My neighbor has Hank Greenberg inscribed on one of his balls; he is inordinately proud of this. You might say he’s a fan. The circumstances under which I discovered my neighbor’s asset need not detain us unduly. It was one of the gloomy, frigid, empty-shelf days in the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy’s blitz on New York City, and I needed some sugar.

Executive Summary

The presentation of an inscribed baseball sparks insights on innovation from consultant Karen Morris. The life of Hank Greenberg, whose signature adds value to an ordinary baseball, leads her to contemplate the value propositions that underpin true innovations even in early stages when profit remains elusive. Like Greenberg, entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs everywhere are distinguished by passionate beliefs and statements of purpose, an appreciation of diversity, and the knowledge that money and value are not the same. Other insights: Innovation is about looking at the same thing as everyone else and seeing something more. It also involves discipline, practice, skill—and occasional shots in the dark.

This encounter began as everything important always has—with a question, and that question opened his door. I got what I needed but returned later with a slice of the pie his generous sugar-sharing had made possible. That’s when Benjamin’s balls entered the picture.

Innovation attracts authors like ants to fallen picnic sandwiches. With an ironic intensity that would make Jane Austen blush, a forest-load or two of the assorted literature is neither new nor original. But irony excavates truths, so the fact that innovation commentators borrow and bend, repackage and reposition, fuse and redux others’ ideas reflects the reality that much innovation does too.

“New” does not necessarily matter; new value always does. Our obsessions and common misconceptions of disruption notwithstanding, innovation may be simply moving this to there, applying that to here, combining the otherwise unrelated. In science and in arts, this formula of accumulating and coalescing seemingly unconnected elements for a new purpose triumphs again and again, whether by Einstein or Eminen.

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