Why Give a Damn:

A good manager should know when their skill sets have outgrown the evolution of the business. Read this post to learn how and why you will need to “get out of the way.”

The author of this post, Ken Banks, is the founder of kiwanja.net and FrontlineSMS, and devotes himself to the application of mobile technology for positive social and environmental change in the developing world.


What do The Rolling Stones and the organization I founded, FrontlineSMS, have in common? Not much, you might think. Well, The Rolling Stones are not users, they’re a little better-off than us, and they’re considerably more famous. But there is something a little more subtle that FrontlineSMS shares with them – management innovation.

In his autobiography – “Life” – published in 2010, Keith Richards describes the evolution of The Rolling Stones‘ management. Three quite distinct individuals played key roles in getting the band to where they are today. From an article in November 2010 in The Week magazine:

“First up was Andrew Loog Oldham – described as an oddity of the London music scene – who successfully branded The Stones as the “dirty, snarling and mean” antidote to the then clean-cut Beatles. Then came Allen Klein, a lawyer expert in negotiating with record companies. Finally, there was Prince Rupert Lowenstein, a private banker with no roots in the music industry, who professionalised the outfit – establishing separate companies to handle publishing, merchandising and touring – which made The Stones one of the richest bands in history”

The evolution and management of FrontlineSMS can also be broken down into three phases:

  • Technology Innovation
  • Organizational Innovation
  • Business Model Innovation

As The Stones example demonstrates, each phase requires a very different skill set, and it would take an extraordinary individual to be able to manage and deliver successfully on each. While I may have been the right person to kickstart FrontlineSMS – in the right place at the right time at the very least – to successfully deliver on Phase One, that doesn’t mean I’m the right person for Phase Two, or Three. A large part of building a successful organization is assembling a talented, diverse team with complementary skill sets. Identifying gaps and being honest about our own strengths and weaknesses is a large part of the process.

The social entrepreneurship sector, however, remains largely laser-focused on the innovator, the person behind Phase One. Recognizing that organizations develop in phases, and have different needs at each, there needs to be a slight shift in how we view – and support – entrepreneurs and the vehicles or organizations they help create.

With this in mind, there might well be a few things the social entrepreneurship sector could learn from The Rolling Stones.

Burning Question:

How can you recognize when your company has outgrown your managerial skill set?

Ken Banks

Author Ken Banks

Ken is the founder of kiwanja.net, Means of Exchange, and FrontlineSMS. He is a Pop!Tech and Ashoka Fellow, Tech Awards Laureate, and National Geographic Emerging Explorer, and has been internationally recognized for his work applying mobile tech for positive social and environmental change in the developing world. Ken is also the Entrepreneur in Residence at CARE International.

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