One of my favorite columnists, David Brooks, wrote a very interesting piece called “The Edge of Inside” describing the various roles people play in groups. He was discussing politics but it applies to organizations as well. There are the insiders, those that are so rooted in the core principles, goals, etc. that they bleed them every day. Then you have the outsiders, as Brooks describes them, “the flame throwers from outside,” that lob bombs over the hill but never join to help fight the cause. Last he describes the ones who are just inside the edge. Those who believe in the cause, but not so heavily or rabidly that they can’t see the crusty edges or what could be changed for the better.
Those on the edge are your change agents. Having been called this more than once in my life, (and not in a flattering way), I know how it feels to be at the edge of inside. You deeply believe in the core principles but see many ways of achieving them, not just “the way” that is being told to you. Change agents see what is coming, match it to what “is,” and see what can be done to get through successfully. They look at alternative ways to get to the finish line.
It might be useful to take stock of your organization and recognize who these individuals are. At a minimum, you need a few on your leadership team. They have insight and they can often bring disparate groups of people together to accomplish great things precisely because they are not “the” leader or insider. They can be trusted by both sides and in some cases see possibilities that no one else can envision just yet. These will likely be your innovators.
If you have no one who fits this description, you may have lost your edge as an organization. If everyone just tells you what you want to hear, you have a group of insiders. If everyone is always throwing out the old, or new, just to throw it out, you have outsiders. The key to a well-functioning organization is to have some from each group.
At one time, you likely filled this role. You were that person that saw stripes when everyone else saw solid colors. Are you still there or have you created an organization around you so that you are now the consummate insider? Do you put down anyone who comes up with a new idea as “radical” or “out for themselves?” Take another look at yourself and your change agents – your inside edgers – and make sure you make room for them at the table.