A successful flop
“Someone once bet me I couldn’t clear a stuffed leather chair. Not only did I lose the bet, I also broke my hand in the crash landing.”
In attributing these words to anyone, I suspect few would turn to the list of past Olympic jumping champions for inspiration, yet these are the words of Dick Fosbury, 1968 Olympic High Jump Gold Medallist, recalling a college incident. The ‘Fosbury Flop’ has since become the dominant technique in high jumping and as such it is extremely well known. What is less clear, however, is what catalysed its creation.
The truth is, the young Fosbury was not very good at high jumping. His failure to win that bet is just one of many that litter the path of his early career. It was this consistent failure using prevailing techniques that forced Fosbury to try something different – it gave him reason to innovate.
This inability to compete has also bred innovation in football. FC Midtjylland, the current Danish Champions, are the most recent example of a club thinking differently. Their innovative approach, particularly on set pieces and in the transfer market through the use of analytics, helped them to compete, and win, against more established clubs with much greater resources such as FC Copenhagen.
The key difference between these particular success stories, however, is in the longevity of the innovations. In high jump, every gold medal since 1972 has been won using the Fosbury Flop – Fosbury’s approach is the ‘new’ normal. In Football, however, FC Midtjylland are verging on unique. Very few have have followed their lead. It is still early days, and the results are already promising – but will other clubs be required to fail before the Midtjylland way becomes ubiquitous?
The lesson in this is that difficult situations, while troublesome in the short-term, can deliver the ultimate silver lining – innovation which creates lasting value.