Innovation | Leadership Related Services:

Game Changers

At one time or another all great leaders experience something that is so big, so impactful, that it literally changes the landscape. It’s what I call a “Game Changer.” A game changer is that ah-ha moment that creates an extreme, disruptive advantage or improvement. What’s interesting is that the best leaders proactively focus on looking for game changers. Sure, great leaders never lose sight of their core business, they pay attention to managing risk, etc., but they expend far more energy intentionally searching for opportunity, but not just any opportunity – a game changer. In the text that follows I’ll not only provide you with a blue print for finding game changers, but I’ll also ask you to share your experiences and insights as well. I hope this post is a game changer for you…

As most of you know, I spent last week at the World Business Forum in New York. I listened to esteemed business school professors, two Nobel laureates, bestselling authors, and some of the world’s most successful CEOs. These were all people who have personally experienced game changers, and some have experienced them many times over.

While there were clearly a few moments last week that I found instructionally valuable in terms of creating a game changer (Nando Parrado), there weren’t nearly enough of them. There was far too much rehashing of old ideas spun as new. A game changer doesn’t maintain the status quo, it shatters it. It was this taste of disappointment that led me to share my personal process for finding and implementing game changers – I call it SMARTS(C) (Simple-Meaningful-Actionable-Relational-Transformational-Scalable).

Simple – While not all game changers are simple, the best ones usually are.  In most cases simple can be translated as realistic, cost effective, quick to adopt, and fast to implement. Don’t get entangled in complexities, get heavily invested in simplicity.

Meaningful – It must add significant value to your core business, and if it doesn’t add to the core business it better add even more value. Here’s the thing…most leaders get sucked down into the weeds and they spend too much of their valuable time majoring in the minors. If it’s not really meaningful, it’s not a game changer so why do it? Focus on value creation.

Actionable – It’s not a game changer if whatever “it” is never gets off the drawing board. If you cannot turn an idea into innovation, if you can’t put thought into practice, it’s not a game changer. By definition game changers happen, they exist, they have life. They don’t lurk in the shadow-lands of the ethereal and esoteric, they become reality.

Relational –  I have found that game changers enhance, extend, and leverage existing relationships as well as serve to create new ones. When you get down to brass tacks, all business boils down to people (employees, customers, partners, investors, vendors, etc.), and people mean relationships. Real game changers understand the power of people and relationships, and they embody this in both their construction and implementation. If you forget the people, you cannot have a game changer.

Transformational – I have yet to see a static game changer. By definition, a game changer causes change. If nothing changes, if nothing is created, if nothing is improved, if nothing is transformed, then you don’t have a game changer. A lesson that I learned long ago is that you simply cannot experience sustainable improvement without transformation.

Scalable – if it’s not scalable it’s not a game changer. An idea that offers no hope of a future will more often than not turn into a nightmare rather than fulfill a dream.  True game changers are built with velocity and sustainability in mind. The best thing about real games changers is that they build upon themselves to catalyze other accretive opportunities.

So there you have it, now that I’ve shared my thoughts on creating game changers, my SMARTS if you will, it’s your turn to share. Share an ah-ha moment, an experience, a process, but share…This post can be a game changer to many people if those who read it are willing to share their collective wisdom. Go…

You Might Also Like

No Comments

    Dan Rogers

    October 11, 2010 at 12:04 am

    Mike –

    This is a great post with excellent perspective. I plan on circulating your information and just ordered your book.

    Wally Bock

    October 11, 2010 at 5:44 am

    Fine post, Mike. I agree with what you’ve said, but I think there are two other components and they are more on the emotional side of the ledger.

    The analysis you describe seems to me to happen after a flash of insight. One example from my latest book, Ruthless Focus, is Staples. Tom Stemberg and Leo Kahn got the basic concept quickly, but it took a lot of work afterward to flesh out the concept and make it go.

    The flash and analysis don’t always result in a win, even if the idea seems to meet your criteria, so another key behavior of winners is that they keep trying. Flash-analysis/trial again and again until it clicks. Consider John Ferolito and Don Vultaggio working through one “game-changer” after another until they hit Arizona Iced Tea.

    The way I view the process it’s something like this. Flash of inspiration. Quick analysis (like you’ve outlined) Live trial. Adjustments or adjournment.


