Are innovators born or made? What makes entrepreneurs tick? What separates them, and why are they different than so many others in society at large? Many look at the great inventors, and product and company founders, and, maybe naturally, feel that these are people that were born with something unique. While natural ability cannot be completely dismissed, innovation is attainable to many more individuals than is generally believed. Mostly, it comes down to desire, circumstance, and courage to act.
One instance: if sports are a microcosm of business and life, there are, perhaps, few examples as compelling as the renowned high jumper Richard Fosbury, from Medford, OR. In the period of just a few short years, Fosbury went from a tall, gangly, high school teenager who was high jumping just 5’4” as a sophomore, to Olympic gold medalist in the 1968 Games in Mexico City. What happened? After many struggles, what made Fosbury take a different route at that critical juncture which author Richard Hoffer describes as “a time in every kid’s life when he confronts his mediocrity and submits to the tyranny of normality. A life without expression; just another guy, not a single trait or talent to mark him in the crowd?” In the case of Fosbury, the difference boiled down to an unusual determination to do what was necessary to achieve – and more specifically a willingness to do buck the old ways of doing things.
Innovation for Richard Fosbury meant abandoning an almost-century old method called the Western Roll – effectively going over the bar face first – to a technique that eventually became the “Fosbury Flop,” which is the standard today. When he first unveiled the technique, it was largely a spontaneous act based on a strong desire to succeed on the heels of a period of non-improvement – and viewed generally as an act of rebellion at the time. Although coaches, competitors, teammates, the media and fans derided his new technique, and tried to persuade him to fit back into the arbitrary “box” that the sport had created for high jumpers, Fosbury was willing to stand up tall and brave for his own way, and eventually bring home Olympic gold. This perversion of acceptable methods brought success, and quickly caught on in the sport. Four years later, in Munich, 28 of the 40 competitors used Fosbury’s technique. By 1980, thirteen of the sixteen Olympic finalists used it. Of the 36 Olympic medalists in the event from 1972 to 2000, 34 used “the Flop.”
The real moral of the story? That normal but flexible and courageous people can do incredible things – regardless of hometown, family, educational background, standardized test scores, or anything else. And that society’s “predictors of success” are frequently wrong. No one was born to be great, and vice-versa. So rise up, open your mind, take the risk to make a difference, and live your dreams. What’s the worst that can happen? Fortune favors the bold. The time is now. Just do it.