Often, when applying for a job, a requirement will be that respondents have experience in the industry, product sector or some other narrowly defined specific to an industry or product criteria. For example, when applying for an I.T. role with a Mobile telephone company, it may count against you if you haven’t worked in the Mobile industry in the past. This illustrates the common belief that an industry is a ‘playing field’ with narrow and defined borders. Often, however, the innovators and real leaders in an industry are those businesses, or individuals, that are able to see opportunities beyond these imagined constraints. Take Amazon.com; Jeff Bezos thought ‘outside the box’ and developed a whole new business model for selling books even although he wasn’t an industry veteran.
I recently watched the Mike Tyson sport documentary directed by James Toback. Tyson was short by heavyweight boxing standards at 5ft 11.5”. A short height and reach is typically considered a disadvantage in boxing but Tyson turned this to his advantage; Tyson names, during the commentary, that some of the biggest influences to his ‘peek-a-boo’ boxing style came, not from heavyweight boxers, but rather bantam and middle weight boxers. Tyson realised that he couldn’t do anything about his height and reach but could use these ‘disadvantages’ to his advantage. He concentrated on his stamina, speed and mobility just like the lighter weight division characteristics which proved to be incredibly successful strategies. His taller and heavier opponents couldn’t match the atypical speed and movement characteristics which Tyson employed. Tyson brought a different perspective to the heavyweight boxing ‘playing field’ and it paid enormous dividends.
Management theory doesn’t ignore the advantages of innovation and ‘trying something different’; Michael Porter in his Generic Strategies recommends niche strategies as a means of attaining sustainable competitive advantage. Other management concepts in support of innovation are First Mover Advantage and Igor Ansoff in his ‘Market Development’, ‘Product Development’ and ‘Diversification’ quadrants of the Product-Market Growth Matrix.
It’s therefore strange that organizations insist on new employees having very similar skills and experience to existing employees. Competitive advantage, in business as in sport, relies on doing something different.