Nail that stands out shouldn’t always get pounded down

Maybe talking in “Fortune Cookie” isn’t what I meant by using the above title. I’ve been ruminating a lot lately about standing out or being different despite the corporate environment’s affect of seeking and molding people into a better ‘fit’ for the company. Perhaps reading the posting on Anthony Davis’ site has made me a little braver about speaking about ‘being different,’ because it sparked in me the hope that perhaps some organizations (and groups even within my own company) are looking for individuals who are willing to offer differing opinions.

I found this article from the Journal of Change Management (Vol 6, No. 3, 257-276, September 2006): “Managing Purposeful Organizational Misfit: Exploring the Nature of Industry and Organizational Misfit to Enable Strategic Change.” Though the title of the article itself is a mouthful and perhaps enough to deter some initially interested readers, I was hooked by this part of the abstract:

The ‘conventional’ competitive advantage envisaged in… attaining optimal ‘fit’ between an organization’s resources and capabilities and market opportunities, is waning fast due to rapid changes in industry and organizational boundaries. Rather, organizations need to create a new customer value and innovation through purposefully becoming a ‘misfit’ to traditional ‘ways of thinking’ and ‘ways of doing business’ in industries and business models.

The article did re-affirm my suspicions about corporate homogeneity in terms of demographics and staffing:

  • The “Organizational Misfit” as an individual does indeed have a purpose and adds some value to a business group/organization.
  • Hiring always for fit (including hiring people who always agree with you and your direction) can be a deteriment to being able to change and even deter your ability to produce innovative products and solutions.
  • “Organizational Misfits” often exist within even the most politically defined organization, but because the system of rewards and the organizational culture often encourages them to “fit in,” they will not openly express their differing opinions or proposals.

Organizational misfits can play a crucial role in innovation. Having such misfits around, especially those who promote innovative ideas and champion change to adjust to the changes in business climate/environment, can provide a strategic advantage for companies.

However, I suspect that that one of the biggest caveats to having organizational misfits in your organization is that it’s harder to manage groups with diverse attitudes especially because people will not agree all the time. It’s easier to managing a group when everyone agrees with you and with each other. Some refer to this phenomenon as establishing consistent consesus to drive to the completion of tasks and achievement of goals. Managers who have diverse groups need to be skilled at negotiation and teaching their staff members to negotiate with each other in order to attain team goals.

The article mentioned the importance of balancing the cultivation of organizational misfits while insuring that organizational goals are still met and that there are some standards of organizational ‘fitness’ that are met. As noted:

…clearly, being ‘fit’ and ‘misfit’ is not an either/or situation. It is more of a cycle that organizations go through in coping with rapid environmental changes. Fit is necessary to sustain in the short-term (for example, to current and/or potential markets), but ‘temporary’ misfit (as the system also needs periods of stability) may be necessary to maintain long-term fit.

I can appreciate that we all need to be able to accomplish our stated business goals. However, I do feel that the drive to achieve consesus (in some groups) often squelches the ‘differing voices’ or alternative solutions. I wonder if there’s ways to learn to promote your ‘different’ or ‘misfit’ ideas in more palatable ways. I’d like to learn those ways. But I feel that if management doesn’t truly embrace the value of hearing out ‘misfits,’ then the ‘misfits’ will continue to have a long uphill road.

Resources:

Link to request for article referrenced: http://taylorandfrancis.metapress.com/(os1vld45ubvryt454omi3y55)/app/home/contribution.asp?referrer=parent&backto=issue,3,7;journal,1,23;linkingpublicationresults,1:119690,1

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