If you are a track and field fan, you probably know all about the “Fosbury Flop,” a story that tells a world of things about innovation, persistence and a burning desire to win.
Dick Fosbury was a good high jumper and he seemed to have reached the maximum height his body could clear. But he kept an open mind and began to experiment with every different way a body could be propelled over the bar.
The style he finally developed was different than anyone else had ever seen. The jump is done head first, with the flat of the back clearing the bar and then the knees are drawn up, jackknife fashion. When people first saw him do it, they went away shaking their heads.
But in the 1968 Olympics in Mexico, Dick Fosbury set a new Olympic high-jump record and won a gold medal for the United States. It was a triumph born of fresh thinking and dogged experimentation. Today, many of the world’s best high jumpers base their jumping style on the “Fosbury Flop.”
“Business has only two functions,” wrote management guru Peter Drucker, “marketing and innovation.”
Innovation is what drives our great country. Look at all the great innovative companies, such as Bill Gates’ Microsoft, Steve Jobs’ Apple and Howard Schulz’s Starbucks. These innovative leaders found a new or better way of doing something.
Domino’s Pizza shocked the industry with the original idea of guaranteeing pizza delivery in 30 minutes or get $3 off.
Amway introduced multi-level marketing and turned a garage-based company with a quality product, unique packaging and distinctive labeling into a corporate giant.
LifeSavers mints were a losing proposition until they invented counter merchandising and were prominently placed next to cash registers in convenience stores and restaurants.
Jeans pioneer Levi Strauss recognized the need for looser fitting, yet stylish casual pants and scored a big hit with Dockers slacks.
Other great companies have done similar innovative things. Look at Coke and all its combination of products in cans, plastic and glass bottles. Certainly no list of innovative companies would be complete without Google, Amazon or Facebook.
It’s no wonder my good friend Denis Waitley says, “Innovators anticipate or create a need and fill it.”
Innovations don’t always come from big companies though. I saw a study that listed 61 basic inventions, and only 16 were discovered by big companies. For example, Leo Gerstenzang thought of Q-Tips when he saw his wife trying to clean their children’s ears with toothpicks and cotton balls. And Charles Strite invented the automatic toaster when a restaurant burnt his toast.
Legendary college basketball coach John Wooden changed the pace of the college basketball game by perfecting the fast break and won an unprecedented ten NCAA championships in a 12-year period, many of which I attended. His teams made a lot of mistakes in honing their craft, but mistakes are the essence of innovation.
Innovation can be simply doing something different. For example, the National Bank of Detroit once offered its checking account customers $10 for every error they discovered. This marketing ploy in two months brought in 15,000 new accounts and more than $65 million in deposits.
Estee Lauder is credited with being the first company to offer a free gift with a purchase, helping the company grow substantially. Many companies now do this. That strategy sells an enormous amount of cosmetics.
The Hewlett-Packard Company was famously founded in a one-car garage by William Hewlett and Dave Packard. It has become one of the world’s most innovative and successful technology companies, but it’s never lost sight of its founders’ original vision. According to legend, these rules on innovation were posted in the garage:
- Believe you can change the world.
- Work quickly, keep the tools unlocked, work whenever.
- Know when to work alone and when to work together.
- Share – tools, ideas. Trust your colleagues.
- No politics. No bureaucracy. (These are ridiculous in a garage.)
- The customer defines a job well done.
- Radical ideas are not bad ideas.
- Invent different ways of working.
- Make a contribution every day. If it doesn’t contribute, it doesn’t leave the garage.
- Believe that together we can do anything.
Feel free to borrow these rules until you develop a set of your own. And then post them where you will see them every day. Be innovative!
Mackay’s Moral: Maybe you can’t change the whole world, but you can change your world.