In looking through my business and creative library for ideas for this fall's Upstream Seller Forum Leadership event, I came across The Imagination Challenge by Alexander Manu, which my good friend John Durham gave me a decade ago. I immediately recalled one of the great stories of innovation contained in the book.
For a couple of millennia, the high jump had been pretty much executed the same way. The jumper would approach the bar straight on and then execute a straddle jump, in which the lead leg and arm are thrown over the bar and the back leg and arm follow. The jump would end with the athlete landing in a shallow sand pit. If you saw film of such a jump today it would look archaic - much like the underhand free-throw or the straight on placekick.
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In the early 60s, foam rubber was developed and, in a nod to athlete safety, sand pits were replaced by foam landing pads in the pit. To most jumpers, this meant fewer sprained ankles and broken wrists. But one jumper - Dick Fosbury - took a deeper look at this innovation: he asked, "What is now possible?" Fosbury realized that the new landing surface would also prevent broken necks, allowing for an entirely different approach to the bar. Inventing what was then called "the Fosbury Flop" - and what's now simply "the high jump" - he ran to the bar, turned his back on it, cleared it backward, kicked his trailing legs up, landed on his back and neck in the foam pit - and blew apart two thousand years of a sport's conventional wisdom.
What relevance does this story have in our world? More than you might imagine. We are constantly confronted by massive innovation: real-time, data enabled marketing...programmatic audience buying....cheap and plentiful broadband access...social and sharing technologies. These are the foam rubber of our age. A great many of us take these innovations in stride, going about the business of what we already know and do. Some wring their hands or curse the fates for bringing so much unwelcome change. Other might make some subtle changes or adjustments to the new reality, all with the goal of protecting their own status quo.
Rare, though, is the modern day Fosbury, who looks at the newly disrupted landscape and asks, "What is now possible that wasn't before?" Innovation and disruption are not the sole province of the Jobs, Gates, Pages and Brins of the world though. We can all stand a little reinvention...and we're all capable of it. Take the leap.
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