Why Not “Flop”?

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“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”
– 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”.

The Straddle Method


The Fosbury Flop

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.

Things Evolve

“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?  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 dissalussioned 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 resistence even in the face of overwhelming evidence.

But one thing seems certain to me…if you don’t “flop” you won’t know will you?



  1. Austin O'Malley  January 4, 2010

    David, I am old enough to recall vividly the Fosbury Flop. Great article. It has me pumped up. If not now; then when. Well it’s now. I would love to set up an appointment to meet with you. E-mail me with appointment times. Thank you, austin

  2. Mindy Seltzer  January 5, 2010

    David, This was a great article. It applies to the counseling sessions themselves as well as to the business aspect. How many clients keep doing the same things over and over, and have the same frustrating outcomes? And then when you discuss it with them, they are able to think with you of new alternatives. Isn’t that Solution -Based Counseling in a nutshell? What a wonderful metaphor.

  3. David  January 5, 2010

    Thanks for reading Austin. I’ll shoot you an email!

  4. David  January 5, 2010

    Hadn’t thought of the clinical relevance Mindy so thanks for the input. It really is true in terms of using a solution focused therapeutic model and applying these lessons for ourselves and in our practices.

    I appreciate the feedback and glad you enjoyed!

  5. Heather Griffin  January 5, 2010

    Good post, David. Here’s a link to an article by Michael Polanyi called “The Stability of Beliefs”, originally published in the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science. It’s a great introduction to M. Polanyi, relevant to your post, and also has implications for counseling models. Enjoy!

  6. David  January 6, 2010

    Thanks for the resource Heather. I’m also going to be purchasing some of the books you recommended during our recent conversation. I’m looking forward to it!

  7. Barbara Jordan  January 7, 2010

    Great blog post (again) David. It’s funny that you wrote about this tendency of doing the same thing over and over again even though it isn’t working (the definition of insanity, by the way). Like Mindy, I see the concepts of solution-oriented brief approach in your metaphor. SBT is one of my favorite theories. If what you’re doing isn’t working, do something, ANYTHING different. If you can identify the “exceptions” to your problems, that is, specifically what you do that’s successful, when and where you’ve been successful, and with whom you’ve been successful, all you need to do is do more of it! It’s so simple yet powerful. This is precisely the approach I take with my coaching clients and the main theme I present in my book. You phrase it quite eloquently with the story of the Fosbury Flop. I like how you apply it to business. But, it applies to our personal lives as well. If anyone reading this is interested in more SBT material, check out the works of Michelle Wiener-Davis, David O’Hanlon, Insoo Kim Berg, or Scott Miller. Well done David!

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