Over the last month I have read “The Breakthrough Company” by Keith R. McFarland  (1) several times. This book remains one of the best pieces of work I have reviewed to assist small business entrepreneurs. Unlike many of the more popular business books, this great work focuses in on emerging small businesses and the issues entrepreneurs face in the real world.

One of my favorite parts in McFarland’s work is the chapter titled, “Enlisting Insultants.” I enjoyed it so much that I have considered having an extra set of business cards printed giving myself the title – Insultant.

The book aptly positions that according to researchers at Sloan Business School (2),many companies get left in the dust due to “myopia” or simple “inertia.” Myopia being that internal fire fighting focus and failure to see the big industry trends. Inertia is that familiar behavior of playing it safe, without change, and not seizing or exploring new and ever changing opportunity.  Obviously myopia is bad but even with a cure, inertia still can leave entrepreneurs and their companies behind the curve.

It is believed that successful enterprises encourage and enlist resources who will challenge and question the fundamental assumptions of the business. Entrepreneurs who want to grow their company must recruit and enlist DDA’s. For years, we as outside consultants have applauded internal “Dedicated Devils Advocates” and encourage entrepreneurs to create environments where others can express disdaining or challenging views.

This may sound easy but do consider that most small businesses are steered by strong personalities who are not used to challenge from subordinates or outsiders. Additionally, small businesses do not usually initially grow their ranks by recruiting free thinking, big picture focused, self confident and expressive workers.

We would suggest that each entrepreneur find insultants. If they are not part of the staff they can be consultants who supplement the staff. They can also be other entrepreneurs who are members of your business group. It does not matter where you find them as long as you have them.

Answer these questions for yourself to determine if you have the need:

  1. Do I have a resource dedicated to viewing the strategic direction of my company who is encouraged to push and challenge me?
  2. Do I create an internal environment where challenging the status quo is encouraged and rewarded?
  3. Do I listen when someone presents a logical case for major change when I know it is going to be uncomfortable for me or can I possibly interpret the feedback as an insult?

Do you need an insultant?

  1. Keith R. McFarland, The Breakthrough Company (Crown Business Publishing,2008)
  2. “Improving Capabilities Through Industry Peer Networks“, Sloan Management Review, Winder, 2006, 33.