Brain Food: Why business is like ... the Fosbury flop

Dick Fosbury, a virtually unknown athlete at the time, took the 1968 Olympics by storm, winning a gold medal and setting a new Olympic record in the high jump. He'd spent years quietly perfecting a new technique and by '68 he was ready to turn the sport on its head quite literally, ditching the familiar Scissors and Western Roll in favour of his bizarre backward leap. According to his coach, he didn't have exceptional strength or speed. What he had was a revolutionary approach that worked.

by Jenny Harris, Young Businesswoman of the Year and director ofJRBH Strategy & Management,
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Critics said he'd 'wipe out a generation of high-jumpers with broken necks' and parents complained that the Flop was ruining their furniture.

But the more serious resistance came from the US Olympic Committee, which banned the leap for six years.

Fosbury is among those we must thank for ignoring the saying 'If it ain't broke don't fix it'. Why wait for things to go wrong before we try to improve them? Blind acceptance of received wisdom is the kryptonite of innovation.

This autumn a survey found that FTSE-100 CEOs take home a whopping 127 times the pay of their workers, so one might expect they are raising the bar in business as Fosbury did on the athletics field. But Philip Hampton, boardroom veteran and current Sainsbury's chairman, has bravely suggested that huge pay packets discourage innovation. FTSE bosses, he asserts, stand to receive vast bonuses for simply 'achieving targets', removing the incentive to take a risk and strive for more.

If you believe, as Fosbury did, that there is a better way - even the wheel can be reinvented, as Dyson proved with his ball-barrow - then the apathy of others will be your opportunity. Complacent CEOs and corporations beware.


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