“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.” - Albert Einstein
In the mid 1960’s, a lanky teenager named Dick Fosbury was working on his high jump technique with limited results. At that time, the “correct” method for high jumping was known as the straddle method. It’s an obvious technique whereby the jumper approaches the bar head on, kicks one foot up over the bar and then rolls over the bar face down. Fosbury tried and tried to perfect this technique but in the eyes of the high jumping world, he was a below average performer.
That is until Fosbury began wondering if there were other alternatives. He questioned the validity of the straddle jump, and started experimenting with a new approach he thought might be better. Why not use the laws of physics to one’s advantage and approach the bar backwards, twisting the hips in the process so that gravity would do the work for him? His new technique looked ridiculous to most but produced immediate results. Was it against the rules? Most people never even entertained the idea of a different technique simply because they assumed it must be. But Fosbury never assumed.
His performances caught the attention of college recruiters, and in 1965 the head coach for Oregon State decided to offer Fosbury a scholarship with a caveat. Although he jumped a personal best 6’7” to win the national juniors using his new method, the coach informed Fosbury he would need to stop experimenting with his new technique if he was to earn a spot on the roster. Maintaining the status quo was and still is a powerful force. Oregon State’s track and field coach wanted to end the nonsense and transform Fosbury into a “real high jumper – a straddler”.
Fosbury agreed to follow Oregon State rules and his performance suffered. After numerous failed attempts at doing it the “right” way, his coach finally relented and allowed him to perfect his now famous Fosbury Flop.
Three years later, Fosbury, a virtual unknown, won the 1968 Olympic gold medal in Mexico City, and his style sparked a revolution that changed the art of high jumping forever.
In the years since, 18 of 24 Olympic medalists have used the “Fosbury Flop” and not since 1972 has a non-Flopper even placed in the men’s competition. At present, the men’s and women’s world records have approached the eight-foot and seven-foot barriers, respectively, thanks to the Fosbury Flop – an unorthodoxed and often ridiculed technique that is now viewed as a standard of good practice in the world of high jumping.
All of this took place because an awkward teenager saw things differently and chose to test assumptions that were previously viewed as universal truth.
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
- George Bernard Shaw
On some level, we are all well aware that challenging basic assumptions can lead to immeasurable progress. But that path is filled with second-guessing and blind spots. It’s often difficult to see growth and opportunity if you find yourself stuck in an environment that abhors change. To this day, I am pleasantly surprised when someone comes up with a seemingly obvious solution to a difficult business problem. What I find so amusing about these experiences is that the ideas presented are so obvious I am amazed the idea never even crossed my mind. Why didn’t it cross my mind? In many cases it’s because I assumed certain things could not be changed. They were “right” in my mind, and as a result, I was unable or unwilling to question their validity.
So what if you find yourself working in the mental health field and the business systems, funding sources and opportunities aren’t working for you? What if they have you feeling disillusioned and you cannot see a way out? As Tim Ferris, author of The 4-Hour Work Week, points out, “If the recipe sucks, it doesn’t matter how good a cook you are.” Sometimes you need to take the path of the “unreasonable man”.
You may be operating under a particular clinical model, but what if that model were turned upside down? Might you find something new and interesting to explore further?
What if you chose to entertain new ideas for building your business? Ideas you would have thought impossible, unreachable or not worth your time in years prior.
Sometimes the answers come from testing basic assumptions and choosing to walk a different path. It’s not necessarily an easy path. As Fosbury experienced, change is often met with resistance even in the face of overwhelming evidence.
But one thing seems certain in my mind…if you don’t “flop” you won’t know will you?
David P. Diana is a counselor, author, and a director for a behavioral healthcare organization. He writes a weekly blog on sales and marketing for counselors (www.davidpdiana.com)