Businesses embracing the extremes. Whew. Talk about thinking outside the box <or outside any lines>. I say that because while there may be some niggling belief business does better perched on some edge, its not happening. Business people have become wimps. A big issue in today’s business world is that companies, and most older business leaders, struggle to embrace the extremes.
“Resilience is based on the ability to embrace the extremes — while not becoming an extremist. Most companies don’t do paradox very well.”
Gary Hamel, Leading the Revolution
Let’s talk about what embracing the extreme means.
To be clear. I am not talking about being an extremist and running willy nilly around the field as a black sheep amongst the fluffy white ones <bad imagery>. This is about recognizing the value of the extremes and embracing it. In my pea-like brain <world> that is actually having the right attitude and actually exhibiting some behavior attached to that attitude.
To be clear … I am also not suggesting this is easy, in fact, it is not.
Why? Because from each end, the height extreme, you can very quickly start slipping down the slope of mediocrity all the way into the valley of nothingness.
Ok. I imagine it would have been easier for me to use an inverted V <bell curve> and suggest ‘the extreme is the pinnacle” but I guess I don’t feel that way organizationally.
First. A bell curve suggests a pinnacle of compromised success. A middle place in which you have gathered into a point. High … but probably not as high as an extreme. And certainly not as distinctness as it inevitably ends up soaring high in the middle of any graph or visual.
Second. Extremes are … well … extremes. Highs. Highly liked, highly disliked. Highly satisfying, highly disappointing. Highly polarizing. There are distinct ends and points to an extreme as well as personally people’s opinions and beliefs tend to swing to one end of the extreme or another, therefore, I am sticking with the V to make my point.
An uncomfortable visual? You betcha. It is uncomfortable because it is most often not in a person’s comfort zone let alone an organization’s comfort zone to be that liked or disliked so clearly.
<but it sure is an interesting place>
Look. The world is a complex place and embracing the extremes is challenging for a variety of reasons.
Oh. ‘Complex’. I would debate with people who keep stating the world is getting more complex because I believe it is simply remaining complex – just with some different aspects in a different time. Regardless of how you may feel about complexity today versus complexity yesterday all of that hypothetical discussion doesn’t really matter because managing & embracing the extremes means, and has always meant, businesses have to embrace some complexity.
“Darling, I don’t know why I go to extremes … too high or too low there ain’t no in-betweens.”
Now. If we want to discuss extremes we should note there’s something called a false dilemma or false dichotomy. It’s where you’re artificially presented with a black-and-white/either-or choice and you are forced to choose between all of one or all of the other. It’s called false because, most of the time, you are not actually constrained to just a binary choice. Yup. In most situations there are several excellent options <often outside of the falsely narrowly defined continuum>.
I mention that to be fair. Because embracing the extreme is a selective choice, sometimes challenging to identify, and often next to impossible to actually implement in today’s business world.
Now. Extremes in business are interesting things. Pieces of the extreme are undebatably good, if not great, ideas.
Let’s talk leaders & leadership.
This means you need some adaptability from a leader. Adaptability to embrace the constraints as well as embrace the adaptations needed to go head first into the extreme. Sometimes this means adapting by being able to define and redefine success along the way. This can be because of market changes, new information, or simply the passage of time – basically .. the edge moves. Adapting is actually not that difficult. Features and functionality can be re prioritized or simply dropped from the list of things to do. But what you really need is a leader who can pull the trigger. Because while ‘extreme’ may sound definitive and tangible and concrete, the reality is there are always several choices about what to deliver. If you ever want to get started, you need someone to pull the frickin’ trigger — someone who enables the extreme.
Look. Not everyone can lead … and not everyone can embrace the extremes AND lead. But I would suggest that the ones who can tend to arrive at leadership roles not through a want for power or esteem, but for the sheer love of leading balanced on extremes. They must have some aspects of managing <that is the adaptability feature> as well as leading <because extremes are scary> and a strong character & integrity <because extremes CAN seduce people to do some asshat behavior>.
In general people follow good people who embrace the extremes. The extremes because its interesting and the ‘good’ because doing good shit with integrity is possibly the grandest prize in anyone’s career. Now. What constitutes a good person and a good business person may be slightly different … but regardless it takes a balance of things. You could debate them, but suffice it to say you can attain a relatively fulfilled satisfied happy career if you have these at their foundation:
– Heart: Call it soul … call it heart … call it some version of passion, at some point a leader is just going to ask you to make a leap of faith <trust>. That leap tests how much heart you have.
– Head: There is no substitute for knowledge. Knowledge is rational and insures functional success <and efficiency/effectiveness I may add>. But the head is a tricky thing. You must be willing to follow curiosity, seek some knowledge and not ignore what you have learned as well as be empowered to use it <important to having the team contribute to adaptability>. Leaders have to empower the head but ts up to you to use it.
– Wallet: Whew. I hesitated to throw this in here. I really <really> wanted to put health, or ‘body’ here <because if you don’t take care of yourself physically never mind everything else>, but the practical pragmatic business side of me ended up with wallet. Not a big wallet mind you, just ‘wallet.’ This is business I am talking about. Success isn’t really success unless you make enough money to continue. Getting everyone to embrace the extreme is significantly easier if they see some ‘extremer’ wallet benefit. It doesn’t have to be gobs of money so this is more about ‘value.’ If you are going to lead people to ‘do something’ and in fact maybe even ‘do a lot of somethings’ they are gonna want to get paid. I will note doing something extreme is part of your compensation.
In the end embracing the extreme is not just a business decision, but a people decision.
