In Good to Great by Jim Collins, the pattern of “the window and the mirror” is introduced when talking about the leaders of companies that made the leap from “Good” to “Great”. According to the book,
Level 5 leaders look out the window to apportion credit to factors outside themselves when things go well (and if they cannot find a specific person or event to give credit to, they credit good luck). At the same time, they look in the mirror to apportion responsibility, never blaming bad luck when things go poorly.
While the context of Collins’ pertains to individual leadership qualities, when reading this, I immediately began thinking of social enterprises operating at the BoP. Companies like d.Light Design and Aravind Eye Care who knowingly jump into an industry where others have shown little improvement over the status quo, and seek to drive change, highlight the effect of looking in the mirror rather than the window.
There’s something to be said about focusing on your own organization rather than what the rest of the industry does. If you’re confident in your belief and your strategy, then let the market do its own thing. There is always room for internal improvement, and great companies start from their dedication and determination within.
It would be just as easy for Aravind, who performs low cost eye surgery in India, to cite the the tough market conditions of rising health care costs and helplessly jack up the price to their customer. Yet they have found a way to buck this trend and look at themselves for methods of improvement.
d.Light, with all of the many hurdles they have to cross in order to develop, produce, and distribute their products, is going against the grain of accepting industry constraints. They refuse to accept that due to the lack of technology, market strength, scale, and supply chain routes, they cannot compete. It is their desire to find a way where others have not that allows them to continue to grow.
Though these are only two small examples of social enterprises looking in the mirror, I see this as being a key concept that many social enterprises will need to face and overcome in their journeys. Do not accept pre-existing industry conditions as unchangeable; do not forget to look at yourselves for ways to improve; do not pass the buck – there is always a way.