Jumping Backwards

At 6’4”, Dick wanted to become an athlete, but he was unsuccessful. He was most hopeful about high jumping but didn’t qualify. Dick didn’t give up. The existing high jump techniques at the time were designed to keep jumpers on their feet after the jump. The reason for this was that the pit the jumpers landed in was sawdust or sand. Deep foam mats were replacing the sand and sawdust, but jumpers continued their usual approach to jumping.

Dick shocked the high jumping world by jumping backward. He was called the World’s Laziest High Jumper. But Dick was determined. Using his new approach, he won the NCAA Championship and qualified for the Olympics. He set the world record for high jumping in the 1968 Olympics.

Dick Fosbury is perhaps one of the few Olympic athletes to have an athletic technique named for him. The Fosbury Flop has become the high jumping technique used by every Olympic high jumper since 1972.

Finding new ways of doing things we now call intellectual capital. Think about how wealth has changed over the centuries. We have gone from land to resources to manufacturing know-how to innovative ideas. But ideas alone aren’t the source of wealth, it’s the ability to get these ideas accepted by others.

There are several keys to gaining acceptance.

  • Don’t oversell the idea. People become very defensive when something seems too good to be true. Dick just did his jump and let others laugh at him.
  • Prove that the idea works. You can’t get a patent on an idea unless you can show that it can be reduced to practice. Dick didn’t need a patent, but he did need to win.
  • Show how the idea can benefit others. There is a saying that the most popular radio station is WIFM (What’s In It For Me). That’s how people judge new ideas. The fear of losing out to others can be a great motivator.
  • Have an answer for all the negatives. Ideas always create uncertainty. A good response to doubters is: “I realize that there may be challenges with this idea, but can you tell me the challenges we face if we don’t accept this idea?”
  • Give credit to those who helped you with the idea. Giving credit can be very useful in building allies.
  • See what those most affected by your idea think before you present it to others. The person within 10 ft2 of the work affected by your idea are the experts. You need to gain their approval first.

Gaining acceptance cannot be achieved by mandating it. The one reality about new ideas is that they can always be destroyed by those who are needed to make the idea work. Organizational power has its limits unless people in the organization accept the idea. Dick could have been rejected by a track and field governing, but his innovation was accepted.

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            “No idea is so outlandish that it should not be considered with a searching but at the same time a steady eye.” – Winston Churchill

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