I was a boy during the Olympics in Mexico in 1968, and one of the events that I still remember clearly is the men’s high-jump competition, which was won by the American Dick Fosbury. He was the only one who could jump 2.24 metres on the day in Mexico City, but more remarkably, he was the only one who jumped backward over the bar. Everyone else at the time jumped forward, using the so-called straddle technique, and many had laughed at the lanky student from Oregon who went his own ways. But his new technique made the long-established way completely obsolete on 20 October 1968 – it was quickly abandoned, and soon everyone adopted the new and revolutionary Fosbury flop.

I thought about Dick Fosbury the other day when I was attending a conference about finance, where an expert analyst full of confidence told the audience how the future of banking would evolve over the coming five to ten years. He felt sure about his predictions, because they were based on interviews with hundreds of leading international bankers. And who knows the future of banking better than the world’s leading bankers?

The answer to that is: people with greater creativity and imagination! The point is that if Fosbury had asked the world-leading high-jump coaches how he should jump if he wanted to win, they would have said: ‘jump forward and use the straddle technique’. As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what they did say to all the other competitors, and that was exactly why Fosbury won. The experts believed that jumping forward over the bar was a key condition to winning, whereas it was actually the reason why their athletes couldn’t jump higher.

This story is more relevant to business people than ever before, because right now, the world is changing. Most industries experience new, unknown competitors jumping the wrong way over the bar, yet the incumbents can’t take their attention away from their established techniques and business models. It is difficult to think in new ways and try ideas that look ridiculous, but that’s the price we all have to pay if we want a happy future.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Scan Magazine Ltd.

Nils Elmark is a consulting futurist and the founder of Incepcion, a London-based consultancy that helps organisations develop new and braver dreams.

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