Outside-IN

Find your Fosbury Flop: Innovating on the fundamentals

Firms don't need to completely upend the way they do their work and serve their clients to benefit from new ideas

Apr 23, 2019 @ 1:53 pm

By Eric Clarke

Last week I had the good fortune to spend time with some of the most forward-looking individuals in our industry at InvestmentNews' 2019 Innovation Summit. Joe Duran, chairman of this year's event, encouraged attendees to look for innovation outside the boundaries of our own four walls. The legendary Mark Tibergien spoke of the need for an industry steeped in investment management to focus on the client experience. Shirl Penney called on us to light the way to better outcomes by improving financial literacy.

If there's one thing to take from the myriad perspectives presented, it's this: Do not assume there is a single path to innovation.

In other words, you don't need to completely upend the way you do your work and serve your clients to benefit from new ideas. I believe dogmatic thinking about what change and new ideas "should" look like can limit what you accomplish, and may discourage some businesses from welcoming much-needed changes.

Instead of pulling up your whole practice or tech stack by its roots, look for ways to innovate on the building blocks of your business. Find a new way to look at an old problem.

(More: Infusing your company with a disruptive mentality)

If you're not sure where to begin, consider an example from the keynote speaker at one of Orion's recent Ascent on the Road events. Business strategist Kaihan Krippendorff spoke of legendary high jumper Dick Fosbury, who made his mark, quite literally, by looking at his technique from another point of view.

In Mr. Fosbury's time, the straddle jump was the dominant style of high jumping: Athletes crossed the bar face down, bringing over one leg after the other.

Mr. Fosbury bucked the trend by crossing the bar backwards. He hurled himself in the air, back to the ground, before thumping back-first against the mat. He called it the "Fosbury Flop." Critics and sports headline writers called it "lazy." Compared to the straddle jump, it looked ungainly and easy.

Then Mr. Fosbury won a gold medal in the 1968 Olympics with his "flop." The critics vanished. It turns out his technique was not only easier, but mechanically superior. Other athletes tried the Fosbury Flop and reached the same conclusions. In fact, 34 of the 36 Olympic high jump medalists from 1972 to 2000 earned their medals using Mr. Fosbury's technique.

Think about what your own Fosbury Flop might look like. How much more productivity and value could you generate if you reexamined the way you generate reports or send personal reminders to clients? How long has it been since you've given serious thought about the tools and methods you use to court prospects?

I don't doubt you've found solutions that work well. But don't let "good enough" shut out your firm's potential for greatness.

Our industry holds up titans like Amazon and Apple as examples of innovators, and for good reason. And it's true that sometimes your business needs to invest heavily in itself to stay competitive. But huge, paradigm-shattering ideas aren't the only way to improve your business. You can reap the rewards of innovation by attacking smaller challenges from new angles and using the tools you already have in a different way.

(More: How continuing disruption drives sustained success)

Eric Clarke is the founder and CEO of Omaha, Neb.-based Orion Advisor Services.

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