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Creating Strategic Disadvantage

Should the potential benefits of overcoming difficulties motivate leaders to intentionally create strategic disadvantage? That’s the question Malcolm Gladwell introduced yesterday in an unplugged session during the World Business Forum. It’s been bouncing around in my head ever since. (see yesterday’s post: Useful Disadvantage)

Disadvantages create difficulty. Difficulties make us. On the other hand, ease creates indulgence. Indulgence destroys us. Is that reason enough to intentionally make life difficult?

Disadvantages define our story – the more arduous the difficulty the more defining the disadvantage – think Helen Keller (blind, deaf, and mute) or Nelson Mandela (27 years in prison). It’s ghastly, however, to imagine using a 27 year prison term as a leadership development tool.

Creative disadvantage is the path to efficiency and competitive advantage. Does this mean product development teams should function like NASA engineers during the Apollo 13 crisis? They saved lives with duct tape and tubing.

Strategic disadvantage isn’t simply challenging people; it’s intentionally withholding help. More than that, it’s intentionally creating useful difficulty.

Strategic disadvantage could be useful if:

  1. A greater good is obvious. Sadism isn’t a healthy corporate strategy.
  2. Creating strategic disadvantage is part of organizational culture – toughness is part of who you are and who you want to become. Toughness doesn’t come easy, think military boot camp.
  3. Leaders are included in the strategic disadvantage mix. If leaders are excluded it’s indulgent elitism.

Overcomers inspire us. Overcoming personal challenges eventually instills us with confidence, insight, and satisfaction. The tough term is eventually. Overcoming eventually strengthens. Getting to the strength is the tough part.

What are the pros and cons of creating strategic disadvantage?

How does the expression, “strategic disadvantage program” sit with you? What might it look like?


Related Articles:

Getting Smart at Being Wrong – 10 Ways to Get Good at Being Wrong.

8 Techniques that Help People Want Help. – Great managers don’t change people they create environments where people change themselves.


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