By definition, weird is outside the norm. it challenges convention and makes you do a double-take. At my last job, we set up an annual breakfast pitch-in called Baconpalooza to help break the ice across functional areas and get people talking to each other. On one special day a year, we would encourage people on our floor to bring in breakfast dishes featuring bacon*. Then at 9:00am we would pick a ‘winner’ who would receive a medal and ribbon. It was a little odd, and we only got sporadic participation for the first year or two, but by year three we had a good crowd, and the president of the company asking “When’s Baconpalooza this year?” And asking his admin to pull him out of meetings for it. It became an event that people appreciated, and it did the job we intended — getting more people across departments to talk to each other about what they were working on. We also had a co-worker who would show up to work in an outfit made to resemble two strips of bacon, so we knew how to turn a few heads if we wanted more attention.
“Did I just see that?”
And that’s what weird gets you. Attention. But, as we all know, it’s not always safe to be weird. People generally prefer things that reflect a world that they’re familiar with. And very few people typically invite the kind of attention that the truly eccentric receive on a daily basis. So being weird can be a double-edged sword — it can put people off your brand too soon, before you can win them over. We can call this Bad Weird. It’s ok to avoid Bad Weird.
In his TED talk, Derek Sivers explores how something can be really weird because it is just the opposite of what youʼre expecting, given your past experience and circumstance. This is a kind of weird that can be really valuable, because once you’ve decoded the initial shock, it all makes sense again, and it becomes a story that you want to tell over and over.
“You’d never guess how they number houses in Japan!”
One possible ‘good version of weird’ is where the mental model you’re proposing has a consistent logic that is compelling and true, even if it can be initially off-putting or seem contradictory.
This all means that there can be some benefits to being a little weird in creating and managing your personal brand. And some of these benefits can be pretty amazing.
Good weird can be freeing
Being a little weird can give you permission to lean into your passions a little harder than you might have thought. You are free to imagine a world where the normal guardrails don’t apply, and things can work very differently — and in your favor. What if your skill for playing the piano comes in handy at the company awards dinner? Maybe you never get the spotlight at work, but that one night a year, you could have everyone hanging on your every word.
Julia Mah has written that the things that we are weird about are the things that are sacred to us, and she’s right — when you don’t mind being weird about it, then you’re deeply involved enough not to care about how you could be judged.
Weird is memorable, and gets spread by word of mouth
You may forget what you had for lunch in the office cafeteria last week, but you certainly remember when someone shows up to your meeting and whips out a painter’s palette and smock: asking you to help them create a ‘masterpiece’ of a marketing plan. Come to think of it, just try to NOT to tell anyone else about it if something like this happens to you. I would be on my phone before the meeting was over, texting my co-worker friends to let them know about what just happened.
Weird is seldom boring
Weird is never the ‘same old, same old’ and so it can be refreshing, and feel like a break in the monotony that we sometimes face. Recently, Liz Ryan posted a plea for people to stop describing themselves in terms of soulless skills and boring, inactive traits in the profiles, and I think it’s a good model to follow for most of our interactions. There’s a time to use typical keywords like ‘working with a cross-functional team’, and a time when you should probably describe the group as a ‘rag-tag group of troublemakers, out to change the company and shake up the hierarchy.’
Weird can be innovative
Just last week, Suzi McAlpine wrote a piece about how dissonance can foster innovation. And when you think about it, you can probably come up with the names for quite a few products and big ideas that definitely started from a weird place. There once was a time when people had to be convinced that they could shop online safely, and it used to be a weird notion to buy or sell things like clothes or shoes on the web. Then Zappos made a name for themselves through an innovative returns policy that no other online store had ever dared to try before. They embraced weirdness as a way to try things that would scare their competition. And that’s a bet on good weird that paid off.
Weird can be about differentiation
Apple once said to Think Different. And the purpose behind that slogan was to consider something that was not just different, but could be better. And something which is fundamentally different to your competition is, by definition, ownable in the market that you’re in. When you’ve got a position that is ownable, differentiated, and unique — then you’ve carved out new territory that no one else has the right to play on but you. Finding this position for your product can lead to easier search engine optimization for your content, better breakthrough of your advertising, and higher recall amongst your target customers. And for a personal brand, well, it can create more and more equity around the unique person that is you!
So sure, there’s no reason to ditch convention completely. We all have to spend some time toeing the line and delivering on standard expectations from others. Besides, a little weird (like many things) can go a long way, so there’s no reason to burn your button-downs and start wearing latex shirts to work every day. But it’s important to realize that there are some gifts that only a little weirdness can give you.I recommend that you try to bring down your guard a little this week and take advantage of it.
A little bit of the good kind of weird might be just what you need to really stand out from the crowd.
* Baconpalooza welcomed dishes with other ingredients, too. We decided that swine wasn’t mandatory for participation, since it’s not everyone’s cup of tea, as it were. After all, vegetarians and other no-pork consumers had to join the fun, too. Weird makes room for everyone!
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