      October 11, 2010 at 8:40 am

      Hi Wally:

      Thanks for your insights, which by the way, I tend to agree with. As you'll note in the post above I stressed that the best leaders proactively seek out game changers with speaks to persistence. Your thoughts about adjustments or adjournment are absolutely spot-on. Thanks for sharing Wally.

    Becky Robinson

    October 11, 2010 at 6:10 am

    Mike, the first thought that came to my mind is social media. Leaders who leverage social media successfully for their organizations can bring about great change. Organizations can use social media to connect more effectively with customers (both internal and external), improve service and responsiveness, and monitor perceptions of their brand. Interacting through social media is simple, meaningful, actionable, relational, transformational, and scalable.


      October 11, 2010 at 8:45 am


      You've no doubt pointed out a big potential game changer in social media. I don't think there are too many people left still disputing the potential of social media, and if they are, that speaks more of them than the media. I believe the bigger issue with social media for most organizations is actually transforming it from potential to reality. You pointed out great potential outcomes, but the trick for many companies is creating the necessary paradigm shift in thinking that will allow these outcomes to become reality. Thanks for the astute observations Becky.

        Ben Lichtenwalner

        October 11, 2010 at 11:05 am

        Great points, Becky and Mike, on social media as a game changer. It's not unlike the evolution of the web in general. There's hype, then mild disappointment for many until they learn to track, leverage and optimize the opportunity. I think Social is in the same boat and most organizations are still somewhere between tracking and leveraging. As time passes though, those that do take action will, I believe, see social produce game changing results over those that do not.


          October 11, 2010 at 11:18 am

          Hi Ben:

          I agree with your analysis. It will boil down to yet another version of the digital divide – those who don't get it and don't have it, those that don't get it but have it, those that have it but don't get it, and those who have it and get it. Same song, different. verse. Great insights Ben.

    Dan Rockwell

    October 11, 2010 at 6:10 am


    I love the passion permeating this post and agree that leaders are always spying for the game changer. Thanks for laying out key success factors.

    In addition, you mention game changes are “relational.” Leaders focused on products, profits, processes, and procedures are aiming too LOW. It is about people. Vision is always about people not things.

    Here’s my own experience of BLOCKING personal game changers in my life. When I was young I was taught a lie. The lie = success is about doing/being the best you can be. Success will come if you pursue excellence. In my opinion, thats not true. I blocked my own game changers until I added vision to the mix. Being excellent is an excellent idea but without vision excellence alone won’t change your game. It only makes your current game better. For what it’s worth…

    Thanks for sharing your great insights.


    Leadership Freak,
    Dan Rockell


      October 11, 2010 at 8:49 am

      Brilliant…I tend to concur. I have always felt that excellence without vision is opportunity wasted. Never losing sight of the big picture, and always making sure that there vision alignment exists in all pursuits is what separates the game changers from the ordinary. Thanks for sharing Dan.

      Ben Lichtenwalner

      October 11, 2010 at 11:08 am

      "Vision is always about people, not things" – Love that and could not agree more.


        October 11, 2010 at 11:37 am

        Agreed…people matter – things don't. Understand this principle and you'll have access to all the things you want, or don't want as the case may be. Miss this one and not only will you not get the rewards, but you'll be very lonely as well.


    October 11, 2010 at 6:23 am

    Hello Mike, another great post and this one, like others you write, makes us think.

    The greatest game-changer for me came in the year 2000. I had been full time in ministry for 15 years and met a minister from Frisco, Texas. I visited his church on numerous occasions. I was so impressed with the detail in every service and the great way they set the environment they wanted.

    The churches I had previously worked with operated from the the philosophy this is church, and if people want it they will come. The game changer for me was the importance of setting an environment that people enjoyed and enhanced their spiritual experience. It took my personal church from a 100 to hundreds and headed to thousands. It was a game changer!


      October 11, 2010 at 8:52 am


      You point out such a critical issue that is lost on many – environment matters. If people are not comfortable, if their needs aren't met, if they don't feel important, safe and cared for then it will be difficult to accomplish anything special. Bravo for recognizing this and incorporating it into your services. Thanks for sharing Tom.

    Dan Collins

    October 11, 2010 at 7:56 am

    You must have been sitting in on our meetings here. This has been the topic of conversation for the last couple of weeks. Your smart acronym is very focused. Game changers often create dramatic cognitive dissonance, as well they should, and the challenge from my perspective is in stimulating innovative ideas that compliment existing strengths yet are ‘out there’. The tendency is to focus on incremental improvements to existing products, processes and programs. Would you agree that a game changer by definition is not incremental?


