How to Sell Your Weird Idea

In his latest Pinkcast, Dan Pink sits with Olga Khazan, a staff writer at The Atlantic and author of Weird: The Power of Being an Outsider in an Insider World.

In the interview, Olga talks about what it means to be weird, what the advantages are to being weird, and how such outsiders can advance their offbeat ideas in organizational settings where people typically resist such ideas. In other words, how to channel your inner weirdness in order to be more effective.

Khazan notes that weird refers to being different than others in terms of your beliefs, your identity, or your ideas. The advantage of being weird is that studies have shown that people who are rejected and feel like an outsider come up with more creative ideas and more creative solutions.

So the big question is, how can a person get an oddball idea accepted in a traditional organization?

Khazan introduces the idea of idiosyncrasy credits, a term first brought to light back in 1958 in the article Conformity, status, and idiosyncrasy credit in the journal Psychological Review.

The process of building up such credits involves establishing yourself in the organization by conforming, agreeing with what others are saying, and going along with things until the group thinks of you as one of their own.

At that point, you are ready to share your weird idea, or as Khazan puts it, “let your freak flag fly”.

I think selling a weird idea also involves a good deal of confidence on the part of the person trying to sell it. The odds are that oddball ideas are likely first met with a great deal of resistance, even if the group thinks of you as one of their own. To get past that resistance requires confidence in yourself and confidence in your idea. I think a good way to build up such confidence is to have a few wins under your belt; once you do, I think you will have more confidence in yourself, and so will others.

Bottom line – three cheers for the weirdos.

You can read an excerpt from Khazan’s book in The Atlantic – “The Perks of Being a Weirdo”.

Here’s the Pinkcast video (opens in a new window):

32 thoughts on “How to Sell Your Weird Idea

  1. I found the kids who some considered weird to be the most entertaining kids to teach. I often found them to be divergent thinkers. Sometimes you have to go against the grain.

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  2. As a socially awkward person, I think that the first step is where I’ll fall flat on my face. How can I let my freak flag fly if I can’t assimilate in the first place lol. Thanks for this, Jim!

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  3. Thanks for that precis. I rarely get around to running podcasts or videos. I mean well but… life’s too short. My growing list of waiting links eventually gets deleted en masse.
    The moral of my story? Include a transcript.

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  4. I guess I am stuck at the definition of “weird”. If non-linear thinking and conceptualized thought are weird, then yes, let that freaky flag fly. If weird is thinking or behaving in a non-conforming manner in an attempt to stand out as an individual, then that does not necessarily promise innovative ideas. I do agree that assimilating to the generalized goals of any group offers a greater opportunity to showcase unusual ideas and have them fall upon fertile ground. If you are just shouting crazy ideas from the sidelines, nobody will be listening. Great post, Jim! Had me putting on my thinking cap this morning.

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  5. I think we’re all a bit weird, Jim. Most of us feel like we’re outsiders trying hard to fit in, not realising that everyone feels exactly the same. The happy ones, I think, are those that embrace their inner weirdness and don’t worry too much about fitting in.

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  6. Our Prime Minister’s brain, aka Dominic Cummings, said earlier in the year that he wanted to employ weirdos to support the government. It didn’t go well: the first one we heard about had to be sacked for racist posts on social media. Strange, really, as racism and weirdness seem to be prerequisites for a post in Johnson’s Cabinet…

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  7. I think the best strategy is to let the group fall asleep, bored with their own traditional, staid and stale ideas. That’s when everything falls apart. And that’s when Superweirdo, lurking in the back of the room, changes into his uniform and cape and springs into action to save the day.

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  8. Having a leader who is willing to accept “weirdness” certainly helps. But you hit the nail on the head because the key is having confidence in yourself and your ideas. That can be a big hurdle for people others think are weird.

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  9. There’s a lot to think about here! I am a bit weary about conforming to the group so that you can assert your weird ideas later on since you may end up actually conforming to the group and losing your creativity/weirdness. There is an invisible line between creative and weird, and it seems that clarifying the definition of weird here is key. If you are “really weird” as opposed to a bit different, or out-of-the-box thinker, you can lay low in a group for eternity, but as soon as you show a weird side you will be called out. However, if we are just talking creativity at work, I think that presentation is key. Many work places like innovative ideas. At least as a concept to explore.

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    1. thanks for your insights and thoughtful comments. You’re right, sometimes there is aline to be drawn between creativity and just plain weirdness. And I don’t think anybody should have to pretend who they are not. But I do think it is helpful to build up an ally or two if you are trying to pitch an idea to an organization…


  10. Weird is cool, acceptable, often encouraged, and even rewarded in the right environments. I say, if “Weird is You” … be genuinely weird and authentic from the Get Go. Don’t wait around for Idiosyncrasy Credits and the unnecessary validation of conformity. Get Your Weird All-The-Way-On Before You Speak.

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    1. I’m glad you said that, because it’s what I was thinking as well. It seems a little disingenuous to conform by being somebody you are not. But I would wait a while to learn the lay of the land before I sprung my weird ideas on my colleagues….

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