Are you the kind of person that leaves a few coins in your pocket to test the security scanner at airports; presses a button… just to see what it will do; was accident prone as a child; skis off-piste and has an impulsive attraction to dangerous sports, or is prepared to try almost anything just once, then it is likely that you are an edge dweller – living on that tantalizing line between excitement and accident!
Why is the edge important in business? I was thinking about this whilst talking with a particularly edge dwelling CEO. He reminded me of the importance of knowing where the business edge is; knowing when to push it but not to overstep it…
I realised that his constant quest for that sharp edge ignored the necessity for bluntness too - the edge is exciting, light, sharp, quick, and hard but must be balanced to be sustainable with a blunt side; boring, heavy, solid, soft and slow that has the ability to absorb shocks without breaking. A business on the edge is as unsustainable as an edgeless one that is all soft and flabby.
As with all conflicts that need to be harmonized, sharp and blunt oppose each other – so there is a tendency for a business to be either too sharp or too blunt. For millennia sword smiths have struggled to find the balance too. The problem is that the sharpest edge is hard and brittle whereas if the steel is too soft then it cannot be sharpened - it is flexible but blunt. The perfect sword is arguably the Japanese Katana. “The Japanese sword blade is formed from a combination of three different steels: a harder outer jacket steel wrapped around a relatively softer, inner core. This creates a blade which has a unique hard, razor sharp cutting edge with an inner core which is resilient and able to absorb shocks in a way which reduces the possibility of the blade breaking or bending when used in combat.” www.wikipedia.com
Businesses must also search for the edge but if too sharp they burn brightly for a short while cutting through the blandness of the competition but without substance and weight they run out of steam, they are sharp but weak – Laker Airways, Napster, boo.com - the business equivalent of a brittle blade. To be successful there must be balance between the sharpness of the marketing and the blunt weight of the organisation that provides the momentum to see the cut through. My entrepreneurial CEO was driven to make the whole organisation sharp and edgy. This quest for the edge created an anxiety in the business and misunderstandings in his team. Meetings had a hounded and desperate quality as all wracked their brains to sharpen up – not withstanding the fact that edge dwelling is a preference for some, it is terrifying for many. I realised in this scenario that rather than search for the edge in everything we do better to harmonise the blunt and the sharp. The Tai Chi Dao (sabre) I recently acquired has a sharpened side for slashing and cutting and a blunt side for weight and support and the hilt is solid blunt metal too and can deliver a blunt blow which is just as devastating as a sharp slash.
All great, sustainable brands achieve a balance between their sharp edge and the blunt strength of the organisation. When searching for the edge – for the sharpness that will deliver competitive advantage – don’t forget the ‘blunt side’. It is not possible to be sharp in everything we do, sometimes we wish to be blunt. 80% of your business activity needs to be just like the competition based on a sound product and organizational and market fundamentals. The edge is the remaining 20%.
What does this mean? Rather than expecting management to search for the edge in everything they do – ask them to implement one edgy idea and reinforce best practice in everything else.
A business that is blunt and dull is obviously competitively vulnerable. So too the over edgy – this is a business that is likely to cut itself.
Imbalance is weakness. Better to know where to be sharp and reinforce this with the weight and power of bluntness!