Look for the weirdos!

The picture was found in google images, someone probably owns this. Let me know in the comments if this is you. Or that you own it... :)

Looking back at a quarter of a century I spent in various parts of  Tech, I see an ocean of mistakes I would not do today and some that I probably still repeat, but this time knowingly. This chunk of time spent also allows me to draw some observations and create pseudo-statistical, purely empirical, subjective opinions. I hope that some of them would resonate with you, and make you look at things a bit differently, even if eventually you would dismiss those paradigms as invalid. The seed would be planted anyway.

Humans are irrational, complex, and interesting, but just like other animals, we have behavioral and cognitive patterns. We have biases that are made of our experiences, education, and culture, but also rooted in our fundamental need for survival. We were blessed by strong cognitive capabilities to identify these biases, and actively decide to take (or not to take) action to minimize those. Some actions are more and some are less successful, but being aware is a good start anyway.

Having no proper education nor intention to go into a social analysis of society, I do believe that people that we meet and dub as "weirdos" throughout our lifetime are labeled such because they somehow don't fit into our subjective models. We don't understand them, they behave oddly, they think "weird", and they look "weird", so we tend to shy away from them and seek "safety" with those like us. while pushing the "weirdos" to be either alone or to form their own circles. All that does not, of course, mean that I am normal and not a weirdo to someone else. After all "normality" is subjective too.

Since the explosion of social media and wide adoption of sites like LinkedIn that practically laid out the whole career, education, and migration path of your connection, OSINT (Open Source Intelligence), although still counted as stoking outside of law enforcement, and definitely frowned upon in romantic relationships, don't ask me how I know, is more or less legitimized. So there is no shame (if you don't tell anyone about it) in looking up a person you worked with 20 years ago, feeding your momentary curiosity and the absolutely human desire to ruin your mental health by comparing who achieved more.

Oh come on, don't tell me you didn't do it.

Anyway, while having those moments of weakness I have discovered an interesting trend:

People who I have considered "weirdos" at my workplace or tech community over time have had substantially more interesting careers with high chances of wide and strong influence.

The people behind whose backs we were secretly laughing have become authors, CTOs, accomplished researchers, renowned speakers, founders of multiple startups with undeniable stats of success, and revolutionary/innovative ideas generators.

During the same session of carefully hiding my tracks while digging into other people's lives, I discovered that people I considered at a time "normal", also progressed in their careers, grew in ranks and influence, and increased their experience, yet, haven't really achieved something we would consider notable or extraordinary. They stayed who they were - normal.

I am too old and grumpy to submit to envy. This is a prerogative of younglings. This gives me a rare opportunity to start analyzing.

Could it be that our social behavior pushed those now-weirdos into solitude where they have found salvation in mind work and creativity? Have we, the bullies of the office made them such? If so, should we be proud of "granting the gift of their genius" to the world? Nah, doesn't seem right, even if most of the modern supervillains in comics and movies, are exactly that.

Could it be that it is much simpler, and I labeled them as weirdos because of a mismatch in some superficial external criteria, while that was merely a manifestation of a significantly different way they see the world? That resonates better.

As leaders and hiring managers we are taught to pay attention to biases, yet we still very much act within certain models we believe are right. We hire a team member that fits our model of success, even when we pay special attention to diversity. We define that success with people in our team based on a model we have in our mind. Where does this model come from? Our surroundings? Books we read? What experiences have we had in our own bubbles? Does it mean that we are still, maybe not explicitly, labeling? I believe that to some extent - the answer is yes.

All this contemplation has taught me to look for the weirdo in the team, or organization and pay special attention to them. Their mindset, paradigms, and ways of thinking, and communicating might be out of "normal", but it can be exactly the magic sauce your team needs to expand and grow outside of the box. You don't really want your team to be all "normal".

When you find a weirdo in your team, subtly protect them. People are cruel, and the same elementary school-type relationship structure can emerge in teams of adults. Outcasting and bullying are happening - be vigilant. The team won't be open to accepting the weirdo unless this is something you, as a leader, do.

I have seen those unique people being fired at the next convenient moment because they don't fit the social fabric of the team. That might be true, but a strong bias check is required before doing it. Some weirdos are indeed psychopaths or sociopaths, and should not be on the team, but interestingly, those two categories are looking very "normal" at first.

This practical example, In my mind, adds a very substantial layer to the diversity and inclusion concepts. Everyone talks about race and gender, a bit less about age, and even less than that about "weirdos", although neurodivergence is maybe in the same domain.  

So to summarize:

Look for the "weirdo", the odd one, clear out that they are not a physical and mental danger to the team, and learn from them! After all, they are very likely to be someone really prominent in the future.

Now do whatever you want with this information.


Snarky Doodle

Subscribe to Grumpy Old Men

Don’t miss out on the latest issues. Sign up now to get access to the library of members-only issues.