Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Change to Strange

Strangely winning ways of the weird and wonderful
Writing in yesterday's FT, Stefan Stern commented on a new book I had not previously come across: Change to Strange - Create a Great Organisation by Building a Strange Workforce, by Dan Cable.

The author's idea seems to be that organisations can successfully differentiate themselves by developing 'strange' cultures, as well as product / service features etc.

So Stefan Stern comments:
"Strategy gurus tell us that businesses have to differentiate themselves in the market if they want to achieve a competitive advantage over their rivals. Customers will not be interested in a 'me too' experience that offers nothing not already available at a similar (or better) price from another well-established player. A superior product or service may help you pull away from the pack for a limited period of time. But products and services can and will be copied sooner or later.

Much harder to imitate is the unique culture your organisation possesses. So, far from 'benchmarking' yourself against your competitors' best practices and formalising the way you do things to eliminate quirks and eccentricities, maybe you should be heading in precisely the opposite direction. Accentuate your differences, even to the point of becoming a little bit weird."


Stefan Stern provides Starbucks as an example of strangeness, with its passion for the 'Starbucks experience': the aroma of coffee, the sight of staff scooping coffee beans and pouring them into grinders, etc.

Or for a non-business example, a winner at a hot-dog eating contest who has a special and unparalleled devotion to the craft, someone who "executes a process like a machine".
"The trick, Prof Cable says, is to find your organisation's equivalent of a hot dog eating contest. 'What strange activity is it that you and your workforce have mastered better than anyone else?'... Sure, this is not normal behaviour. It is obsessive. But it will set you apart - and be hard for your rivals to copy."


This relates directly to my recent posts on organisational capability. The key for me, which I've also already posted on, is to identify not just this strange activity, but the people who will be key to, and also motivated by delivering this, and then to align all HCM processes around this strangeness.