The Fosbury Flop — The Innovation Parable for the Day

Like a lot of breakthroughs, the Fosbury Flop looked strange the first time you saw it.  Really strange.
Tom Kelley, The Ten Faces of Innovation

Fosbury and his flop -- this really looked strange -- at first!

For all of the history of the high jump – ok, at least for all the high jumps I had ever seen in person or on television – the jumper would throw himself over the bar pretty much head first.  Until Dick Fosbury won the 1968 Olympic Gold Medal with a jump so different that they named it after him:  the Fosbury Flop.  And now, no one is using the old-fashioned approach.

I remember the field goal kickers of my youth.  They all kicked the same way.  They ran straight ahead toward the football, and kicked it with the front of their toe.

Here’s an oddity – the NFL record is still held by Tom Dempsey.  He kicked a 63-yard field goal for the New Orleans Saints against the Detroit Lions, November 8, 1970.  Here’s the video:

(28 years later, it was tied by Jason Elam with the new-fangled-kick.  And this new-fangled-kick, which looked so strange when it was first introduced, now looks like the norm.  The old kick now looks strange.  Watch Elam’s kick — it’s just after the 3:30 mark in this video).

These are illustrations, parables — reminding us that progress comes from innovation.  Innovation is the ongoing challenge.

Call it what you will – build a culture of innovation, create an environment for innovation.  The challenge is this:  turn every one on your team – which is…everyone… into an innovation team partner.  As Bob Morris reminds us, creativity (coming up with something truly new) its different from innovation (adapting, improving on, what already exists – making it better, faster, more efficient, more valuable, more…).  Creativity may precede innovation. And, yes, there may be few creative geniuses. (although Twyla Tharp says it is a habit that can be cultivated).   But most people can learn to be innovative.

And the attitudes leaders have toward those with innovation ideas and offerings is critical.  Here’s a key paragraph from Kelley:

When a creative individual shows their boss – or even their colleagues – a good idea that’s still a little rough around the edges, people pay close attention to what happens next.  Does the organization build on the idea or ridicule it?  Does management focus on the imperfections or the promise?
I encourage the executives of the companies we consult with to “squint” a little – to ignore the surface detail and just look at the overall shape of the idea.

Here are your questions for the day:

  1. Are you an innovator?  Are you always asking how you can improve on what is?
  2. Are you encouraging the innovators around you – or, do you shut them down with rejections, ridicule, the tone of your voice, even your body language?  The whole group is watching your response to innovative ideas.  Is your response one of “let’s give it a try,” or, is it:  “are you kidding me? – I’m opposed to such ridiculous ideas…they will never work?”

Here are a couple of my observations:  1)   The Fosbury Flop really did look ridiculous – at first!  Not anymore!  And 2)  What is done one way today will be done differently (better/faster) tomorrow.

Since this is true, you may as well be the one to start innovating.




What are you waiting for?  Permission?

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