The Advantages of Being a (Fake) Outsider

Last Updated Nov 6, 2008 1:24 PM EST

  • The Advantages of Being a (Fake) OutsiderThe Find: The advantages of being an insider are obvious, but Malcolm Gladwell argues in the New Yorker that in business being an outsider also has its benefits - even if you're only pretending to have humble or unusual origins.
  • The Source: The FT Management blog discussing Gladwell's article.
The Takeaway: Being plugged in to the proverbial old boys' network certainly never hurt anyone in business. You know the right people and can feel confident of your mastery of all the unspoken rules and procedures. So why would anyone want to be an outsider? And even more interestingly, why would someone want to pretend to be an outsider even while enjoying all the advantages of insider status? Gladwell, author of the massively popular Blink and The Tipping Point, tries to answer just that. His case in point: Sidney Weinberg, the famous senior partner at Goldman Sachs who left school at 15. The FT Management blog sums up Gladwell's argument:
Long after becoming powerful, Mr Weinberg still played the role of 'dumb, uneducated kid from Brooklyn' when advantageous.... his underprivileged past eventually became an aid rather than a hindrance, even though he was operating in a relationship business that normally rewarded cultural insiders (or so one would assume). 'There are times when being an outsider is precisely what makes you a good insider,' he suggests.
Feigning outsider status might not be the most obvious career strategy but it offers the possibility of wrong footing your enemies and disguising exactly how much you understand. Plus, as the FT points out, "dual citizenship" makes a business person "harder to pigeon hole, and therefore harder to take for granted."

Reading these words while the media is so saturated with election coverage, it's hard not to think about George W. Bush, grandson of a senator and son of a president, wearing his lack of eloquence like a badge and making a show of clearing brush on his Texas farm. Looking at the outgoing president one would have to assume being a fake outsider has it's uses, at least in politics.

Gladwell's work is always a fascinating read so if you're looking for the complete article, click here.

The Question: Outsiders real or pretend speak out: does your background come in handy in business?

(Image of no outsiders sign by Eric I.E., CC 2.0)

  • Jessica Stillman On Twitter»

    Jessica lives in London where she works as a freelance writer with interests in green business and tech, management, and marketing.