What if that wacky idea that bubbled into your brain during a meeting the one you stifled for fear others might think youre nuts had come out? Or if you freed the parts of your personality you keep hidden from co-workers, fearlessly letting your quirks show?
It would be hard. It would run against the societal forces that push us to the cushy, comfortable middle. But it might also be the best decision you ever made.
Weird isnt quite the new normal, but its gaining traction.
Some companies are starting to see that when you encourage employees to be authentic, good things happen. Smart ideas rise up, satisfaction grows.
Were entering, I hope, a Golden Age of workplace weirdness, a time when the pendulum swings away from mocking those who dare to set foot outside the mainstream.
To explore this idea, I spoke with Seth Godin, a marketing expert and author of We Are All Weird, which contains these two pointed sentences: If you cater to the normal, you will disappoint the weird. And as the world gets weirder, thats a dumb strategy.
First, weird needs to be defined. Weird, as Godin sees it, is choosing not to follow the checklist of normal, being yourself, thinking differently and not being afraid to voice those thoughts.
We succeed by doing something that everyone else says will never work, Godin said.
So being weird at work doesnt mean strutting around with purple hair or elaborate body piercings. It means getting over our cultural tendency to say only what we think people want to hear.
Weird is a weird word, said Nate Kreuter, an assistant professor of English at Western Carolina University, who wrote an essay for the online publication Inside Higher Ed in January called Be Your Weird Self. Weve all had it used against us in a negative way. But what were talking about are quirks and idiosyncrasies.
Kreuter gave a simple example. He has a hard time working if hes routinely interrupted or distracted. So when grading papers, writing or preparing for a class, he closes his office door or works from home.
He said some faculty cultures would find that antisocial. But rather than conform, Kreuter was upfront about this quirk and now works better and is happier.
Beyond basic work needs and tendencies are the ways we think about things. And that, above all else, is where weirdness should be nurtured.
In any industry, new types of thinking need to be encouraged, Kreuter said. That means tolerating some bad ideas and tolerating some odd ideas so we can sift through them and figure out what might be productive.
In his book, Godin wrote: Weve been trained since birth to enforce the status quo. Our bias is to the many. To please the many. To sell to the many. To be organized to serve the many. Surprise. The weird are now more important than the many, because the weird are the many.
How did this happen?
Our ability to communicate and connect exploded. The Internet allows weird people to find other similarly weird people, and all of a sudden being weird isnt so scary.
You need to ask yourself questions, the first of which Godin can answer for you.
Figure out what your problem is, he said. Your problem is youre afraid to be weird.
REX HUPPKE: Chicago Tribune workplace columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.