Want To Manage Change? Get Weird!

I was at the Insight Show’s CEO panel last week, sharing ideas with three other research bosses – Fiona Blades, Lyn McGregor and Eric Salama. The theme? Thriving in uncertainty. Our business used to be a little bit cosy. Now it’s hit a patch of bone-rattling turbulence. As Unilever CMI Director Marie Wolfe puts it, “The Research Industry has changed more in the last 3 years than in the previous 40.”

What can we do? Like all businesses, marketers exist in a Darwinian landscape. But Darwin gets misunderstood. ‘Fittest’ isn’t about pumping iron. It’s not always the strongest or fastest who survive. It’s the most adaptable.

One way to adapt is to widen your outlook. The panel took place the day before International Women’s Day, and diversity was rightly high on the agenda. Everyone on the panel knew diversity drives performance. The research business is better than most at achieving it, but we could and should do more. That’s easy to agree on, if harder to achieve.

It got me thinking about another type of diversity that keeps me awake as a CEO, one that’s only slightly related and tougher to pin down. There’s not really a word for it, so I’ll go with weirdness. The eccentrics, square pegs, dreamers and divergent thinkers that give a company spice.

The need for weirdness in any business is in direct proportion to its need for change. Too little, and the echo-chamber of unchallenged group-think will lead even a vibrant business to its eventual death. Too much, and the divergence of forceful individual visions will cause even a healthy business to break. It’s the unenviable job of the CEO to judge and manage the optimal weirdness needed for a business to change and flourish. And it’s a harder and more urgent job than ever.

John Kearon

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