The Fosbury Flop: Finding Hidden Efficiency

In 1968 a small town kid named Dick Fosbury set the Track & Field world alight. In a sport with long tradition and set methodologies, he unexpectedly won Olympic gold in the high jump with a brand new technique that became known as the Fosbury Flop; a method that revolutionized the sport and is still used by high jumpers today. Imagine the other jumper’s feelings while competing that year: they’d worked hard for decades perfecting their straddle or scissor method to compete in the Olympic games and an unknown competitor completely surpasses them with a new method. Do you think they were frustrated?

high jump

A big challenge for any business is long-term repetition of a task. It often leads to the “how we’ve always done it” place of inefficiency and blinds staff to better methods. When Fosbury started jumping in that Olympic games the crowd laughed at him for doing things differently. By the time he made his gold medal jump they were cheering him to the exclusion of all other track and field activities going on at that moment. Different can be a very good thing when it brings along efficiency as its partner.

I experienced different this week when my CEO sat with me while I performed a task that I’ve done for over two years. Like all good CEOs he asked a lot of questions and challenged assumptions I made. It was, at times, both frustrating and extremely beneficial. He got confirmation that many parts were done correctly, and I got some excellent improvements to the process that will financially benefit the company immediately and into the future. It was an excellent exercise and brought to mind some broader applications:

  1. What tasks are you performing that are due for analysis because they’ve been performed the same way, often by the same people, for a long time? There may be some efficiencies or cost savings that occur if you simply take extra time to really analyze each step.
  2. If you are a manager, what tasks are your staff performing that you should work through with them to look for improvements? It is not because you are great and they aren’t; often they know the task substantially better than you and should be honored for that knowledge. But challenging assumptions and examining workflow with different eyes can reveal improvements that wouldn’t show otherwise.

Think of it as a late spring cleaning activity. Pick something today, even something small, and really analyze it while you do it. It will take you a little time, but can lead to great improvement. Remember too that people will resist and at times even scoff at change. This is okay if you walk through it with them and explain the process as you go. I’d love to hear about your successes!

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