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Today I started reading Change to Strange: Create a Great Organization by Building a Strange Workforce by Daniel M. Cable (on my new Kindle). I didn’t read to a lot of the book, just the preface and a little of the first chapter. In this short reading I came across this interesting paragraph:
Nowadays, most organizations claim that their people are their competitive advantage. But most organizations build workforces that really are not very different from their competitors’. Most organizations, it turns out, treat their people just about the same as most other organizations. In fact, companies deliberately benchmark their people practices to the industry average. Not surprisingly, there is nothing particularly distinctive about most organizations’ workforces and nothing the organization produces is particularly noteworthy from a customer standpoint – nothing very strange.
Put these together, and what situation do you have? You have organizations hoping to achieve extraordinary results with a solidly ordinary, normal workforce.
With the above caveat that I still haven’t read most of the book I want to share two thoughts with you.
The first is that I absolutely love this quote and the idea this book is probably going to make. It reminds me of my writing about the idea of abandoning the misleading concept of equality. And it reminded me of intelligent writings such as those of David Rendall about the Freak Factor. I find the idea of building on people’s comparative advantage instead of making them cogs working in a factory producing mass identical products compelling. But more importantly, the claim that in order to truly innovate and succeed you need to stray from the ordinary and average sounds to me not compelling only but also necessary in today’s world. Look at this quote from Bill Taylor in an HBR.org post today:
How does the practice’s leader, Dr. Rushika Fernandopulle, find the right people for these unusual (but critical) jobs? “We recruit for attitude and train for skill,” Dr. Fernandopulle told Dr. Gawande. “We don’t recruit from health care. This kind of care requires a very different mind-set from usual care… Now that’s an effective prescription for innovation! Over the years, as I’ve studied high-impact organizations that are changing the game in their fields, they’ve adopted a range of strategies and business models. But they all agree on one core “people” proposition: They hire for attitude and train for skill.
The second is that I have a problem with the words chosen to express this wonderful idea. Strange. I understand the need to make the message more convincing and grab attention. And it is working. At the same time, the problem I see with using the word “strange” is that it has a negative association. If a state of uniqueness is what we aspire to create, if this is the new normal want to set as the standard, we need to start creating a language that embraces the differences and not emphasizes them as different. We need to start using words that will allow people to be proud of their differences. To see themselves in a positive way. To allow others to congratulate them and recognize them for their uniqueness. I don’t know if “Change to Unique” is a good title for a book or a concept. I know that finding the right term is part of the struggle…