Unconventional wisdom: the trends successful business leaders don’t follow – and why

Friday 27 July 2018
Anonymous feedback apps, paid menstrual leave and work-life integration are some of the ways managers challenge conventional thinking
Paper planes all heading straight except for one which is pink coloured


Margaret Heffernan

Recruiting highly efficient individuals in order to create productive teams does not work. So says entrepreneur and author Margaret Heffernan, who has adapted the ‘superflock’ theory of evolutionary biologist William Mure. In the workplace, groups consisting of ‘highly productive’ employees will show lower outputs than ‘generally productive’ groups over time.

Heffernan explains that highly efficient individuals often prioritise their own success over that of the group and are more aggressive in the workplace. Instead, group productivity is best built through social capital – trust, candour and openness.


Logan Green

In January, US ride-sharing app Lyft, whose CEO is Logan Green, confirmed that it was investigating employee feedback about improper use of data. Yet the insight hadn’t come via team meetings. Lyft employees are among those who use an anonymous app called Blind, where they can share their thoughts and feelings about work under pseudonyms.

Users log in to their company’s message board by using their work email address (not shared) and forums must have more than 30 members as this aids anonymity. Microsoft, Amazon and Uber are among the firms with the most contributors, and employee feedback can be positive, too – Blind has been credited with encouraging creative ideas.


Tony Hsieh

When it comes to unconventional wisdom, the CEO of online clothing retailer Zappos has it covered. For a start, the company encourages employees to talk about their personal lives: they are granted sessions with an on-site life coach who helps them achieve goals, such as losing weight, through a series of 30-day challenges.

Tony Hsieh told a crowd at Stanford University in the US: “There are companies that focus on work-life separation or work-life balance… at Zappos we really focus on work-life integration. When people are in that environment, that’s when the passion comes out and that’s really what’s driven a lot of our growth over the years.”


Tim Harford

It’s time to ditch your house style: fonts that are difficult to read help employees to retain ideas. Economist and author Tim Harford explains: “When you get something in these fonts, it’s ugly, difficult to read, and it attracts your attention. Then you actually start trying to understand what it says.” In psychology, the concept is known as ‘disfluency’ and leads to individuals processing information at a deeper level. This means they are more likely to recall it later on.


Mark Parker

Discretionary sick pay schemes often serve to implicitly discourage absenteeism, but in Asian countries such as South Korea paid menstrual leave is enshrined in law. Women receive one day off per month for period pain and employees are allowed to claim additional pay for those days not taken. The move is said to increase transparency and fuel long-term productivity by allowing workers to address a health issue. Internationally, Nike – whose CEO Mark Parker joined in 2006 – added paid menstrual leave to its employer code of conduct in 2007.

Image: Shutterstock

Read: from shunning tidy desks to multitasking, here are more examples of unconventional wisdom