Innovation is not always blindingly obvious when we see it, sometime it just looks like madness, and we may question why people are doing it. In fact, if they are doing it on our dime we may tell them to stop, and do something less crazy, something that looks like it may actually be of benefit.

But just because it makes no sense to us, that doesn’t mean that it’s a bad thing. Ever heard the phrase “there’s method in their madness“?

Well, what is being referred to here, is something that looked absolutely crazy to start with, but that might actually not be such bad idea after all.

It’s about an approach which no one considered, because, in all honesty, it defies logic and should have no chance of succeeding, although ultimately it works.

One of my favourite example of this comes from Dick Fosbury, who in 1968 won the Olympic High Jump Gold Medal using a new technique he invented himself.

For the previous 30 or so years, the main techniques in high jumping were the Straddle, or it’s slight variant called the Western Roll, which had seen very few modifications over that time.

Using this technique Fosbury’s best result was 1m 63cm, a whopping 60cm below the world record, which is not what you would remotely call good, let alone world class.

Fosbury, unimpressed with his results decided to change his style.  He came up with an approach that was extremely unorthodox and defied logic. He ran towards the bar on a curving run, and as he approached the bar he turned and tried to jump over it backwards.

This approach looked weird, to say the least, but in one afternoon, Fosbury improved his personal best by over 6 inches (15cm). This made him better, it still didn’t make him world class, but regarding improvement it was a significant step forward.

It showed him that there was actually some method to his madness.  Fosbury continued to practise and in 1967 he had improved but was still only ranked 61 in the world, by the time the 1968 Olympics came around, he was still a relatively unknown athlete, but he persisted with his method even though it was often ridiculed.

Using his new technique, Fosbury not only won the Olympic gold in Mexico, but he also set a new world record of 2m 24cm.

Nobody was laughing now!

In 1968 Olympics Fosbury was the only person using his technique, which was now called the ‘Fosbury Flop’, but since 1972 no Olympic gold high jump medal has been won using any method but this, and today every competitor uses the Fosbury Flop.

Fosbury was a game changer, he revolutionised his sport, and he did it by doing the illogical, the weird, introducing madness into his method, and then showing there was the method in his madness.

When we cannot make the improvements we need, want or desire, then we often need to look at changing our approach. Being more creative, more inventive, and more innovative.

If we just continue doing things the way you have always done them, and expecting different results, now that’s true madness.

We need to open ourselves to new ideas, to new ways of doing things, things that may even look a little crazy. As leaders this is how we drive innovation, not by continuing to do things the way we have always done that, that leads to stagnation.

We need to work smarter, not harder.

Harder will only allow us to achieve the best that that method has to offer, and after a while, this only leads to small incremental improvements.

If we want to make significant improvements, then what we really should be looking for is a different method, even if at first sight it might look a little mad.

Never discount anything because it looks strange or different, without trying it. You never know you may find the equivalent of the Fosbury Flop and be the game changer that Dick

Fosbury was, who allowed his sport to literally jump to the next level.

I’d be interested to hear about any changes in approach you have applied, which at first glance looked like madness, but which went on to have a significant impact on performance?