Introducing #3 in PTHR’s Unorthodox and Unplugged team blog series. Brought to us by Matteo Violi, PTHR’s close friend, and non-executive board member, writing on the power of weird!
…what comes to your mind when you hear this? Is weird bringing up images of strange and bizarre things for you? Would you use it to describe something that does not fit with what it is around it or for something exceptional? Is weird something scary or exciting for you?
The Origin of Weird
The origin of weird is linked to the Germanic work “Wyrd” meaning Fate or Destiny and initially evolved to describe being weird as the capacity of being in touch with our own Wyrd, our destiny.
Its use as a verb started in North America but meaning something inducing disbelief and alienation (you are weirding me out!). This marked the change in the spirit of the word, from something magic and special to something negative and alien/alienating.
We live in a conformist society, where norms and fashions abound and describe what spectrum of weirdness is acceptable and what becomes too uncomfortable. That need for comfort drove conformity by shifting the perception of weird as something rebellious, unfitting, potentially destabilizing which need to be conformed, or in the worst cases removed and cast out.
I believe it is now time to review how we perceive and approach weirdness, returning it to his original meaning as something magical and powerful.
Weirdness and Me
I am weird, and have been since I was a kid, I am used to not having a 100% fit in any group I am part of.
I was into the punk rock, metal and hardcore music scene, while at the same time being a cub scout leader, and a good student. While my friends played football, skateboarded or played in bands, I juggled fire torches and got a unicycle.
Over the years I have learned not to live this “lack of fit” as limitation or lack of belonging, but as an appreciation of uniqueness (mine and others’).
Even now, as a Learning and OD professional I still tend to stand out both in the way I look (Jeans and Doc Martens, with tattoos peeking out from my shirt) and in the way I approach my work (challenging assumptions about the way we work and learn, to build better experiences for people)
So, why should we re-evaluate and reframe our perception and assumption about “weirdness”?
For at least three key reasons:
Inclusion: Integrate without “Fitting in”
Organisations often adopt a “Melting Pot” approach to their people, through onboarding and hundreds of microtransactions every day, new people learn how they should behave in the company, “fitting” into the organisational culture mould often means leaving parts of themselves outside the “office”.
What if instead, we started thinking about “cultural fit” in terms of a “Fruit Salad Model”?
Like in a fruit salad, all individuals are part of and contribute to a wider picture, while they can still easily be recognised and valued for who they are. Their weird uniqueness a source of pride and value rather than something needing to be tamed.
This requires us all, as individuals and organisations, to learn to accept others in their uniqueness because we are comfortable in our own and are conscious of our strengths, limitations and perceptions.
Question: What is your uniqueness? What experiences, knowledge, skills, mindsets and roles sets you apart and makes you special?
Action: Share your uniqueness (strengths and vulnerabilities alike) in your teams. Bring people in that are different than yourself and learn about each other. Push the boundaries of what the “cultural fit” is.
Weirdness as the Source of Innovation
Think about people that have had an impact in their field: Elon Musk? “Weird”. The Beatles? “Weird”. Einstein? “Weird”. Ghandi? “Weird”. Jacinta Arderns? “Weird”, the list is endless.
All these people, and every single innovator, inventor, groundbreaker, have not accepted the current status quo, beliefs and roles, instead of conforming to systems, they have challenged them and worked out how to make it happen in their own way. Their weirdness, their uniqueness is both the source and the toolbox for their creativity and their drive.
Question: From your unique standpoint, what can you see around you (services, products, challenges) that could be done differently? If you could (and you can!) reinvent it, how would it look like?
Action: Next time you have a challenge, ask someone who has a very different “set” (background, skills, mindset…) to help you out. They will force you to rethink of your assumptions and might provide you with a view of your challenge through a new set of lenses.
In their early years Brewdog (the beer company), were refused investment funding by traditional investors, as their business was seen as niche and unorthodox. The conditions for investment were to conform to what a standard brewing company was doing.
Rather than compromising their weirdness the Brewdog founders decided to find their own way, asking instead their own community of customers to invest, inventing a crowdfunding approach to brewing that had never been done before to such a scale.
In ten years Brewdog has been growing exponentially, and has earned a loyal and growing following of fans, both for their drinks and their ways of working, making them the only UK entry in the top 25 beer global brands.
Organisational weirdness is not a gimmick, it’s the “Business Edge” that makes your organisation stand out and stand the scrutiny of their users, customers and workers.
That authentic weirdness can only happen though when the real organisational values are connected inside and outside. When the “brand” is more than a logo but becomes THE way of being and working together to create products and services that live and breathe such values.
Question: What does your organisation stand for? What makes it special and not just another company? How do you see that “special“ in your services and products? And how do you see that same weirdness playing internally, in the way teams all over the organisation work and interact together?
Action: Take what you have found above and “crank it to 11”! If that’s authentic and really part of your organisational DNA, it will unleash your organisation from mediocrity and you will stand out from all your competitors.
Ultimately being weird is not about extravagance.
Being weird is about not accepting things as they are. It is about inventing, challenging and innovating.
It is about being true and accepting, respecting and appreciating ourselves and others for who and how exceptional they are.
Let’s become the best and most complete version of ourselves as individuals, as organisations and as a society.
Be Weird and Wonderful!