Friction is an opportunity for development, and discomfort can produce a pearl. An outdated social lens may cast aspersion upon people outside “traditional” systems and institutions, but they are actually a source of pragmatic wisdom. Take Wall Street recruitment processes for example.
At first glance, most people would naturally conclude the person working on the floor at Goldman Sachs would be a rich source of hiring information. But in actuality, the diverse candidates lacking social capital who couldn’t get their foot in the door, possess the expertise necessary for system-wide improvements. Just ask the folks at Wall Street Bound. Those shunted to the margins have firsthand knowledge of ways to mitigate inherent bias and build an equitable hiring process, compared to those unaware of the very challenges they’re tasked with addressing. The fresh eyes of an outside perspective deliver exceptional business value that even improves life for those on the inside.
Spot opportunities on the horizon
One of the most creative and innovative business people today is Rihanna. She has revolutionized two major industries — cosmetics and lingerie — and even left Victoria’s Secret to declare bankruptcy in her wake. Rihanna was quick to address the stunning lack of diversity in the cosmetics industry and proved serving underrepresented customers is very profitable. Her pivot into lingerie has been widely credited with killing the infamous Victoria Secret fashion show, to which she responded by hosting her own shows, to rave reviews. By wanting her customers to feel seen, embraced and confident, she has zeroed in on the missing ingredient that most fortune 500 companies still struggle to identify.
Another example of spotting opportunity and forging a new path is David Kenyon, the Black firefighter in Chicago who invented the fire pole in the 1870s. His all Black firehouse knew they were operating in a system rigged against them, but outside perceptions swiftly changed when their fire crew was arriving first at emergencies, thanks to the ingenuity of the pole.
Implement meaningful solutions
For Chetna Gala Sinha, it was easy to identify the reasons traditional banks wouldn’t take on rural female entrepreneurs, which is why she started Mann Deshi Bank. By designing customized service solutions, Mann Deshi Bank helps female micro-entrepreneurs access funding and build financial independence. These programs are meaningful because they take into account real world situations (like no collateral) that hopeful entrepreneurs face, and have adapted banking solutions around these barriers. As such, Mann Deshi Bank boasts a loan repayment rate of 96% and is helping to lift people out of poverty. That’s what happens when a system is designed to benefit the very people it seeks to serve.
Invisible barriers can be clearly identified
For people who are the status quo in a given system, they often cannot see how others struggle within it. Wells Fargo CEO Charlie Scharf glided into his finance career on a cloud of social capital — is he really the best candidate to diversify the talent pipeline and address hiring bias? Probably not. That’s not to say that powerful folks like Charlie are absolved from improving the system they dearly benefit from, but they can’t be expected to overhaul structures they can’t see. Structural inequality is vivid and personal for those outside the system’s definition of normal, and they’re starkly aware of systemic failures and process bottlenecks. People in this position have a vantage point allowing them to act as both inventor and innovator, affording them a valuable perspective to offer practical solutions for improvement.
Emerging from the margins
Just because you wear an ‘off the rack’ suit doesn’t mean you’re doomed to a disheveled appearance. There are plenty of ways to tailor the cut and add those subtle tweaks that allow people to look past the garment and see the person. Paralyzed veterans from WWII did just that when they invented wheelchair basketball. A few slight modifications allowed them to play basketball in games that not only drew thousands of cheering fans, but altered people’s perceptions of wheelchair users’ physical capabilities. Emerging from the margins, these veterans kicked off the disability movement we still see today. It’s safe to say that since people aren’t average by nature, it makes practical sense to create structures, systems and processes which can mold, adapt to and most importantly, appreciate the differences in people. And as Rihanna proves, there’s lots of money to be made from those businesses who take all their consumers seriously.