Let’s be real. Fitting in can be overrated. After all, the people who make history aren’t conventional. Being an outsider may feel like a bad thing. It could make you feel unsafe or disconnected or misunderstood. But research proves that there’s a bright side, even creative power, in thinking differently. So, how do you do both? Is it possible to be both in and out? Yes.
We’re not saying it’s easy. For anyone who has not yet seen (but will soon be obsessed) over the show Ted Lasso, outsiders typically have a very rough road. But Ted embraces his “outsider-ness” in a surprisingly easy way that is rich with comedy, and science backs him up… creativity can flourish when you are not part of the “in” group.
Now from comedy to reality…remember when you were a kid? Being considered ‘weird’ was not a good thing. We all have a built-in defense mechanism for being anything other than normal. What’s the problem with being normal though?
When everyone thinks or behaves the same way, problem solving suffers.
So, what’s the strategy? Olga Khazan, a staff writer at The Atlantic, has a few insights as she literally wrote a book on it: Weird: The Power of Being an Outsider. Sure, sharing your “coloring-outside-the-lines ideas” can feel terrifying. But fret not. Khazan has a pretty straightforward strategy. First, become part of your company’s culture. Go to parties (virtually in COVID). Engage in meetings. Show that you care about the other members of your group, as that gives you the virtual “in”. Once you show that you can be trusted, they’ll be more interested in (and tolerant of) your so-creative-it-might-have-felt-scary-before ‘outsider’ ideas.
Now all kinds of magic can happen. Creative thinking is what has powered the best ideas (business and otherwise) since forever.
What if creativity is tricky because the team just feels overworked? There’s more than one way to get outside thinking. One way is to tag someone in. Have a sticky problem that no one seems to have the bandwidth or ingenuity to solve? Bringing in someone who is literally outside of your organization is one way to get a fresh perspective. That’s where we can come in. We’ve seen our clients bring in an interim person to think differently–like a compensation person who rethinks and redesigns a key incentive plan or an organizational designer who redesigns a company’s performance management from an outdated approach to a more modern one.
Another way is to seek your Insider Outsiders within your organization. Identify those people who often come up with creative, unique insights to a problem and who offer a perspective no one has thought of. As leaders, the simple act of encouraging your lovable “weirdos” to test out new ideas in a safe environment is all it takes.