      October 11, 2010 at 8:58 am

      Hi Dan:

      Your contrast of incremental vs disruptive is an important one, and yes, I agree. Incremental improvements are good business, while disruptive innovation is great business – a game changer. I look at incremental improvements as a necessary part of day-to-day operations, and a necessary component of keeping things current. Incremental improvements, while important, maintain the status quo, or at least attempt to. Disruptive innovation is the game changer that shatters the status quo. Thanks so much for sharing Dan.

    Liz Strauss

    October 11, 2010 at 7:56 am

    You're always pointing to game changing ideas and true insights into how leadership can affect growth. I particularly like your sensible and simple "realistic, cost effective, quick to adopt, and fast to implement." <– that's my test of a great idea. The longer we consider it the more it fits that definition you just outlined.


      October 11, 2010 at 9:03 am

      Thanks for the kind words Liz. I have found that great leadership is always the best catalyst for growth. You insights and observations are always appreciated.

    john baldoni

    October 11, 2010 at 10:28 am

    Excellent post, Mike… Wonderful thinking. So let me propose the defining game changer which is one all good leaders practice regularly: know what you can do, what you cannot do, and know what you need to focus on to achieve your intended results.


      October 11, 2010 at 10:35 am

      Thanks for the insights John. You and I tend to be on the same page when it comes to the importance of focus. I'm always reminded of the old saying: "the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing." Thanks for sharing John.

    Bret Simmons

    October 11, 2010 at 10:39 am

    Your assessment of The World Business Forum is very fair. The speakers were amazing, masters of their craft, but I too personally learned very little new stuff.

    I reviewed a draft copy of a book on the flight to/from NYC last week, and the author's premise is you have to be able to recognize when you are at a significant turning point in your life or work, and then be able to take disciplined, leveraged action in response. If you don't recognize the turning point, or are not prepared when presented with the opportunity or challenge, game changing is and will always be an elusive fantasy.


      October 11, 2010 at 10:46 am

      Now we're talking – preparation and recognition. One without the other is better than neither, but independent of one another they will never be as good as both in combination. Wonderfully stated. Thanks Bret.

        Meredith Bell

        October 11, 2010 at 11:48 am

        Bret and Mike, your comments point to a key pre-requisite to experiencing a game changer. Your mind has to be conditioned in advance of the ah-ha moment in order to recognize such a moment when it occurs. Many things prepare the mind, including vivid visualization/imagination, prior personal experiences (both successes and failures), and learning from the experiences of others. Seeing and embracing the possibilities allows you to then kick into the SMARTS process that you so eloquently outlined.


          October 11, 2010 at 12:11 pm

          Hi Meredith:

          You're the first to raise a significant point that can influence game changers – failure. I have found that a significant failure can heavily influence mindset/outlook, such that in some circumstances it can be even more impactful than success. Thanks for reminding us all that failures can be meaningful stepping stones to great accomplishments.

    Ben Lichtenwalner

    October 11, 2010 at 11:25 am

    Under Simple, I like how you framed this: "In most cases simple can be translated as… fast to implement." To me, that is a key source of many game changing opportunities – ideas that are simple, but take a long time to implement. Especially in public sectors, where leadership turnovers occur every couple of years and results are quarterly based, many executives overlook game changers that take longer than 12 months to execute.

    Another great post Mike, thank you for sharing. On a side note, I added a quote from you above, to the Servant Leadership Quotes (Challenges) page.


      October 11, 2010 at 11:38 am

      Thanks Ben…I appreciate the kindness and the quote. Have a great week Sir.

    James Strock

    October 11, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    Great post, Mike; thanks for sharing. You could do real service writing a book on this topic (are you, by chance?).

    A few random thoughts (I need to keep thinking about the issues you've raised in this post):

    1. Is it likely that you would learn something "game-changing" at the conference last week? You're one of the top experts in the field! If you were to pick up one insight it might well have significant value, all the more if you could scale it via your communications.

    2. If I read your definition correctly, you are limiting game-changers to positive developments or innovations. Is that the only way to think of it? They might well be negative events or prospects that elicit extraordinary performance.

    3. Things that are game changers are often visible but not comprehended. An extreme example: the rise of Hitler. Churchill recognized relatively early that Hitlerism was a game-changer. WSC then rose to become one of the great leaders of history, spurring many others to extraordinary performance. What can we learn from that? The same would apply in the simpler settings we all face in business.

