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by Alan Hargreaves

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« The simplest growth strategy | Main | Beware the Big Wins »

Spotting Opportunities

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Harnessing the value of difference

Leave aside politics for a moment and look at what diversity actually means. It’s a range of experience, abilities, knowledge, strengths and personality. It’s like a variety performance. You might not like every act but collectively it can put on a good show.

I breed horses. In our paddocks there are heavy eaters, pretty trotters and well-conformed athletes. There are feisty stallions and quality broodmares. Some of these horses like humans. Others don’t. Some will be sprinters, others stayers. A few will be flash equestrians. Others will simply be good paddock buddies. Together, they form a herd. 

Herds exist for a couple of reasons 

One, there’s safety in numbers. It supports survival and growth. Two, the diversity supports evolution. In a shifting environment, there’s a greater chance one of their number will be suited to changing circumstances.

Businesses face the same challenge. The core of the mission is survival and growth. You can’t achieve much if you don’t survive, and even if you survive there’s little joy in static performance. You need to evolve.

We need more diversity now

Technological advance breeds cultural transition. We learned in history lessons how the industrial revolution ushered in social change. Shifts in circumstances need lateral thinking. 

Take gender issues. That women are more educated, more liberated and more available comes at a time when their perspective is not just increasingly valued. The accelerated rate of change requires it. 

Technology may make things more convenient for your customers but it also makes it easier for you to cross the borders of your own industry. We all know Amazon was a bookseller until it realised it could sell anything. Now it’s a marketer, a retailer, a logistics provider and a cloud computing service. We can see how that happened with hindsight, yet few of us forecast that profile 10 years ago. 

We need people who can answer the survival and growth question that Amazon asked: what else can you do with what you’ve now got?

There’s value in a broader view

That’s also why it’s not just a matter of more women on boards. I’ve written in the past of research that shows: the education system in some countries is more suited to modern commerce than others; people with high IQs often lack business skills; smart people often produce better results when they work with dumber people; a mix of generations regularly generates a better strategy than a single age group; highly focused managers miss simple solutions that are obvious to more distracted thinkers. We need a range of people on board.

Powerful leaders are no simple fix. Studies show so-called charismatic CEO’s often have a destructive effect on perfectly good businesses. Management academic, Professor Bradley Agle, concluded his research on the subject noting “there’s a thin line between charisma and dysfunctional narcissism”. 

In the new economy, prior experience is useful but it doesn’t always predict future success. As you slowly digitise your activities, opportunities will arise to take your business onto a completely different track. You need people who not only see it but are also keen to take it.

Who have you got in your paddock?

Reader Comments (3)

Excellent post. Love the Agle quote. I've worked for people like that.

August 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJohannes Meckel

You're right about focussed people. I've got some highly intelligent colleagues who drill down so deep they can't see what's going on at the surface.

August 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterVanilla Cafe

I love paddock buddies.

August 28, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterVanilla Cafe

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