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How David Beats Goliath and Why Young HR Types Should Seek to Be "Socially Horrifying"...

You don't take on the giant in business, HR or life by playing by the giant's rules, right?  Apple doesn't take on Microsoft by competing with a PC platform.  Instead, they changed the game and create their own platform steeped in usability and product design.  That effectively moves the playing field from an area the giant is comfortable with.

What lessons does that have for HR pros?  If you're recruiting against a big company widely held to beRenegades an employer of choice in your city, can you compete with their overall reputation?  Probably not - instead, you need to change the game, finding some items you can effectively market to make yourself an employer of choice - in areas the giant doesn't have or isn't nimble enough to provide.

What about your HR career?  How do you compete as a Gen Y up and comer in the HR game when all the dinosaurs like me have the spots you want to grow into?

You change the game.  Get good at things the dinosaurs don't want to do but companies place value on.  Then stick with the plan.  More on knocking giants/entrenched incumbents off their lofty perch from Malcolm Gladwell via the New Yorker:

"When Vivek Ranadivé decided to coach his daughter Anjali’s basketball team, he settled on two principles. The first was that he would never raise his voice. The second principle was more important. Ranadivé was puzzled by the way Americans played basketball. He is from Mumbai. He grew up with cricket and soccer. He would never forget the first time he saw a basketball game. He thought it was mindless. Team A would score and then immediately retreat to its own end of the court. Team B would inbound the ball and dribble it into Team A’s end, where Team A was patiently waiting. Then the process would reverse itself.

A basketball court was ninety-four feet long. But most of the time a team defended only about twenty-four feet of that, conceding the other seventy feet. Occasionally, teams would play a full-court press—that is, they would contest their opponent’s attempt to advance the ball up the court. But they would do it for only a few minutes at a time. It was as if there were a kind of conspiracy in the basketball world about the way the game ought to be played, and Ranadivé thought that that conspiracy had the effect of widening the gap between good teams and weak teams. Good teams, after all, had players who were tall and could dribble and shoot well; they could crisply execute their carefully prepared plays in their opponent’s end. Why, then, did weak teams play in a way that made it easy for good teams to do the very things that made them so good?

His second principle, then, was that his team would play a real full-court press, every game, all the time. The team ended up at the national championships. “It was really random,” Anjali Ranadivé said. “I mean, my father had never played basketball before.”

This is the second half of the insurgent’s creed. Insurgents work harder than Goliath. But their other advantage is that they will do what is “socially horrifying”—they will challenge the conventions about how battles are supposed to be fought. All the things that distinguish the ideal basketball player are acts of skill and coördination. When the game becomes about effort over ability, it becomes unrecognizable—a shocking mixture of broken plays and flailing limbs and usually competent players panicking and throwing the ball out of bounds. You have to be outside the establishment—a foreigner new to the game or a skinny kid from New York at the end of the bench—to have the audacity to play it that way.

George Washington couldn’t do it. His dream, before the war, was to be a British Army officer, finely turned out in a red coat and brass buttons. He found the guerrillas who had served the American Revolution so well to be “an exceeding dirty and nasty people.” He couldn’t fight the establishment, because he was the establishment.

The price that the outsider pays for being so heedless of custom is, of course, the disapproval of the insider. Why did the Ivy League schools of the nineteen-twenties limit the admission of Jewish immigrants? Because they were the establishment and the Jews were the insurgents, scrambling and pressing and playing by immigrant rules that must have seemed to the Wasp élite of the time to be socially horrifying. “Their accomplishment is well over a hundred per cent of their ability on account of their tremendous energy and ambition,” the dean of Columbia College said of the insurgents from Brooklyn, the Bronx, and the Lower East Side. He wasn’t being complimentary. Goliath does not simply dwarf David. He brings the full force of social convention against him; he has contempt for David."

Tired of that HR VP/Director standing in the way of your career progress?  How are you different than them?  What differences do you have that are marketable?

Most importantly, are you willing to find ways that you can contribute that are far from the norms you see but add tremendous value? Are you willing to use and market those contributions in a way that the establishment would mark as "socially horrifying"?

Socially horrifying.  I like the phrase, kind of gets you in the right frame of mind to think differently.



Great timing for this article! You reminded me why it may be a struggle for someone at my stage (28 y/o, in HR for 4+ years), but why it can be completely worth it in the end. Here's to (appropriately) rocking the boat!


Reminds me of when I was a young HR professional. Sadly I'm feeling like the establishment now. Your article reminded me of the power of thinking differently and looking for the "upset". Thanks.

Kristi Daeda

Love these thoughts. So often it seems like to provide real value, step 1 is to throw out the "it's always been done that way." Here's to hoping smart, dynamic professionals end up in organizations that understand the value of the renegade.

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