May 30, 2014


Total Football and Corporate Innovation

Soccer fans would remember the time long, long ago when the starting formation of a team was the classic pyramid 5-3-2.

Five forwards

Three halfbacks

Two fullbacks

Essentially 5 in forward positions and 5 in defense. The roles were clearly defined. The fullbacks will clear the ball from their own area. The halfbacks will collect the cleared ball and feed the forwards. The forwards will score goals. This was more or less the universal formation used through-out the soccer world. Many other formations followed. The most successful of these was the 4-2-4 formation introduced by the Brazilians. However, the three layers remained. Skills and roles continued to remain specific.

Then in 1974, Netherlands dazzled the world with the concept of Total Football. The team had a formation, of course, but there was no designated player for a position. Depending on the flow of the game, a player would move into a role (an attacker, or a mid-field or a defender) as per the demands of the play. Others of the team would move positions to adjust accordingly. Each player (except the goalkeeper, of course) would be capable of taking on any role. This was sheer poetry in motion, besides the fact that the team achieved unprecedented success.

It is interesting to note that corporate innovation teams are currently structured as an equivalent of the 5-3-2 formation. Time to change to Total Football. Let me explain.

A typical ‘innovation group’ of any company is structured as follows:


Innovation Champions


The ‘Innovators’ are the pure hard-core techies and need the ‘Innovation Champions’ to convince the Sales of the need and value of the innovations. The Sales then package the innovations and take these to the clients. As a result, the ‘innovators’ are isolated from the client world. The ‘innovators’ now depend on the ‘Innovation Champions’ (and sometimes Sales) to understand which innovation is likely to gain traction; keeping an eye on trends gleaned from literature and technical forums takes one only so far. Very often, the ‘Innovation Champions’ and the Innovators report to different heads with their own set of performance measures. Reminds me of the 5-3-2 formation.

The alternative?

  1. Merge the ‘Innovation Champions’ and the ‘Innovators’. There is no better champion of innovation that the innovators themselves.
  2. Designate some of the Innovators to play a more integrating role. This can be done by rotation, if required. Or, the Team Leads could be these Designated Innovators.
  3. Designated innovators will divide their time between getting their hands dirty (or, in other words, being part of the innovation team), and travelling to the client location along with the sales team, including making cold calls, if required.
  4. Sales and Designated Innovators will hunt in pairs.
  5. The Designated Innovators will bring the much needed field news back to the innovators.
  6. These Designated Innovators will carry performance measures that have elements of both sales and innovations.

Techies can also be good sales persons, you know. Read more about innovative software products and services,here