    4. I think that a "game-changer" along the lines you mention may the increasing capacity of companies to create value by advancing the values of their customers and other stakeholders. That is to say: they are finding competitive advantage in what were historically reckoned to be (or ignored as) externalities. Serve to Lead discusses this at some length. I suspect we're just on the surface of the implications of the world that's rising in this regard.


      October 11, 2010 at 5:36 pm

      My brain is really firing after thinking about your comment. Let me address your comments in order:

      1. New book? Yes. coming out for the holidays.

      2. I try and learn something from every exchange. I believe the way to stay on top of one's game is to never feel as if your the expert, but rather the student. Class is always in session for me.

      3. Meredith Bell addressed the negative circumstances as game changers in her comment above. You can see my reply there. I agree with both of you.

      4. I agree that viewing is not the same as recognizing, and that recognizing is not the same thing as understanding. Many a skilled leader has fallen prey to this circumstance.

      5. You last point is also very insightful. I agree that the world is now just starting to reckon with these issues. I wonder if people will like what they see?

      Always fun exchanging thoughts with you Jim.

    Ted Coine

    October 11, 2010 at 4:38 pm

    Mike, a true game-changer for me with my first business, Coine Language School, was when I realized what a niche I had at my feet by sending teachers to companies rather than making the students come to us. It was incredibly simple, very actionable, and couldn't have been more scalable – right down your list, I kept nodding my head as I read. It transformed my business and career. Your SMARTS model is right on the money – and I do mean money!


      October 11, 2010 at 5:40 pm

      Hi Ted:

      Thanks for sharing the story. I'm not surprised at all that you used a similar approach in building your first business. I'm certain you're leveraging those lessons learned in your current ventures as well. Best wishes for continued success Ted.

    Angela Bisignano

    October 11, 2010 at 5:18 pm

    Another insightful post Mike! I appreciate the concepts you have expounded on with SMARTS. I also agree with many of the comments posted today. Additionally, what comes to mind is that many of the most effective leaders also have foresight; that is, they have the perception of the significance of events / opportunities before they occur. This also helps pave the way for game changers to occur.

    A game changer for me was when I took an intentional inventory of my life. It was an eye-opener and changed my life. I really appreciate Stephen Covey’s exercise in his book, “7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. Covey tells his readers to start with the end in mind. This helps bring a certain clarity and perspective to the process. If people are looking for game changers, I’d also recommend personal inventories. Then again, I have a psychological bias.


      October 11, 2010 at 5:46 pm

      Sound advice Angela. Assessments (self or 3rd party) and personal inventories are indeed useful tools for providing clarity and perspective. I rarely let too much grass grow without doing a bit of reflection. I don't care who you are, what your title is, or what season of life you're in, we all need to subject ourselves to critical evaluation to insure that we're not wandering off course. Thanks for sharing Angela…

    Gwyn Teatro

    October 11, 2010 at 5:59 pm

    It could be argued that Leadership is really all about game changing. I hazard to say that those who choose to focus on core business, managing risk and maintaining status quo are largely engaged in management.
    I think too that in order to be alert to those events that create the need or provide the invitation for change, a leader must be open to new information all of the time. To me, that highlights the importance of reading, watching, listening and generally paying attention to what’s happening, not only locally, but also globally. And, in a lot of ways, I also think that intuition plays a role in knowing the when and what of making a game-changing move.
    On a personal level, one of my game-changing moments came when I had to re-apply for my own job. I got the job but not because I was the best candidate. My boss gave me the benefit of the doubt because my behind was already in the chair. But the message to me then was, “you’ve got the job, but…you’re really not good enough”
    It was not a good feeling to say the least and I felt angry and disappointed at the time. But I packed myself off to night school…and weekend school for the next several years until I got good enough, and even better than that.
    In the end, what came from anger and disappointment resulted in something very positive for me certainly and I think for those with whom I worked as well.


      October 11, 2010 at 6:10 pm

      Thanks for sharing your story Gwyn. Few things in life are as motivating as being told you're not good enough. I also enjoyed your thoughts on the power of paying attention to the landscape. Being aware, being discerning, and most importantly, being open minded are the instincts that will lead you to a game changer. Thanks again for sharing Gwyn.

    […] Game Changers by @mikemyatt […]

Leave a Reply

Most Commented Posts