Gymnastics, like business, is a world of paradigms, in which patterns of expected behavior rule the day.
That's why a UCLA gymnast's non-traditional floor exercise routine has become a social media sensation in the past week. Between her tumbling runs, Sophina DeJesus performs one contemporary dance move after another: the whip, nae nae, hitting the quan, and a dab. This stands in stark visual contrast to the balances and ballet-like movements that gymnasts typically perform between tumbling runs.
The dance moves have made an internet celebrity of DeJesus, a 21-year-old senior. As of noon on Feb. 11, a YouTube video of her routine had received more than 7 million views in the five days since it was posted. Here's DeJesus in action:
For a quick comparison, here's a floor exercise from 2015 by Aly Raisman, who was captain of the U.S. Women's Gymnastics team at the 2012 Summer Olympics.
You can see how DeJesus's dance moves challenge the prevailing paradigms for floor routines.
You might think DeJesus's innovative strategy had the potential to alienate judges of the competition. But that's not necessarily true. "The only time dance choreography would hurt a score is if it was inappropriate or if they considered it sloppy," is what Samantha Peszek, an Olympic silver medalist and a former U.C.L.A. teammate of DeJesus's, told the New York Times. "But most of the time if the entertainment value is in a floor routine, it can only help their score." Indeed, DeJesus scored well in Saturday's competition (9.925), tying for third on her team.
There's a business lesson there, and it's one the global strategy consulting firm L.E.K., a 1,000-employee company based in London, has used to help organizations find new growth opportunities. The lesson is this: Like DeJesus, you can veer from convention in a major way--and make a major splash--without necessarily alienating those who would judge you, be they your customers or, in DeJesus's case, an actual group of judges.
In business, leaders tend to make the mistake of believing every innovation has to be a swing for the fences. Time and again, the consultants at L.E.K. have seen leaders search frantically for "blue oceans" of uncontested market space. What they should be doing, instead, is analyzing their core business for as-yet-untapped growth opportunities, write L.E.K.'s Alan Lewis and Dan McKone in their new book, Edge Strategy: A Mindset for Profitable Growth.
The authors define "edge strategy" as an approach in which you look for new profit sources on the edge of your core business--through ancillary goods and services which already make customers happy. It sounds like common sense. Yet according to L.E.K.'s research, fewer than 10 percent of companies make a disciplined effort to probe the edges for growth opportunities.
DeJesus's approach is classic edge strategy. Her floor exercise is filled with the spectacular tumbling runs that judges are accustomed to seeing--and rewarding. Her innovation comes at the edges of the routine, in the spaces between her tumbling runs. In these in-between spaces, she finds an untapped opportunity to innovate--a chance to dazzle judges and spectators without undermining her team or her scores. Her outstanding results--a superb performance and an overnight bounty of passionate fans--speak for themselves.