Why Every Organization Needs Some Misfits
in Management by Emily Snell
Over the past two months or so, I’ve been playing around a lot on Google Plus – more on that, and on our amazing mentor Elaine Lindsay, in an upcoming post.
For now, let’s leave it at this: to use Google’s “Hangout” feature is to fall instantly and forever in love. Telephone? What’s that? Skype? Yeah, whatever.
So I’m giving you a provisional “do it!” on G+. But only provisional at this stage, and here’s one big reason: I really think Google needs to hire some English majors. Or history, or anthropology, or even dance – just, something other than engineers. They also need to hire some college – and high school – dropouts.
You’ve read the articles, you know: every open position at Google has 3,000 applicants, so if you aren’t valedictorian from a top-ranked school, you don’t even get an interview.
Meanwhile, they make their stuff (calendar, Gmail, and G+ all, in my experience) sooooo much harder to navigate than a busy (read: ADD) guy like me has time for.
And I honestly don’t think they have any idea.
Why is that? Why does one of our most iconic companies suffer a blind spot such as, “Damn, this Google stuff could be a lot easier to use?” I think for all their brainpower, they select brains that are too-similarly-wired.
Which is where I was going with this post all along. This isn’t a post about Google at all: this is all about your company, and a spin on diversity that never makes it into the discussion.
We talk about diversity as making the working world more fair by opening opportunities for women and minorities, be they racial (whatever a race is), ethnic, sexual orientation – you know this line of reasoning, and it’s a vitally important one. We live in a vastly better world because of this type of focus on diversity, and it’s getting better every day.
The more savvy among us go one further than fairness to point out that such diversity isn’t just fair, it also lends employers a competitive advantage, because of the diversity of perspective that a different life experience brings with it.
Imagine living in a society where women don’t work – you’ve just sidelined 51% of your talent. And where everyone must follow the same religion, and be ethnically identical. And where many of the highest skilled homosexuals feel so unwelcome (or endangered!) that they leave the country.
Good luck competing!
When everyone’s cut from the same cloth, the garments you’re able to make will be monochrome, and that’s that.
For all their brainpower, they select brains that are too-similarly-wired.
Diversity of background leads to diversity of thought, and diversity of thought is an essential antidote to groupthink – which is the bane of any leader, anywhere, at any time. Groupthink – in which the emperor only hears that his new clothes are gorgeous, and no one tells him he’s actually naked – results from leaders who isolate themselves with yes-men. These sycophants only say yes because they are afraid of what dissention will mean for their careers.
Groupthink comes from having an insecure, immature, and autocratic leader: the type of tyrant we all too often celebrated in the Twentieth Century.
Groupthink can also come about less intentionally, though. When a leader does not have sufficient perspectives around her, she will hear that her new clothes are beautiful not because she is an autocrat, but because the people advising her really, truly see the world as she does.
This is why misfits are so utterly important to add to the cocktail of the workplace.
Misfits don’t typically rank tops in their classes, because they’re bored with school – but the best ones are fascinated by other stuff; stuff taught (often to oneself) outside the four walls of a classroom. Misfits sometimes major in engineering (good news, Google!), but they almost never major in business; more likely psychology, or fine arts, or philosophy, or some other “impractical” field.
Diversity isn’t just fair, it also lends employers a competitive advantage
Misfits take a semester off to start a t-shirt business, and (though the business fails), they never quite make it back to campus – until they’re fifty, and they endow a chair.
Misfits don’t work well in an office, or 9-5, or on weekdays – they work all the time as ideas come to them: some of their best work is done before their run on Sunday mornings. They don’t wait their turn to lead, or show properly deferential behavior to their corporate “superiors” – they just don’t get all that stuff.
And when leaders sprinkle a good number of misfits in among their corporate rank-and-file, wondrous thing can happen to a company’s ability to innovate and thrive!
A few misfits might even be able to help Google make their products more ADD-friendly. I for one would be really grateful for that.