When Archives turn Newsworthy: Cyclo-cross’s disruptive innovation…

I’m a big fan of recycling. Unless when it’s about stuff one writes. This time however I’m glad to “promote” one from the archive:

Cyclo-cross’s disruptive innovation that made competition irrelevant – JANUARY 9, 2011.

I believe I have good reason for recycling this. The article – that uses concepts like “blue ocean strategies” and “business model innovation” – demonstrates a particular disruptive skill in CX cycling that allows to outperform competition. It’s the case of Sven Nys. One of his main advantages is that he leaps over obstacles by bike where other riders need to get of their bike. Exactly this benefit made him the 2013 CX World Champ last sunday!

Watch the video of the 2013 CX WC final lap below. If you don’t understand the Dutch comments, look as from the 4th minute. The obstacles that Nys tackles like nobody else can be seen at 5:30. As from then, it was straight to the World Title.

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Cyclo-cross's disruptive innovation that made competition irrelevant.

This weekend several national championships cyclo-cross were organized. We looked at Belgium’s cyclocross championship held in Antwerp. This national championship almost equals a world championship as Belgium has delivered the best athletes within this sport for decades.

What’s even more interesting, a few years ago a Belgian rider – Sven Nys – started dominating the sport by introducing a disruptive innovation that made competition irrelevant. Sounds like a story that relates to the concept of the Blue Ocean (BOS) as developed by authors W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne. Let’s dig a little deeper into the story and try to derive relevant lessons for business practices.

Disruptive innovation: Sven Nys leaps over objects while driving

Red Ocean Strategy in Cyclocross - jump while running

Red Ocean Strategy in Cyclocross - jump while running

When talking about innovation, we often think of technical/technological innovations. These are rather important of course but are often incremental by nature. The innovation Sven Nys introduced years ago that disrupted the sport was not a technical one. It was e.g. not about an improved tire or a lighter bike frame – as those technical innovations were incremental and simultaneously available for all competing riders.

The true disruption happened when Nys introduced a skill: the ability to leap over objects while riding a bike. Other riders overcame the objects by jumping of the biking, lifting the bike by hand while jumping over the object. Speaks for itself that the manner deployed by Nys was faster. This often allowed him to make competition irrelevant during races. Nys created a Blue Ocean. Others were to follow his example soon of course and today one can see many riders leaping while riding. Is the Blue Ocean red again?

Relevance for Business?

We believe this case shows that innovation doesn’t have to come from technology – as you often read in the literature and cases, especially in the areas of BMI (Business Model Innovation). Additionally, the case clearly shows that you should never stop looking for new innovative practices or tools – since others will follow and might even excel the original innovator. Today there might be another rider who can leap over higher objects than Nys can.

Nuance: notes on Sven Nys

The above story is oversimplified. Sven Nys is a phenomenon, he’s way more than “the one able to jump over the obstacles”. During his career he also expanded into mountain biking and is quite good at it. To get an overview of his impressive career, have a look at the Wikipedia page.


Possibly related articles (not automated – suggested by author):

  • Basketball’s Disruptive Innovation
  • Clap skate in speed ice skating – this is in fact a technical innovation but nonetheless quite compelling. Something we just know about in one way or another. Not investigated thoroughly by us.
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