The Value of the Unusual
For some people, the idea of “being strange” feels awkward, but according to Daniel Cable, in the business world strangeness is exactly what gets work forces to create sustainable competitive advantages for their companies. Cable’s book, Change to Strange: Create a Great Organization by Building a Strange Workforce, argues that most companies should be strange but aren’t because it’s difficult — even though it propels companies to the top time and again.
According to Cable, sustainable competitive advantage comes from producing something that customers believe is rare, different and valuable. What’s more, Cable claims, these products come from companies with rare, different and valuable people. This is why a company cannot imitate its way to greatness, and even though many companies proclaim that their people are their competitive advantage, few can articulate how their people are different (especially those benchmarking against other “normal” work forces).
Change to Strange is not about setting up a ping-pong table in the break room or bringing your dog to work. It’s about the broader idea of losing the fear of breaking from the pack. After all, strangeness may seem risky, but beating the competition fundamentally means not fitting in. Though strangeness doesn’t come cheaply, Cable writes, it’s worth it if it gets customers to notice and give you their money.
How to ‘Get Strange’
The process of getting strange, which Cable dubs the “Strange Workforce Value Chain,” has four steps:
- Define the organizational outcomes. Managers need to understand what the work force’s purpose is, then figure out what would prove successful in that purpose.
- Specify performance drivers. Performance drivers are the things that need to happen in order for customers to notice and choose your company. Managers need to identify and measure those performance drivers, then build their organizations around influencing those metrics. The trick is to make the metrics move in a way that competitors can’t or won’t imitate.
- Set strange work force deliverables. It is not enough to be just any old kind of strange; employees need to obsess about things that customers value. They need to know exactly how they should behave differently. Thus, managers need to define and measure specific strange behaviors — the actions, accomplishments and knowledge that make customers love the company. This helps define right and wrong behavior.
- Create a strange work force architecture. It’s hard to build a rare workforce if your human resource systems are the same as everyone else’s. Managers need to identify what employees find most valuable about working for the company, then use those elements to get the work force to create things customers notice, appreciate and pay for.
Ultimately, according to Cable, metrics are the key to making the ideas in Change to Strange work. They help managers determine when and how they’ve been successful, and they instruct people on what to obsess about.
Why We Like This Book
Change to Strange explains why “normal” companies can’t compete in the long term and tells managers how to create valuably unusual work forces. As Cable writes, "If you actually plan to take down your competition rather than just edit your strategy PowerPoint presentation again, then you need to get serious about how you are going to get the work force you need to make your organization stand out to your customers.”