The high jump changed forever when Dick Fosbury won the gold medal at the 1968 Olympic Games. Fosbury re-invented the high jump competition with the use of his own “Fosbury flop” method. Instead of using the dominant straddle method, which consisted of jumping while facing the bar, he would jump while turning his back to the bar.
Although it may not seem unusual to your eyes today, in 1968, it was revolutionary. The Fosbury flop is now the only way to fly over the high jump bar. The last time we saw the straddle method at an international competition was at the Seoul Olympics in 1988.
Embrace your constraints.
The old narrative of the high jump had always been “faster, higher, stronger”. But Fosbury was struggling to coordinate all the motions involved in the straddle jump. In his sophomore year, he failed to jump the qualifying height of 1.5 meters for high school track meets. He had to rethink his technique.
Because of his body constraints, Fosbury was inspired to use his knowledge in engineering to figure out a new way. He realized that when you jump with your center of gravity below the bar, you are at an advantage.
Innovation comes when you accept your limitations while using your unique abilities.
Use the available white space.
There are few rules in the high jump. Jumpers must take off on one foot. A jump is considered a failure if the jumper dislodges the bar or the jumper touches the ground or breaks the plane of the near edge of the bar before clearance. That’s about it.
All of the other athletes were comfortably stuck in the old narrative of the straddle method. Their way to compete was more speed, more strength, and hopefully more height. Why change the recipe after all? They didn’t realize that they were leaving white space for Fosbury to innovate and win.
Look in the opposite direction, that’s a good way to disagree with your competition, and that’s where you’ll find your new narrative.
Fight criticism, it’s just a test.
During his high school years, everyone thought Fosbury’s style was weird. One historian has referred to Fosbury’s early attempts as an “airborne seizure”. His college coach himself still believed that he would be better off using the old technique.
But Fosbury was stubborn and his technique began to produce results. After shattering the school record in his sophomore year (2.08 meters), the debate over his technique ended.
You are free to think differently. That’s what most organizations want you to do. At least that’s what they say that they want you to do. But it’s not because you’re free that you will do it. Why? Because it’s a fight. The good news is that when your new narrative will produce better results, it will be hard for people to keep criticizing. So, first, they will test you, and then they will start to believe you.
As you are launching your new venture, your new project, your new product, ask yourself:
What are the common assumptions about the goal that I am pursuing?
What if I couldn’t take the conventional approach?
How could we take the opposite direction and increase our performance?
What is the option that no one is looking at?
Innovation happens when players turn their back to rules that aren’t actually rules. They leave the old narrative to create a new one. That’s literally what Fosbury did.
Bob Welch collaborated with Fosbury on the book The Wizard of Foz and said this:
“Dick literally turned his back on the establishment”.
I am excited to see you forge your own new path and find your next narrative.
Let’s carry on.