We know the saying “The only thing constant in life is change”, that is, change is inevitable, but we still resist it. The same stands true for the reluctance to do something differently. The reason for this reluctance is “fear of failure”.

Thinking out of the box is a metaphor for thinking differently, unconventionally or forming a new perspective. This phrase often refers to novel or creative thinking.

Some people call lateral thinking out-of-the-box thinking.

Let me share some examples of how this has helped individuals and organisations succeed.

You might have seen athletes who participate in high jump. For quite a long time, athletes used to believe that during the jump, the body should be upright and if one leg crosses the obstacle, the entire body will go over it.

In our childhood, some of us might have done this kind of high jump.

Then somebody thought to do things differently and decided to cross the bar first with the head, and then the mid-section, and then the legs. Though it would have been awkward initially, that became the best way to do the high jump.

In 1968, the Olympic Games held in Mexico was where something extraordinary happened in the high jump. A relatively unknown athlete, Dick Fosbury, prepared to complete his first attempt at the high jump event. As a teenager, he had failed to get into his high school basketball team. Fosbury had failed in his attempts at various disciplines within athletics. He was six feet and four inches tall, hence, he chose the high jump. However, he was not as successful.

Before Dick Fosbury’s Olympic high jump event, athletes relied on three techniques to clear the high jump bar. They were the scissors, western roll, and a straddle jump.

All these three techniques had one thing in common: they were designed to allow the athlete to land safely on their feet after clearing the bar.

However, Fosbury knew that he had little chance of winning against top athletes using these techniques.

He had no choice other than to innovate a new technique for competing at the highest level. He decided that rather than jumping face forward, using the conventional “straddle” technique, he would jump off the “wrong foot”, arch his back, and clear the bar backwards.

Incidentally, Fosbury received heavy criticism from his coaches, and the press, for his unconventional jumping technique (the world doesn’t accept changes so easily).

Reportedly, some local newspapers even called him the “world’s laziest high jumper”. However, such criticism didn’t stop Dick Fosbury from perfecting his new “Fosbury flop” technique, which soon paid off.

Fosbury won the Olympics qualifying championship and thus qualified for the upcoming Olympic Games in 1968, this was his opportunity to display this new high jump technique, and he did not disappoint himself.

Dick Fosbury used his “Fosbury flop” to win the gold medal, as well as to break the record. His innovation totally changed the high jump sport forever.

Within a few years after the Olympics, the “Fosbury flop” had become the conventional technique for a high jump athlete. Since then, every Olympic gold medallist, and record holder has successfully used the “Fosbury flop” technique to win the high jump.

Fosbury’s willingness to experiment with new ideas contributed to his success, but something else also played an important role – his environment.

Of course, Fosbury deserves an accolade for his out-of-the-box thinking, but his school also played an essential role in changing the high jump technique.

Until the early 1960s, high jump athletes used to clear the bar, and land on the hard ground or loose soil, etc. thus, all high jump techniques attempted to ensure that the athletes landed on their feet to avoid any injury.

Forbury studied in a high school, which was one of the first to install a deep foam matting for high jump landing. This cushion allowed Fosbury, to try out new ways to clear the bar, that is, landing on his back instead of his leg.

Thus, there was no way that the “Fosbury flop” technique could have been innovated before the introduction of the foam mats – because the innovation depended on the existence of a foam mat for a soft landing. That is why, the right environment also plays an essential role in the success of a person and institution.

I hope you might have realised now why most of the Olympic medals were won by developed nations.

Excerpted with permission from The Power of Ignored Skills: Change the Way You Think and Take Decisions, Manoj Tripathi, Penguin India.