Often when working with clients to help them form or revamp a board we are faced with a list of qualifications that are strikingly similar to those of the current CEO: “a current president/CEO of a business in our industry with size similar to ours”. Of course the challenge is to find people meeting this description who are not direct competitors. It is easy to understand why an executive would want to have similar experience on her/his board. If the board understands the challenges and opportunities of a business it takes less time to inform them before a meaningful discussion.
However, when any group is composed of individuals who are too much alike Group Think can set in and diminish innovation. Group Think occurs when people are too comfortable with each other or too respectful of each other to challenge ideas. A “rubber stamp” board cannot test ideas in the crucible of critical analysis. Sometimes the very differences that cause us to spend extra time explaining an issue before we get to the solutions stage of a discussion can produce the most creative outcomes. Having intelligent, committed board members from different backgrounds can provide new ways of thinking about old problems. For example, the president of a company from a different industry whose customers, suppliers, or distribution channels are similar to yours may help you find alternatives your competitors don’t see. Different points of view help us to look at problems from a fresh perspective and can break the logjam of “we tried that before”.