Where there’s a weirdo, there’s a way: why weird wins over vanilla every time

Michael Lazerow wants you to be weird. Because weird is good. He’s in the right place: he’s at South by Southwest Interactive in Austin, in a vortex chock full of smart chocolate chip weirdos rolled up in a big all of marketer and VC goo. But even burnt — and we are all pretty burnt after three days of non-stop SxSW activities — it’s still tasty.

Michael gets messages late at night from Gary Vanderchuk telling him that he loves him. He offered to pay Michael’s two sons $200 bucks apiece to become Jets fans. (they declined. They came back hard at Gary, asking for $5,000 to switch. Gary came back with a $1,700 offer. See Vimeo for the full story.) He thinks differently. He’s living the life he wants to live. It’s working out just fine. 

(You can read Micheal’s entire post on the topic here: http://www.lazerow.com/2011/09/gary-v-offers-5000-to-cole-myles-to-like-jets.html )

Or take James Atucher (see his Twitter for samples of his tweets: crazy stuff  pops out there at 3 am. https://twitter.com/jaltucher ). He went on television to suggest that everyone should quit their jobs immediately. Since all companies are firing every employee, anyway, just go ahead a quit preemptively …because you should know that employed people are “like the living dead.”

Or consider Cyndy Gallup. Michael says that Cyndy is one of the most successful and happiest people he knows. She’s head of an ad agency. She’s known for her fabulously decorated home in Manhattan. She’s half Chinese, half British and spent some time in the socially oppressive  Brunei. She has a Chanel machine gun art on the wall, a Gucci chainsaw, and erotic Jade sculptures on the coffee table. She got a Ted talk without telling them her topic. She discussed her sexual experiences with men in their early twenties. She observed that young men are so immersed in hard-core porn that they believe that sex, as it is depicted in the fictional world of porn, is reality. This leads to some bizarre and hilarious ideas of how men think they are expected to behave in bed. She launched Make Love, Not Porn, and encourages healthy discussions around the topic of sex. See her Ted Talk on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FV8n_E_6Tpc  (Or check her twitter site https://twitter.com/makelovenotporn )

Michael posted a piece with LinkedIn on why weirdos are better than normal people that got more than 700 comments. Some said that embracing their weirdness was the turning point in their lives, where they really began to live in an authentic way. (Full article is here: http://www.linkedin.com/today/post/article/20130324141810-1714080-why-weirdos-outperform-normals )

His point is this: everyone is born different. We grow up with some powerful motivators to tuck our heads down, get in line, and fit in. Next thing you know you are a lawyer or an accountant – and then it just gets worse, going forward. Forget passion (unless of course you have a burning desire to operate as a CPA or patent attorney).

During the 1950s,  psychologist Solomon Asch performed a conformity experiment and found that most people were willing to deny the evidence of their own eyes and conform to the incorrect responses of planted subjects who gave the wrong answer deliberately. And you know, intuitively, that you’ve done this yourself, so don’t lie: under the right circumstances, most of us will avoid the confrontation of going against the crowd. (See Wiki on the experiments here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asch_conformity_experiments )

There’s survival at stake on this conformity thing. Growing up, most of us get a LOT of practice at following orders. Stepping out of line is risky. And yet it might be the most important thing you do.

In the Milgram experiment, another classic early psychology research test that is now considered by most to be unethical, subjects were coerced verbally by an authority figure to shock a person, while screams went on the adjacent room. (See wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment ). Turns out that most of us are conditioned to obey.

None of us can sit in judgment on the casual cruelty that goes on all around us – in institutions, in corporations, in any power dynamic where authority is surrendered to another person who tells you what to do. Ethics start with institutional structures, because once the average person is dropped into a structured system, they all pretty much behave the same, whether for good or ill.

So, how could we build in nonconformity into the process of education? Currently, the entire system is set up to drill students on required material for standardized testing and teacher salaries and school system allotments are based upon the results of those tests.

Check out Alfie Kohn: how do grades reduce quality? Grades reduce an interest in learning; they encourage you to pick easy tasks, easy classes, instead of taking on challenges where failure is possible, and they encourage lazy thought. The end product, for society, is an army of average Joes, doing the same thing day after day, performing  Homer Simpson quality work, and drifting from one low expectation to another until they drop into the grave. (See Kohn’s article: http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/tcag.htm )

Look at how conformity has affected music, something we used to think was a place where you might expect to encounter creativity. Now, a huge contingent of listeners are hearing the same top 40 songs on Spotify.

So, how did all this boring stuff happen? The sad answer: chasing the brass ring.

Americans have become excellent at being average. How do we get out of this situation? Try getting in touch with your inner weirdness.  Find out what makes you NOT a commodity, what makes you special and unique, give that weirdness a big hug, and don’t be afraid to stick out. Because being weird is better. And being weird is easier. Because you get to be yourself. At last.

So, how can we, as individuals, deal with the pressure and the challenges? Michael gave us a  bullet list on what being a weirdo could look like (in bullet points):

  • Social influence: weirdos are comfortable sticking out in a crowd. They are comfortable about who they are.
  • Influence: weirdos are willing to question common beliefs publicity with conviction.
  • Authority: weirdos listen to their gut and are follow their nose, motivated by their own desires and unafraid to pursue their dreams.
  • And do it now. There’s never been a better time to stand up for your own weird self.

So, to get back to James Atucher: is it time to quit your job? What would be an authentic life – for you?

Links

More images from 2014 South by Southwest Interactive
http://www.flickr.com/photos/clairwiloh/sets/72157642467963724/

http://eventifier.co/event/sxsw14/photos

2014 SxSW Interactive Presentations on Soundcloud 

https://soundcloud.com/officialsxsw/sets/sxsw-interactive-2014

Find out more about the South by Southwest Interactive Conference in Austin Texas

http://sxsw.com/

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