Swarm Vision: The Moneyball of Innovation

For years, baseball scouts and managers relied on vague, untested data along with their gut hunches about which player prospects would pan out. Michael Lewis’ Moneyball, and the eponymous film, detailed the story of the data revolution in baseball.

Lewis wrote about how one team, the Oakland A’s, used a data-driven approach to evaluating baseball talent. The result was that the A’s, a small market team with a payroll dwarfed by big market teams, were able to find hidden talent for cheap and win.

The similarities to Moneyball struck me when I first heard of Swarm Vision, a SAAS platform that allows companies to discard an outmoded, unscientific approach to innovation in favor of a skills-based assessment that identifies team members with strong innovation skill sets.

Business leaders can then use Swarm to build stronger innovation teams and upskill employees on their innovation process. Crucially, Swarm is powered by a large, multiphase research project that uncovered the skill sets of successful innovators.

I was particularly taken by three ways that Swarm Vision is the Moneyball of Innovation:

  1. Data Beats Hunches. For decades, baseball scouts were stuck in an unreliable method for finding the best prospects. Often, prospects were said to have a “winning look” or scouts had “a good feeling” about a prospect being a star. As a result of this subjective approach, many efforts to find a future baseball star failed. The Moneyball method that the A’s employed blazed an alternative route that uncovered inefficiencies in the market. The A’s brain trust determined that vague categories like ‘pedigree’ and ‘winning instinct’ were overvalued, whereas specific, measurable categories, most famously On Base Percentage (OBP), were undervalued.By shifting to specific measurable categories, Moneyball allowed the A’s to acquire better talent for less than major market teams still relying on the vague old metrics.Swarm offers companies the same opportunity in talent acquisition and selection. Instead of relying on vague, anecdotal assessments of talent, companies can gain rigorous insight into the innovation skill sets of potential hires and existing employees.
  2. Find Hidden Talent. One memorable figure from Moneyball is former A’s first baseman Scott Hatteberg. Hatteberg had suffered nerve damage in his arm and was written off as a lost cause by most teams. The A’s, liking his OBP, signed him to play first base (even though he had been a catcher for his entire career), and he became a key member of their team.In the corporate world, creativity is often used as substitute for innovation.Team members on innovation teams are often selected based solely on their creativity expression or aptitude. In its research, Swarm found that skills associated with creativity only make up one of eight innovation strength areas.Highly successful innovators, against conventional wisdom, are very comfortable with the financial implications of their innovations and often see financial reward is a driving motivation for their work. This is like mistaking Hatteberg for a “lost cause catcher” when he was actually most valuable for his OBP.

    Swarm gives companies a chance to widen their lens in identifying talented innovators that may not fit the traditional (and overly narrow) picture of an innovator.

  3. Create an all-star team. Before the 2002 season, the A’s were in a predicament: star first baseman Jason Giambi had signed with the Yankees. Signing another star of his caliber wasn’t an option because they didn’t have the money to sign one. Instead of focusing on the quixotic hunt for a new star, the A’s decided to use their data-driven approach to focus on building the best complete team. Though they would have taken a star, they instead built a well-rounded team of undervalued players to replace Giambi’s contribution. They finished the season in first place in their division and set the then record of 20 consecutive wins.Likewise, with Swarm Vision, companies don’t have to rely on one superstar innovator. Because you can evaluate the overall skill coverage of an innovation team in addition to the skills of each individual team member, you can build your own innovation all-star team from individuals who each have a one or two of the 8 skills.Like the A’s have done in baseball, Swarm has pioneered a new approach to an old problem that allows enterprise companies to improve the quality of their innovations, avoid disruption, and transform from the Industrial Age to the Innovation Age.

I love this quote from Jeff Passan’s 2018 article explaining Moneyball’s impact 15 years later: “Eventually teams would have understood that running a baseball-operations department purely on subjective decision-making was malpractice. “Moneyball” just hastened the process. It said teams were making their championship drive in a Model T, and it came with receipts.”

Are you leading a business, attempting to successfully innovate, and still using “gut instinct” instead of data informed methods for identifying innovation talent? If so, it could be time to emulate the A’s and trade in that Model T.

Swarm Vision takes away the subjective bias and implicit, often wrong, assumptions about which professionals will thrive in an innovation role. Company after company, we’ve seen it add a level of rigor and intelligence to resourcing corporate innovation.

Southern Growth Studio is an Insight, Innovation and Strategy consultancy in Memphis, TN and the leading channel partner for Swarm Vision in the United States.