The Curious Case of ‘Outliers’ & the Pursuit of Excellence – I

Having your flight delayed by a couple of hours can ‘sometimes’ truly be a blessing in disguise. A couple of weeks ago, on my way back home after vacations and when faced with this predicament, I did what I usually don’t do to counter these kind of situations – buy a book!

Those of you who know me are well aware that I usually do not buy books, for the simple reason that most of the times it’s just skim reading, going through the book (fiction/ non-fiction/ other classifications out there in the universe) and taking away 2-3 key concepts that stay with me. I might return to revisit a few concepts now and then, but am not exactly in love with the idea of ‘rereading’ books.

To cut a long-story short, I managed my way into the inhouse (or is it in-airport?!) bookstore, and the first book that caught my eye also happened to be the one I bought – The Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell.  It had been recommended a few times on some LinkedIn forums and by some of my peers; plus having read Malcolm’s earlier work ‘The Tipping Point’ in 2011, it seemed like a good enough choice.

The brilliant book that Outliers is, when one starts thinking of the theories given therein,  it opens up a world of possibilities in terms of their applications to the real world. Taking forward some of the learning, in this post I intend to share what most people know works beautifully in teams, but never knew why – Having a flat organization structure and the payoffs of being approachable.

The Power Distance Index (PDI)

So what would your reaction be if Malcolm Gladwell told you that there was a ‘direct’ correlation between the number of plane crashes and the place from where the pilots belonged. Sounds crazy right? Wrong. Read more on this by clicking here.

A section of Outliers builds on the concept of the ‘Power Distance Index’ (PDI) which is an interesting theory (amongst the 6 Dimensions of national culture) put forth by Geert Hofstede, and which looks at how much a culture values hierarchical relationships and how individuals within that culture interact with authority. The implications of PDI when applied to plane crashes are powerful enough to make you stop reading midway and think as to how this augurs for the different businesses across the globe.

Considering the fact that India has a ‘relatively high’ PDI of 77, one is forced to revaluate as to how are the current systems that we have in place enable us to leverage the entire concept of competing in a flat world, and when doing business on a global scale. Or, are the current systems and processes enabling us?

Having a flat organization structure and being approachable:

Having a flat organization structure in order to get the competitive edge has also been examined in the much acclaimed management book  “In Search of Excellence – Tom Peters & Robert H. Waterman Jr.

Having a flat organization structure where information flows freely (as opposed to a pyramid structure which calls for more time for ‘informed’ decision making) cuts down on unneeded bureaucracy and red tapism to ensure rapid iteration of tasks getting completed on time/ before time. An environment where people feel free to discuss ideas and speak up is also one where the ‘rare’ someone who sees the oblivious pitfall helps bring that point into consideration when planning and executing a project.

If your firm preaches an open door policy, please ensure that your team knows it’s for real and that you get the best out of it by listening to people and their experience of working on the front line, and the real time problems that prop up from time to time. No one can help get inputs from your internal and external customers better than the ones from your team who are engaging with them on a day-to-day basis.

Be approachable, listen.

Check out the following video which I stumbled upon whilst I was learning more about this online (should you wish to watch the video from the beginning, simply drag the horizontal bar to the start):

It’s always a great idea to have one’s team interact, work with and learn from one’s global counterparts (in short regular spurts, if not on a continual basis) as it’s a powerful learning which no seminar, e-learning or book can impart.  That kind of learning will be a powerful enabler when your business tries to cut across global boundaries – think overcoming localisation issues when marketing and branding your product/ service in different markets, working with global teams efficiently, inculcating respect for diversity etc.

So before you head towards your next project meeting or plan to engage with a Global client/ team/ client’s team, you now know what to do, right?… Yep, revisit this blog.