I was able to attend a sales kick off meeting a few months back. I’ve been to many of these over the years and always enjoy the opportunity. It was fairly typical, with a half-day of main stage talks from senior executives outlining their accomplishments of the past year and their plans for the upcoming one.

We were coming off 30+ hours of phone interviews with their best performing sellers, talking about their challenges and opportunities, and their customers, prospects, and competitors. Their expertise was deep and varied and our conversations were rich in ideas. In listening to the various discipline leaders speak about their plans for innovation I was struck by the fact that none of them mentioned the field, or many of the ideas we had heard from them.

Missed Opportunity

After reflecting on it a bit I realized that Sales was not usually looked to for innovation around value propositions or business processes that would enrich customer relationships or emerging competitive strengths. But what a missed opportunity.  Sales, by virtue of their location with respect to customers, is closest to the action, closest to the place where necessity mothers invention. So why not look to them? Why not go so far as formalize the process of incorporating their ideas, as early and often as possible, into the game plan?

Surfing the Edge of Chaos was a very influential book for me way back in 2000. A fascinating look at how adaptability in business mimics the laws of nature, I still recommend it today. Consider this bit from it:

“When a complex adaptive system is moved toward the edge of chaos—when hurricanes and typhoons roil the deep seas, or fires rage through forest or prairies—the potential for generativity is maximized. . . The edge of chaos is the precondition for transformation to take place. . . The edge of chaos is the locus of all sorts of innovative activity. . . Edges are important in life; in fact, we are drawn to them. They define a frontier that tells us we are about to venture farther than we have ever gone before. ‘As long as one operates in the middle of things,’ states science writer William Thompson, ‘ one can never really know the nature in which one moves.”

Surfing the Edge of Chaos, Pascale, Millemann, Gioja, page 66-67

So let’s look to Sales to tell us about the edges of our corporate world, the seam that connects our business to that of our customers, where they spend their days. They see it first and they often want it most. Listen to them and you can accelerate both your innovation and your transformation.