4 business innovation lessons from the America’s Cup

Against all odds, Emirates Team NZ has managed to forge a path to America’s Cup glory. They did it with less funding than competitor syndicates, dealt with arriving late to the America’s Cup in Bermuda, and overcame a capsize in the early rounds that damaged the only boat they had. 

So how did they manage it?

They were innovative – and brave enough to take a different path.

So, what business lessons about innovation can we learn from Team NZ?

1. Learn from missed opportunities

Four years ago, in San Francisco Team New Zealand was guilty of running out of development during the America’s Cup as Oracle clawed their way back from 8-1 to complete a remarkable comeback and defence of the Cup.

It left the Kiwis shattered but vowing to learn from that bitter lesson. This time around not only did they put a massive emphasis on innovation in their design philosophy, but they made sure they had the ability to continue to develop during the event.

In the business world, things don’t always go to plan and there will come a time when you face a challenge. You might lose a big client, miss out on a deal, cash flow might become tight, competition may increase, staff issues could arise – the list goes on.

The most important thing to remember when these challenges arise in your business is to learn from those situations. Take note of what happened, what were the contributing factors, what you learned and what you would do differently if the situation were to arise again.

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2. Plan for the future of your industry

As a group, Team NZ recognised where the bar would eventually get to in sailing based on the technological advances that had taken place, and they tried to fast-track that learning process as much as they could.

For business owners, it’s really important that you spend time planning for the future to make that your business can continue to remain relevant.

Spend time understanding the trends that are likely to impact and shape the future of your industry. The advancement of technology is driving significant change to the way we do business and the rate of change will continue to increase in the coming years.

How has technology changed the way you work? How do you think it’s likely to impact your industry next? Are you an early adopter? What advantage could you have over your competition if you were an early adopter?

3. Be brave enough to innovate and take a different path

Team NZ knew that with the format and direction the America’s Cup has taken they had to be extremely innovative and extremely aggressive with their design philosophy. They recognised that it has become as much a research, innovation and design battle leading up to the Cup as it is a race on the water.

Team NZ replaced the traditional shoulder grinders with innovative cycle posts, and they introduced a very different wing control and foil control system to what their opponents used. They also recruited team members with no prior sailing experience in an Olympic cyclist and an Olympic rower to assist with the team’s move to pedal power.

Businesses that can see and act upon the opportunities for change through innovation in the current commercial environment will not only survive; they will successfully compete and even flourish in the face of fluctuating economic conditions. Innovation provides businesses that are able to foster it with unique selling propositions, a competitive advantages and ultimately sustained success.

4. Continually learn – and strive for excellence

Team NZ focused on the big picture, were dedicated to keep learning and had an unrelenting drive for excellence.

They acknowledged any mistakes they made throughout in their races, learned from them and improved their performance. They got better and better as the campaign progressed and saved their best performances for when it mattered most, in the final of the America’s Cup.

All businesses should be focused on their market, industry and the economic environment they operate in. Continually learning about the products or services you provide through customer feedback is a big opportunity for continual improvement.

Businesses that have the ability to keep improving what they do and strive for excellence will stand out from their competitors and will enjoy loyal and happy customers.

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