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Outsiders are the Game Changers in Business


In ‘How Outsiders Become Game Changers’ (Harvard Business Review, August 2021), Gino Cattani and Simone Ferriani recently asked why outsiders succeed when so many others fail? As an example, they analysed 12,000 Hollywood professionals to understand who the most successful artists were. They found that those connected to both the periphery of the industry and the core networks had the most impact. In this ‘border zone’ these artists kept fresh with new ideas but remained well-enough connected to the centre to be in the frame for influential roles.

Cattani and Ferriani also recalled pioneering venture capitalist Don Valentine of Sequoia Capital refer to Steve Jobs as one of the ‘renegades from the human race’. In other words an outsider, but not an outlier, out of touch. He had legitimacy by networking enough and being known as credible yet exposed to the fast-moving fringes which offered fresh thinking and innovation. It is these outsiders who are often game changers, challenging current ways of doing things or adding crucial energy and new angles of running to get things done. But sometimes, to be accepted, they need internal sponsorship – a champion inside who recognises how things can be accelerated by an experienced outsider. Read more in our complete guide to interim management.

Interim executives are outsiders who have the legitimacy of a proven career in leading businesses and people through change and transformation. The benefit of hiring them comes from their different thinking and best practice learned from other organisations that they bring with them. Their horizons have not been confined to a single career in one company with one way of doing things – they have courage to try things out – that’s how you learn.  To make it all happen an insider needs to make an educated leap of faith and hire an interim for their track record and extensive operational experience and the courage to try things out.

Many organisations try to deploy – and sometimes overload – their existing employees when coping with change management situations.  It is enlightened business leaders who hire in independent practitioners from the outside, recognising that the exceptional behaviours and competencies required to accelerate change are often honed on the fringes by game changing interim executives.

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