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The Cost of the Silver Hand

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In versus out—does it even matter?

It does in Minnesota. It’s 33°F right now—not so cold—but in less than 30 days we’ll plunge well below 0°F and stay there for a month or two. Being inside matters when the outside temperature is cold.

About “inside,” you remember high school, yes? Being an insider seemed to matter there: being part of the groovy clique seemed to say a lot about your identity. But it turned out that the cost paid for being an insider was higher than we realized.

You get inside by exploiting insider behaviors: hang with other insiders, use insider words, allow the insider frame of reference to settle on you and gradually think insider thoughts. There is a certain warmth to being inside. Sometimes it’s safe and cozy. Sometimes staying inside means forming alliances and battling for diminishing territories. A friend recently used those words to describe his years inside a large retailer based in Minneapolis—he left when the cost of alliances and battles was greater than his paycheck.

The classic insider mistake is to think inside is all there is. And that mistake is murder when the layoff discussion happens in the HR office on a bright, cold Friday afternoon. Or when you graduate high school.

But 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 the inbred thinking of insiders talking to insiders.

Lately I’ve been stimulated by reading The Power of Pull: How Small Moves, Smartly Made, Can Set Big Things in Motion, by Hagel, Brown and Davison (NY: Basic Books, 2010). In particular, their talk about what the edge person brings to the discussion seems fitting. The edge person is working at something different than the insider. The edge person is trying to accomplish something in a different way and so is asking different questions. The edge person asks questions the insider doesn’t even consider. And it turns out those questions are sometimes the very questions the leaders of the insiders wish they were asking.

My favorite scene in Canal Digital’s “Silver Hand” is at the bar when our hero tries to casually drop the Silver Hand reference.

What a lovely fail.

The smart insider acquaints herself with the habitat and questions of the edge person.

And vice versa.

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Via Canal digital

Why Listen to the Odd Fringe Person?

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

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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.

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Image credit: Kirk Livingston

 

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