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Innovation Is About Harnessing the Gifts God Has Given You

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Innovation Is About Harnessing the Gifts God Has Given You

“Never let the fear of striking out get in your way” — Babe Ruth

Are all great people innovators? What do you think? It certainly depends on your point of view. From a business perspective, innovation is about discovering the future and getting there before the competition. But from a personal perspective, often innovation is about harnessing the gifts God has given you and overcoming the challenges, the fear, the roadblocks in your path and moving towards the future undeterred. That is, putting in the hard work, trying things, putting aside your fear. Or, you could say, innovating in real time.

Consider Babe Ruth, the greatest baseball player of all time* who played his last game 84 years ago. The firstborn son of a rough and tumble Baltimore saloon keeper, he had almost nothing going for him. It was a harsh neighborhood and he was an unruly kid. At the age of 5 he was already uncontrollable and would steal from the local shopkeepers, drink whiskey and throw rocks at the police. At 7 he refused to go to school and despite constant whippings from his father, nothing would get him to change his ways. Feeling there was no alternative, his parents had him declared “incorrigible” and sent him to Saint Mary’s Industrial School for Boys, a combined reformatory and orphanage. His family rarely came to visit him. “I guess I’m just too big and ugly for anyone to come and see me” he told a fellow inmate. [1]

That might just be the end of the story were it not for the Babe’s indomitable spirit and for the emergence of the perfect father figure for him, Brother Matthias, a brawny Irishman who was both the prefect of discipline and the director of athletics at St. Mary’s. Raw talent is worthless without direction, without discipline, and of course without experimenting. And so the Babe tried baseball. He proved to be a natural at every position and under Brother Matthias’ guidance learned to hit and pitch better than any of his peers. At 8 he was on the 12 year old team and at 12 he was on the varsity. In those days, baseball was played everywhere and in Baltimore, Ruth quickly became known as the best pitcher in the city. At 19 he was signed by the Baltimore Orioles.

Sold to the Boston Red Sox soon after, Ruth took to his newfound freedom with abandon. He wanted to go everywhere and of course, try everything! On the field he quickly became the best left hander in the American League. In 1916 at the age of only 21, he dominated the league with a 23–12 record and led the Red Sox to the World Series where he pitched game 2, a win for Boston. Ruth gave up just one run over 14 innings, unheard of today.

Soon after of course, Ruth was traded, this time to the Yankees where he would once again have to adjust, adapt to his new environment and go where his talent led him. The Babe really enjoyed pitching and he was great at it, easily the best left hander in the 1910s in the American League. But on days he wasn’t pitching, he would play the outfield and he found that, while he really liked pitching, he just loved hitting and he could hit a ball farther than anyone else. In 1920 at the age of 25, he hit 54 home runs, 25 more than the previous record. Baseball would never be the same. Legendary broadcaster Red Barber put it this way, “Babe Ruth revolutionized baseball, he changed it… Ruth began hitting home runs and gave baseball its excitement, that changed everything from the ball itself, the construction of the bats, the philosophy of hitting, the philosophy of pitching. Babe Ruth changed it. We don’t realize it today but the game of baseball has never been the same since Babe Ruth began to hit home runs.”

Related: The Future is Out There Waiting for Us to Discover It

The rest of course is history. In his third year not as a pitcher, he held the career record for home runs. He went on to break his own record 577 times. *And about that claim that he was the greatest player of all time, well, Daniel Okrent explains it like this, “When people get in discussions about who’s the greatest ball player in history, they say, well, there was Ruth but there was also DiMaggio, Cobb, Mays, Aaron. To me it seems like an utterly wasted discussion. Let us say that Ruth was not as good an offensive player as Willie Mays. But he was also one of the greatest pitchers ever! It’s like imagining that Beethoven and Cezanne were one person producing the same work. It just can’t be compared to anything else.”

One quality of most innovators is that excitement to try things and that stubbornness to keep trying. As the Babe said, “ It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.”

[1] Burns, Ken, director. Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns. Baseball: A Film by Ken Burns, 1994, www.amazon.com/gp/video/detail/B004L9NDS2/ref=pd_cbs_318_5.
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