There’s a simple rule in any changing paradigm- the new thing isn’t as good as the old thing… in the beginning. That simple fact keeps the old guard from embracing change. It also eventually leads to the kiss of death for those that cling to the old paradigm. Why? The new paradigm gets better over time. In the age of the Internet, this happens at blazing speeds because the Interwebs allow people to connect and share ideas.
For years, the running industry worked feverishly to build their industry off a misguided concept- form didn’t matter. How you ran could be corrected with the right shoe. Simple idea. Logical even. In fact, I would argue our medical community did a fantastic job solving the problems this paradigm created. Excessive cushioning, motion control, and custom ortohotics were fairly ingenious. Good methods, good solutions. Wrong problem.
Fast forward to today. It’s apparent we’re undergoing a dramatic paradigm shift. Minimalist ‘barefoot’ shoe sales are skyrocketing. Interest in running form, including barefoot running, is unprecedented. Organizations like the Barefoot Runners Society are growing at breakneck speeds. More research is supporting the premise. Medical professionals are re-examining the ideas. Manufacturers are teaching about good form.
There’s a problem, though. The new paradigm isn’t quite as good as the old paradigm… yet. Well, at least in the eyes of the old guard. There’s still a lot of unanswered questions. Lots of gray area.
As a result, the old guard isn’t really accepting these ideas. Why should they? Even though the market share for the oldies is decreasing, there’s a lot more money to be made making and selling the motion control. Executives are comfy. Salespeople are complacent. Retail shoe stores still dedicate their wall space to the oldies. After all, they’re still where the profits lie. It’s not all a matter of profit- many still buy into the logic of the old paradigm- people are flawed and need shoes to correct those flaws. If it worked yesterday, it will work tomorrow.
Some people are in the know. Some stores see the writing on the wall. I’ve met these store owners, shoe buyers, and retail salespeople. They know where the future is heading, and are ready. They educate themselves. They may still keep most of the oldies on the wall, but they’re ready to make the switch immediately. These are the people that will prosper tomorrow.
Most aren’t ready. They’re using the past to predict the future. They see this as a fad, a trend that will fade in time. After all, barefoot running has sprung up before. And died. Of course, those other spikes didn’t have the benefit of the Internet…
Most of the skeptics don’t realize this movement has momentum. They see it in the present state and declare it’s not valid. It’s a niche; an annoyance to tolerate until it disappears. Their strong faith in the old system blinds them to the trends happening in the research, medical, and shoe industry. It blinds them to the grassroots connectedness of the movement. It blinds them from seeing the future.
After all, we still have biomechanics professors still teaching how to fit shoes. We still have doctors prescribing custom orthotics as a first line of treatment. We still have plenty of motion control shoes on the market. Arch support abound! The old paradigm still seems like a good idea… especially when it’s compared to the apparent chaos of the barefoot/minimalist paradigm.
The record industry thought the same thing about Kazaa. The U.S. auto industry thought the same thing about the Prius. The phone companies thought the same thing about Skype. The newspaper industry thought the same thing about the Huffington Post. Blockbuster thought the same thing about Netflix.
How many times do we have to see this trend to understand how it works?
Who will succeed in the running world over the next ten years? I’m betting on those that embrace barefoot and minimalist shoe running. Most of the shoe manufacturers see it coming. Most of the outdoor retail world see it coming. Sadly, not all of our local running stores see it coming. This is even more troubling because the local running store is such a foundation for our local running communities. They direct and sponsor races, serve as a meeting point to connect runners, host and manage local running clubs, and generally promote health and well-being.
Let’s hope I’m wrong.
What are your thoughts? Is this assessment accurate?