Jumping to the Next Level with Nonlinear Change

Point: Breakthrough innovation requires nonlinear changevijaywif

Story: In his presentation at the World Innovation Forum, strategist and Dartmouth professor Vijay Govindarajan used the analogy of Olympic high-jumping to illustrate the non-linear thinking that companies need to make to create breakthrough innovations. The traditional approach to high-jumping until 1920 was the “scissors” approach: jumping over the bar with a scissoring motion similar to what is used by hurdlers. The highest jump possible was about 5′ 3″.
The best approach to jumping higher, however, is to identify the limiting factor in the jump. For high-jumping, the limiting factor is the jumper’s configuration of body parts relative to their center of gravity and to the bar. In the 1920s, the innovation called the “western roll” changed the jumping style from a hurdling over the bar with a scissors kick to rolling over the bar sideways with the jumper’s back to the bar. In the 1960s, the innovation of the straddle changed the center of gravity even further with the jumpers keeping their belly to the bar. And in 1968 the Fosbury flop (invented by Dick Fosbury) changed the motion yet again: jumpers launch themselves straight up into the air using both feet, and then they twist over the bar so that the head clears first.
The challenge for organizations: you can’t win by incrementally improving the incumbent scissors kick if your competitors are inventing the western roll or the Fosbury flop. Breakthrough innovations require removing or changing the limiting factor. This often means breaking old assumptions. Prior to the Fosbury flop, all high jump techniques assumed that the jumper goes feet-first over the bar and lands on their feet. Fosbury jumped head first over the bar to flop on the mat and extended the possible jumping height to over 8 feet.
Action:

  • Document the fundamental limits that seem to prevent further incremental innovation
  • Consider ways to break those limits or bend those limits
  • Examine the “how we’ve always done it” assumptions to find opportunities for radical change

See Vijay Govindarajan’s blog here.

1 Comment »Innovation, Strategy

One Response to “Jumping to the Next Level with Nonlinear Change”

  1. Jerrie Hurd May 8th 2009 at 10:19 am 1

    Very visual discussion of innovation. Thanks for sharing this. Makes one think.

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