When Dick Forsbury created the high jump technique of the flop, it seemed like a crazy idea to cross the bar with the face looking into the opposite direction.
When Jan Boklöv invented the V-style in ski jumping, it seemed like an inferior approach because of the low style points to be earned with it.
Today, no one can imagine a high jumper using the straddle technique or a ski jumper keeping the skis in parallel.
Like many radical innovations, when they came up they seemed to have less potential than the established techniques, approaches and products.
I remember the discussions I had with developers at some of the leading mobile phone companies back when the first smart phones were created. They were all discussing technical capabilities and features for “the high end users” – some weird imaginary people they didn’t really understand.
Then a company came with a smart phone that was technically inferior, but understood the users, and that company also came up with a solid use case to match it.
Today, the Forsbury flop looks elegant and is performed in a perfect flow. But at its core it helped to jump higher.
Today, even the V-style yields high marks in ski jumping. But at its core it helped to jump further.
Steve Jobs wasn’t afraid of bad marks or coming up with products that were technologically less sound than those already on the market. If they helped to jump higher or further, i.e. if they helped the user and built a great user experience. He knew the products could and would develop further technically over time.
The enormous amount of reactions to his passing shows how Apple excelled in reaching the customers’ emotions, lead by their visionary founder.
I never owned an Apple product, but I profit from their developments, too, as they changed the whole market. And just like in high- and ski jumping we cannot imagine smart phone without touch screens or digital music without well-structured download shops anymore (and there are a lot more examples I could give here).
Looking at Forsbury, Boklöv and Jobs I am thankful they taught me that a great radical innovation must not only aim at developing a successful product or service within one’s own company, but to have the potential to change the whole category, the whole market – to change the game.