Disrupting the Olympic High Jump

A height of 2.38 meters was cleared to win the 2016 Olympics gold in high jump. However, a jump of only 1.90-meter leap won the high jump Olympic gold medal some 100+ years back at the 1900 Paris Olympics. How is this possible? How come that within 100 years humans got more ‘jumpy’ and powerful or was it something else?

A single picture sometimes is worth a thousand words.

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Richard Pascale used the high-jump event over time at the Olympics to explain non-linear change. In high jump, over this time period, there have clearly been 4 distinct shifts that have disrupted this game. Since 1896, the scissor style dominated and this technique won Olympic gold medals till the 1908 Olympics. Someone then came up with the idea of a Western Roll. With this technique, high jumpers took off and landed on the same foot, with their chest facing the bar. Starting in 1924, for the next 24 years, only the Western Roll fetched the gold medal. Scissors had become obsolete-a thing of the past. Then another shift in high jump occurred when someone introduced the Straddle that won gold medals at the Olympics till 1964. Then in 1968, Mexico City Olympics, a young unknown American athlete, Dick Fosbury, came along and created another disruption in high jump with the “Fosbury Flop” and broke the Olympic record by three inches!

Here is a video recreating this moment in 1968.




The progression in height cleared in high-jump is similar to the non-linear changes occurring at key inflection points in todays fast changing world. When these sudden changes occur it takes one in a completely new direction instead of a steady incremental change. Albert Einstein’s contribution as a 26-year-old patent office clerk in 1905 (1905: Annus Mirabilis) represents such inflection point in history when a sudden leap in human understanding disrupted existing thinking.

Govindarajan indicates that 80% of the companies that existed before 1980 are no longer around—and another 17% probably won’t be here in five years. Companies that listed before 1970 had a 92% chance of surviving the next five years, whereas companies that listed from 2000 to 2009 had only a 63% chance. “Creative destruction has always been a force to be reckoned with, but in the physical world, the cycles were longer,” Govindarajan says. “In the technology-based sectors, the cycles have accelerated.”

Govindarajan writes ‘Organizations that operate within a short timeframe base their actions on the assumption that their industry is stable and static. But it takes years for large organizations to change directions. If you take this into account, change is rapid and nonlinear. For instance, nanotechnology and genetic engineering are revolutionizing the pharmaceutical and semiconductor industries. Globalization is opening doors to emerging economies, such as India and China, and billions of customers with vast unmet needs. Once-distinct industries, such as mass-media entertainment, telephony, and computing, are converging. Rapidly escalating concerns about security and the environment are creating unforeseen markets. And other, more subtle changes are important as well, such as the trend toward more empowered customers, the aging population in the developed world, and the rising middle class in the developing world.’

As a result of these forces, companies are having to innovate constantly as the only way to stay ahead.

Govindarajan suggests a simple three box thinking model as a framework to facilitate strategic thinking and alignment. Actions companies take belong in one of three boxes:

Box 1 — manage the present

Box 2 — selectively abandon the past

Box 3 — create the future.


‘The high jumpers were operating in Box 1. If they were businesspeople, they would have been competing on cost, market share, and margins. These nonlinear shifts exemplify Box 3 thinking. Each transformed the high-jump “industry.” In each case, the inventive high jumpers were not just managing the present, they were creating the future.’



‘Many organizations restrict their strategic thinking to Box 1. This tendency has been particularly acute in the past two to three years, as most leaders have emphasized reducing costs and improving margins in their current businesses. But strategy cannot be just about what an organization needs to do to secure profits for the next year. Strategy must encompass Box 2 and Box 3. It must be about what a company needs to do to sustain leadership for the next ten years. In fact, the central task of an organization’s leaders is to balance managing the present with creating the future. Examples of successful Box 2 and Box 3 initiatives include: Wal-Mart’s transformation of the discount retailing industry, Apple’s introduction of iPod, and Southwest Airlines’ revolution in the airline industry.’

This would be true for all aspects of human endeavor. Are we getting our kids ready for this new future?






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