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Why Listen to the Odd Fringe Person?

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Can the outsider say anything of interest to the consummate insider?


Every organization has concentric circles of members.

As new people come in they are indoctrinated into the ways of the tribe and so become insiders and holders of the knowledge. True for businesses, churches, non-profits, ad agencies crocheting clubs and sometimes even families.Circles2_01

It used to be that the people on top were the ones with the power and the voice. That was back when an organization pushed its one right way of doing things down through the hierarchy. Members either did things the one right way or they walked.

But times have changed and the consummate insiders are desperate (more or less) for new ways to do things to keep the big machine moving. In fact, the big machine seems to be wheezing and seizing more often lately (think Sears or Radio Shack), unable to offer the intimate experience their audiences seek. Part of that has to do with the realizations coming from many voices that there is more than one right way to do things.

What to do?

In The Power of Pull: How small moves, smartly made, can set big things on motion (NY: Basic Books, 2010). Authors John Hagel III, John Seely Brown and Lang Davison advocate, for starters, listening to the people on the fringe. After showing examples of people on the fringe who went on to change everything—like Olympic snowboarders and Malcom McLean the inventor of  containerized shipping—they observe:

It is no accident that these early examples of performance improvement come from various edges, because it is exactly at the edge that the need to get better faster has the most urgency. Incumbents at the core—which is the place where most of the resources, especially people and money, are concentrated, and where old ways of thinking and acting still hold sway—have many fewer incentives to figure out the world, or to discover new ways of doing things, or to find new information. They’re on top, and they’re ready to keep doing what got them there. But simply accessing or attracting static resources no longer cuts it. Accessing and attracting have little value unless they are coupled with a third set of practices that focus on driving performance rapidly to new levels.  (18)

That is why it is starting to make more sense to listen to the person who has just signed up—they might just have a better, more serviceable idea than those invested in the status quo.


Image credit: Kirk Livingston


2 Responses

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  1. […] is possible the very nature of the hierarchical or “push” corporation lends itself to sapping motivation from good ideas. When ideas come from above as […]

  2. […] being on the inside is good when you also recognize voices from the fringe. That sort of consciousness allows new thoughts to infect the inside, possibly even countermanding […]

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