Change Management and High Jump

Dick Fosbury is one of the most influential athletes in the history, he completely revolutionized the high jump event, inventing a unique “back-first” technique, now known as the Fosbury Flop, adopted by almost all high jumpers today. At the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, he took the gold medal and set a new record.

The high jump is a good example of changing the way we think about progress and became a means for improving performance.

The athletes jumped before Fosbury using this technique:

High Jump

And this is the Fosbury Flop:

Fosbury Flop

What did we learn about this process?

  • It was not easy: Fosbury took 5 years in getting to the top of the innovation curve, at this point he was ready to compete. Changes within companies are difficult to implement, and returns are not achieved in the short-term.
  • It was easier the status quo: The straddle technique was being used for centuries. While implementing major changes within the company, the resistance is though.
  • There are always detractors: The USA Track & Field took more than 6 years to recommend the Fosbury flop, even knowing that technically it was superior to the straddle method. The investments in transformation, change and innovation are always criticised, but even today where there is a credit crunch and the global recession.
  • Change was not quick: The Fosbury Flop took a decade to start being used by the athletes. Companies usually take too much time to  assimilate the transformation produced by innovation projects. Complex and major projects are taking more time than planned.
  • It was efficient and gave results: By using the Fosbury Flop the jump records increased by 10 centimeters.
  • Change or die: Everyone who decided to ignore the innovation couldn’t compete

Reducing the gap between the theoretical best practice and even the demonstrated best practice is almost always a question of changing the existing way of thinking about how to increase performance.

This illustrates the idea that people can not simply be told to accept a new way of doing something, even if it will make progress happen.

People need to experience for themselves how adopting a new process will be beneficial and have to be taught this in a way that it makes sense to them.

10 thoughts on “Change Management and High Jump

  1. Rick Maurer January 23, 2012 / 6:21 pm

    Carlose –

    Great story. The focus of my work is resistance to change in organizations and I am always looking for good examples. You’ve just given me one. Thanks.

    • carloselopez January 23, 2012 / 6:51 pm

      Thank you Rick for your comments. I have presented this story to the Change Director at the company I consult, we have used this simple case study to illustrate a great success story in a common and simple language. I will have a better look at your blog, it’s very helpful as well.

  2. Hugues Desesquelles April 10, 2015 / 2:27 pm

    ‘The straddle technique was being used for centuries’
    Wrong: the straddle technique had hardly been used for more than 20 years when Fosbury came into light. Before that, athletes would jump in s.c. coastal or scissors styles.

    ‘By using the Fosbury Flop the jump records increased by 10 centimeters’
    Wrong: Fosbury’s personal best was 4 cm lower than V. Brumel’s straddle record at the time. The performance increase after Fosbury is mainly due to the introduction of new materials (in both take-off and landing areas) and training techniques.

    ‘Everyone who decided to ignore the innovation couldn’t compete’
    Wrong: In 1977, V. Yaschenko straddled a new outdoor World record at 2.33m during a USA vs. USSR competition in Richmond. He went on to win the European Indoor Championships in Milan the next year with 2.35m and finally broke the outdoor World record again in Tbilissi with 2.34m that same year.

    All in all, what the Fosbury case actually shows is that s.c. ‘change’ may rapidly become a habit, if not a dogma, and finally a dead end (the high-jump World record has not moved since J. Sotomayor’s 2.45 m back in… 1993!).

  3. Carlose Lopez April 10, 2015 / 2:37 pm

    Hi Hugues thanks a lot for the well documented correction; I wanted to write an analogy on how change can drive innovation, improvements and how people react.

    • Hugues Desesquelles April 10, 2015 / 2:58 pm

      Hi Carlos, thank you for accepting my post. I know it goes a bit against the tide, but my point was (and is) that past innovation may rapidly convert in today’s blockage. Taking the high-jump example, I am convinced a return to the straddle technique (at least for thoses athletes with adequate body capacities) may help take the record to new highs and rekindle the sport alltogether.

  4. Hugues Desesquelles April 10, 2015 / 3:51 pm

    Now, back to management, it means that change is a continuous, ongoing process and should always be reversible, no matter the past investments. Take a global player that invested heavily on a large scale ERP at the turn of the Century. It should not be prevented to return to leaner, more decentralized organization modes like those rendered possible by modern cloud technologies

    • Carlose Lopez April 10, 2015 / 4:20 pm

      Totally agree Hugues in a changing world, a good strategy must have an entrepreneurial component. That is, it must embody some ideas or insights into new combinations of resources for dealing with new risks and opportunities.

      • rick maurer April 10, 2015 / 5:15 pm

        Please take me off your mailing list. I have received a dozen emails and my request to stop comments to your post isn’t working. It hate to do this, but I am getting too much email thanks

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