“When the going gets weird

The weird turn pro.” Hunter S. Thompson

Nice article from BusinessWeek on recruiting — and retaining — “weirdos.”  Contrast this with the rounds of interviews some companies subject prospects to, all in the name of making sure they’re a good fit.  As an alternative, spend that time and energy tying to figure out how to envelop the misfits in Einheit. And while you’re at it, jettison the smooth-talking sycophants.

Boyd quoted Gen Hermann Balck as telling him that one mark of a great commander was the

Willingness to support and promote (unconventional or difficult) subordinates who accept danger, demonstrate initiative, take risks, and come up with new ways toward mission accomplishment; Patterns 118

As the BW article’s author, Martin Davidson, put it:

Leaders should hire people who embody different traits and skills that are most important to the company’s goals. Those differences include subtle ones—such as personality, ways of thinking, or problem-solving—as well as visible differences, such as race, gender, or culture. Instead of seeing diversity as a distracting mandate handed down from human resources, leaders should use these differences to build a workforce that gives them a competitive advantage.

You can’t exploit an idea if nobody has the idea in the first place. The more weirdos, the wider range of potentially insanely great ideas.

Tom Peters once wrote that great leaders should be able to point to people in their organization whom they personally disliked, but whom they had promoted because of their value to the team.  For example:

  • If you’re a Democrat, have you promoted anybody to a senior position who worked in Mitt Romney’s campaign? Any Tea Party members?
  • If you’re an atheist, how many conservative Christians report directly to you? Muslims? Orthodox Jews?
  • If you’re concerned about global warming, do you have any climate skeptics on your team? New earth creationists?

And so on.

I remember somebody once telling me — it could have been Boyd — that “normal” people don’t do great things. It would certainly have applied to him. Would you have hired Boyd? Really?


Another jewel from The Doctor:

We disagree so violently on almost everything that it’s a real pleasure to drink with him. If nothing else, he’s absolutely honest in his lunacy — and I’ve found, during my admittedly limited experience in political reporting, that power & honesty very rarely coincide.

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4 thoughts on ““When the going gets weird

  1. I get the impression that corporations do not want weirdos because they prefer the “stay in your lane” type compliant drone versus a maverick.

    It’s a real shame because mavericks will do more good than harm in many cases. They may not always have the best bedside manner, and sometimes crazy ideas, but the ideas that do work can be revolutionary.

    That being said, I am not sure political views are the way to promote. I’d say ability to come up with unconventional ideas, and being open minded should be better traits.

    – Chris

    • Chris,

      Thanks. I didn’t say they should be promoted because of their political views. Rather, they shouldn’t be held back so you can staff your organization with people who think like you do. Which I have, in fact, seen.


  2. Thanks Chet. Great points, and here are a couple of items to build on it. One of my favorite quotes was said by someone in Boeing that I got 2nd hand, so unfortunately I don’t have a name. “The most interesting problems are solved by the most interesting people.” Beautiful!! And a great book recommendation I’ll give is “We Are All Weird” by Seth Godin. Many of the same points written in a very empathetic and compelling way–people’s strengths can also be their weirdness. The mark of a successful person is to identify and embrace that in yourself. The mark of a successful leader is to identify and nurture that in others (in the direction of the common goal). Brett

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