Let’s talk about organizations and those who actually will make the extreme financially successful <those who buy it>. I will begin with a nifty chart and writeup from topmodels:
We found this model at a lecture by Martin Kupp, the brilliant member of the faculty of the EMST (European School of Management and Technology). Don’t be put off by the complexity of the model’s layout. It works! Like this: Most consumers expect more and more from technic devices. That’s why industries incrementally improve products like computers. What does that mean: they use a lot of research and development but the improvements are marginally. That’s expensive. Low profit margin. Small room for innovations. So sometimes you have to do something different to find something different. When Apple introduced the Apple II, it’s performance was ridiculously bad compared to IBM-Computers. Apple II-performance was lower than what consumer expected. Why did they still do it? They could grow easily from there on: because it is easier to grow from 0 to 10 than from 10 to 11. – topmodels
I love the model chart and it leads me to explain the ‘why’ behind it, but let me quickly state the main point organizationally: sometimes you have to do something different to find something different.
Being different for different sake is silly if not plain stupid in business <in Life too I imagine>.
Being extreme, or going to an extreme, for the sake of being ‘extreme’ is silly, and stupid, in business.
But. Sometimes you have to do something extreme to find an extremely different business response. Almost any business can do small things (“improvements are marginal. That’s expensive. Low profit margin. Small room for innovations), but typically organizations – the people – don’t embrace ‘marginal’ (some people call it ‘dancing on the head of a pin).’
Ok. The ‘why it works’ thinking behind the topmodel chart.
Expectations. Expectations of employees and users/consumers. Embracing and managing extremes is really all about embracing and managing expectations on an ongoing basis.
Oh. That expectation thing <and why embracing the extremes is a good thing for a business>.
Going back to my extreme visual <the traditional V>. Paradoxically, the closer to the center <and the bottom of the slippery slope> a business gets the more the association the employee <and possibly some investors> with the business itself, and what they most likely loved about the company in the first place, frays.
Sounds odd. But people don’t sign up for mediocrity. In their hearts they sign up for the extremes. The stuff that gets their hearts pumping, the stuff they can talk about with their friends the stuff that really makes money.
I imagine this is called “subconscious motivation.” <I made that up>.
But as for motivation? Here is another nifty write up and visual from Topmodels:
Atkinson claimed 1957: If one can choose the grade of complexity (difficulty) of a task individually and independently most of the decisions are taken in a mid-complexity-level. Too easy tasks or too difficult tasks can neither provoke a strong feeling of satisfaction nor a strong disappointment. Or the other way round: Highly motivated people often choose a realistic complexity of tasks whereas low motivated people choose tasks that are finally too easy or too difficult for them. Then Atkinson continued his studies with something, but we wanna have our afterwork beer … – topmodels
Extremes can be highly motivating. You just have to make the task challenging, but not too challenging. On a side note … I would like to point out that typically an ‘extreme’ is actually less challenging and complex then a compromised middle ground. To put it bluntly – things are clearer on the edges.
Now. Some of this concept of embracing extremes is certainly generational.
Young don’t fear risk as much … because they never knew it.
Middle-aged, and have families, want safe first, whatever it takes, even excessive safety … but no risk.
The old. They have their money. They know how they made their money. They simply want to keep on doing the ‘tried & true’ to keep making money … risk doesn’t enter the equation because they already ‘know how to do it.”
Embracing an extreme is going to chafe within generations if not just different types of people/personalities within the organization. I will note here that if a leader lets everyone get into this tug of war stalemate – amongst all the generations – you end up not achieving big things. Heck. You will not achieve anything for gods sake. The stalemate simply means simply going nowhere. You inevitably slip all the way down the slippery slope and get stuck in the middle. Your ass in a crack as it were. Yeah. Slipping down the slippery slope ain’t pretty.
That said. Extremes are difficult because different people with different thoughts and opinions are in a constant tug-of-war — one struggling and straining against the other each refusing to loosen their grip on their end of the rope.
One aspect tends to embrace the change … the dreamers with etch-a-sketches.
One aspect tends to embrace the solid and known … the pragmatically driven dreamers with plans and goals.
Both serve a purpose.
Both have a place.
An organization is successful when it empowers any and all so that in the tangled web of ‘doing & not doing’, everyone has their place.
That said. An organization can be defined by embracing an extreme and capturing that extreme in the organization in all its varied hues. That is actually found in a Culture. Extremes tend to create a tension that creates a certain resiliency of spirit. A resiliency that creates a deeper and higher understanding that makes it easier to bounce back and even thrive amid the mixed bag of events and circumstances we’re handed to sort through in life.
And, there it is, this common challenge for embracing the extreme. It’s about maintaining some tension of the living, breathing organizational life in the balance. A balance that brings with it both good and bad that makes a great business … well … a great business.
I covered what I meant by embracing an extreme <and the fact it isn’t all the time>, and leadership <firm but adaptable> and organizations <embracing extremes can strengthen> so I am ready to reach the end.
Embracing the extreme is not for the faint of heart … and frankly … you have to be smart <or have intelligence>.
“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
F. Scott Fitzgerald
It is not easy.
It is not easy for an individual.
It becomes exponentially non-easy for an organization.
But embracing extremes is not about letting the circumstances define or destroy but rather channeling the aspects of going beyond the mediocrity to create a … well … spirit I imagine.
A spirit of something new and different.
Extremes can help define us as individuals … and it can certainly define a business.
Or redefine a business.
Or revitalize a business.
Here is what I do know for sure.
If you embrace the extremes and are successful the prizes are, well, extreme.
A stronger organization overall.
A more well defined business.
A character defining aspect.
A group of people (employees) who feel invigorated and empowered to take some risks and lean to an edge rather than some comfortable middle.
In the end? You will have extremely improved your business.