, a lot. The first "why" will lead you to other "why's", and eventually you will have unraveled the entire ball of string you will eventually push up the hill. I have watched so many innovators avoid the "why's" because they are so ready to go to market, when really, those "why's" give the answers we need to make sure we are being truly innovative. Don't hide from potential change, information, and growth. Ask why, and when that answer presents itself, ask why again.
Rounding Home Plate
Strikeouts are more common than homers, and good hitters are not immune. A chance in the major leagues doesn't come from being good. It comes from being prepared, from showing up and being relentless- day in and day out, from fearless curiosity, and from running the bases as many times as it takes to let everyone else know you mean business.