Valuing Differences…Here’s to the Crazy Ones

In the wake of his untimely death, I’ve been reading a little about Steve Jobs.  From all accounts, he was a genius; something of a rebel; a free soul and a person who didn’t only think outside the box (oh how I’m beginning to loathe that expression) but simply chose not to acknowledge the existence of a box in the first place.

We revere him now because, as Steven Spielberg aptly observes, “Steve Jobs was the greatest inventor since Thomas Edison.  He put the World at our fingertips”

That’s some legacy.

All this has set me to wondering about our general approach to people who are decidedly different from the rest of us.  As kids, we shun, tease and bully them.  As teenagers, we use labels that are less than flattering to separate ourselves from them because they are “uncool”.    And, as adults in the workplace we do our best to compel those who are different to conform to generally accepted, often unwritten, codes of behaviour.

Occasionally, a brave and determined soul will break through all that nonsense and create something truly wonderful. It’s usually something the rest of us can only dream about. That’s when being different finally becomes something to celebrate and honour.

There’s a leadership lesson in here somewhere.  It’s about allowing difference to enhance the texture of organizational life.  The truth is, we are each different from the other.  By perpetuating organizational cultures that expect us all to be the same, we are limiting our potential to uncover and encourage the kind of activity that leads us to great invention and accomplishment.

While it’s true that not everyone considered different is going to be a genius, those who look through an uncommon lens have something to teach us.  We need to make room for that.

One of my favourite books about difference is  A Peacock in the Land of Penguinswritten by B.J. Gallagher Hateley and Warren H. Schmidt.   This little book clearly demonstrates our struggle between accepting differences and pushing against having to do anything different.  There is more about this book here.

The bottom line is this.  Leadership is about a lot of things.  Among them is having the courage and vision to embrace the ideas and contribution of those whose experience and perspectives challenge us.  Doing so is important to our present and most certainly to our future.

So, “Here’s to the Crazy Ones”

What do you think?



Filed under building awareness, diversity, Leadership, Leadership Vision, Organizational Effectiveness

8 responses to “Valuing Differences…Here’s to the Crazy Ones

  1. I have always loved that video, ever since I first saw it. I do believe we are too set in our ways, especially in business. Thinking different and doing different need the protection of a leader. How can you protect those who are exploring a different path? Not just the ones who will succeed, but those who are exploring and might not. It’s a necessary question if we are to keep moving forward. Thanks for the reflection, Gwyn!

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Monica ~ You ask an important question. It is easier to accept people, no matter how different they may seem, when they succeed. When difference is combined with failure, that makes it harder. The trouble is, people who are *different* and successful in creating real change and real value usually fail a number of times first. Perhaps the challenge for leaders is to embrace difference and also accept failure as a natural part of the creative process.
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts here. I’m always delighted when you come by 🙂

  2. Robin Donnelly

    Thank you for this post. This blog post seems written just for me. Not because I’m a genius, or any better than anyone else, but because I’m shunned all the time for being different. AKA: Bullying.

    I’m a direct communicator, decisive, firm with the rules, do things by the book and have more experience in my field than the ones asking for guidance and I’m successful. It’s sad to say, but I’ve been openly harassed, talked about, called names, threatened, blocked, and deleted from groups because my answers didn’t fit what everyone else wanted to hear, or because I had a different perspective altogether.

    You would think that participating in an adult group where people are asking for help, that any and all help would be welcome. But, sadly I find that it’s the ones who give pat answers, and very little “meat” to their answer that are favored. You know, the politically correct, weigh so carefully what ones says that it’s lost in translation kinds? The ones who have little to contribute to the conversation except for the need to be accepted and liked are viewed as “normal” and welcomed with open arms.

    We have an epidemic of shunning people that speak differently, have different experiences and ways of communicating that are different than our own. The people doing these things are the very same people that talk of being leaders and mavericks in their fields. I will gladly accept help and listen to anyone, take it in, use what works for me and discard what doesn’t. There’s too much “agree with me or else” in this world. Conform to my ways, or leave.

    Rebels, square pegs in the round holes, “the crazy ones” aren’t sharing this viewpoint to be viewed as genius or eccentric, they are sharing it to help others succeed and be their best. Chances are, this “nut job” had been there and done that and knows how to save you from making the same mistakes. If you succeed, then I succeed. Simple.

    And some adults unwittingly participate in bullying by going along with this kind of behavior. Obviously, everyone wants to feel valued for their opinions and experiences and accepted in any group, but we need to have enough courage to leave those groups, and/or people behind, do our own thing and succeed without approval. Steve Jobs did it. I do it and hope that anyone who reads this post will too.

    • Gwyn Teatro

      Robin ~
      Thank you for sharing your story here. To be excluded, and worse, is a very painful and no doubt frustrating experience. I’m learning that regrettably it happens far too often and when it does, everyone is the poorer for it.
      While I cannot say that I have been bullied, I do know what it is to be the “odd person out”. What helped me was learning to ask questions at opportune times. In other words, if I felt that I knew something that other people needed to know but also knew they wouldn’t listen to me if I “told” them, I would fashion a question that helped them see the issue from my perspective. It didn’t always work but it did help me build a few bridges.
      You may have a totally different way of going about it. As a successful person you have much to share and it sounds like your challenge is not to conform but to find ways of being heard. In this, you have my best wishes.
      I’m reminded of a passage from the Desiderata. It is my wish for you today:

      “Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
      You are a child of the universe,
no less than the trees and the stars;
      you have a right to be here.
      And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should”

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  4. Greetings Gwyn!

    I must admit, I was immediately attracted to this post because of the title and the image. I was pleasantly surprised to find that video at the end. It was not my first time seeing it, but I watched it anyways. It is quite powerful.

    I could not agree with you more about how there is too much pressure to conform in our world. People are so rigid in their ways and so adamant towards change. Have those people ever stopped to consider where we would be without people like Steve Jobs who chose to “think different”? I wish I possessed the entrepreneurial qualities of any of those individuals in that video clip.

    I really enjoy your blog Gwyn. The title hints about the content without giving it all away. I work for the University of Notre Dame’s online certificate program. They offer an executive certificate in negotiation, which goes right along with your subject matter. I would love to submit a guest post on behalf of the university. Please e-mail me and let me know if this is something you would be interested in. We can discuss potential topic ideas and go over any guidelines you might have. I look forward to hearing from you. Cheers Gwyn!


    • Gwyn Teatro

      Hi Kaity,

      Thank you very much for your kind words. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post.
      We are all great in our own way. We just don’t all become famous for it. And, fame is not something too many people want anyway. 🙂
      I will send you an e-mail with respect to your intriguing proposal. Thank you for it, and for taking the time to comment here.


  5. Pingback: Looking Back…A Year in Review | You’re Not the Boss of Me

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