“Break the rules, change the game” is the marketing slogan for the Mazda 3 car advert. Check out the Youtube video of the advert at the end of this blog post. This ad features Dick Fosbury, the American high jumper, who invented the back-first Fosbury Flop technique in the mid 1960’s which revolutionised the sport.
He attributed the development of the Flop technique to the fact that he had learnt an old but abandoned technique called the “Scissors” style at an early age. His high school coach wanted him to adopt the dominant style used by most high jumpers at the time called the “Straddle or Western Roll”. He struggled with this style and asked his coach to go back to the “Scissors” technique. He then proceeded to spend the next two years (1964-65) in high school modifying the “Scissors” technique into the “Flop” style using a trial-and-error process.
He would go on to use the “Flop” to win the high jump gold medal at the 1968 Mexico Olympics. The “Flop” would go on to supplant the “Straddle” technique and become the dominant technique in the sport.
Fosbury was able to use elements of the old technique (Scissors) to create a new one (Flop). The “Scissors” style was abandoned by most high jumpers in favour of the Straddle because it was considered inefficient. Yet in the abandoned technique were the elements of an innovative technique waiting to be discovered. It is interesting that none of the experienced high jumpers and coaches were able to conceive the technique until a relatively young, inexperienced high jumper came along.
Fosbury knew enough but not too much to be trapped or cursed by the knowledge of executing high jumps. This is the reason why he was able to come up with an alternative way of jumping while other experienced jumpers couldn’t. Last week, I talked about how the curse of knowledge can stifle innovation or creativity. Fosbury didn’t set out to revolutionise his sport; he just wanted play the game using a style that worked for him.
What abandoned idea in your field or industry can you reinvent or modify into something new?