The Creative Power of Misfits

Have you ever felt like an outsider on your team?

You may just be the most valuable person on your team, according to Adam Grant an organisational psychologist and the host of WorkLife with Ted a podcast about what makes workplaces not suck.

In this episode, Grant tells a story about how Pixar wanted to create another hit after the success of Toy Story, but they didn’t have any more good ideas.

Then Brad Bird, writer, animator and director from Pixar collected dedicated Pixar employees who other people said were a little odd, or difficult to work with, people who felt they had been ignored in the past, but still loved Pixar. Misfits.

This is key, as misfits who don’t care about your company’s cause anymore don’t give their best work or they might just quit.

Bird gathered these misfits and asked them what they wanted to do but hadn’t been allowed to do or hadn’t been able to do because the technology didn’t exist yet. Then told them, that’s what they would do.

The movie they made with this approach was The Incredibles. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you, but it was a huge hit, their biggest hit at time of release, and is still beloved by millions.

When Should You Use Misfits?

Grant says the best time to shake things up at your company or in your team is actually when things are already going well.

When things are going well, you have the most time and resources, so you can afford to take risks in the hopes of higher rewards.

It is much more common to shake things up once a company or project is failing, but by then it’s often too late. The damage is done.

So when things are going smoothly, you should consider rounding up some misfits and breaking the status-quo.

Why Use Misfits at All?

Doing things the way they have always been done, will not get you anywhere new.

If you want safe, steady results, keep doing what you’re doing.

That said, your competitors are probably taking risks and finding ways to get ahead. Blockbuster carried on as they were and ignored the changing times and technologies, remember them?

Grant cites a study that says that listening to misfits and letting them work on their own ideas has been shown to be as valuable to the company, as an external consultant or expert, but much cheaper, as they already work for you.

How Do You Motivate Misfits?

Motivating misfits can be difficult.

These are likely people who are already disgruntled due to being an outsider or having felt overlooked in the past, so how do you get them to gruntled? Or better yet, excited?

Grant says the best way to fire up some misfits is to tell them that someone whom they don’t respect doesn’t believe in them.

To get a creative team like designers pumped, tell them that the “suits” upstairs don’t think they can do this, that those stuffy executives are having doubts.

This will make your misfits want to prove those people wrong and will do everything in their power to do so.

Don’t Tell Misfits Their Peers Don’t Believe In Them

If you want to discourage your misfits, then use the exact same method as above, but have the source be someone whose opinion they do value.

If you tell your misfit clan that their direct manager or an expert in their field doesn’t believe in them, they will be more likely to believe you and feel deflated.

So be careful with your reverse psychology, your choice of villain makes a huge difference.

How To Stay Motivated After a Big Win

You’ve just made The Incredibles.

You and your team are amazing. You’re no longer misfits, you’re now heroes. Now that you have nothing prove, how do you stay motivated to create your next win?

The key is to make the team underdogs again.

Proving to people you’re worth more than other people think, is what gets pissed-off-employees fired-up.

The difficult part is to make the challenge meaningful.

You can’t just create a faceless enemy, the team needs to believe their villain wants them to fail.

To believe in the goal they are trying to achieve.

Your team needs a purpose.

If this post made you rethink who to put on your next groundbreaking project, please let me know in the comments below.

Bouncing Back From Rejection

Being rejected hurts. Sadly, you can’t avoid rejection the rest of your life, but you can learn from it.

You can even improve because you were rejected according to Adam Grant an organisational psychologist and the host of WorkLife with Ted a podcast about how to make work not suck. Listen to the podcast for yourself, it’s got great advice and is told in an interesting and accessible way.

The Best Way to Take Rejection

You can react in many different ways to being rejected. You could cry, you could shout, you could be just brush it off.

Grant says the 2 most common reactions to being rejected are:

  • Blaming yourself
  • Blaming the other person

Blaming Yourself

Blaming yourself seems like an obvious choice. You didn’t get that job because you aren’t good enough. You didn’t get promoted because you don’t deserve to. You were fired because you’re garbage.

This option is not only hurtful, it’s wrong.

You will only damage your confidence and self-esteem by blaming yourself. You won’t actually learn anything useful.

On to option 2 then.

Blaming The Other

You are good enough, that company doesn’t know talent. You did deserve that promotion over Jeff. You aren’t garbage, the company that fired you is.

This feels much better.

You aren’t to blame. The world is. Screw you world!

Sadly, this option doesn’t help you grow either.

If you never see the part you had in your failures, you can’t learn from your mistakes. Learning from our mistakes can be one of the best ways to improve.

So, How Should You Handle Rejection?

The two options you just read about are only the most common, but not the best.

Grant tells us about 3 ways you can accept rejection, that are much more effective:

  • Focus on fit
  • Be Self-Compassionate
  • Take it in your stride

What If It’s Not The Right Fit?

Do you ever feel your job just isn’t what you’re supposed to be doing?

Fit isn’t something you can see on a job description or point at in the office. Fit has to do with the way you feel about the work you do, the people you work with and the places you work.

A bad fit can be:

  • A job that doesn’t let you be creative enough.
  • Colleagues who say you’re too quiet, even though you have lots to say, if they’d just let you.
  • Being stuck in an office when you love being outdoors and active.

It’s possible you were talented enough for a job or promotion but you just didn’t gel well with that team or in that environment.

You aren’t the problem, your fit is.

There will be plenty of places where you do fit in better, so think about why that job didn’t work for you and what parts did work for you. Then use that information to find a better fit.

Self-Compassion

Maybe you were to blame. That doesn’t mean you are garbage. People make mistakes, why should you be any different?

If you can learn to be kind to yourself, then making mistakes won’t be the end of the world. You can take the pain, soothe yourself, then learn from it.

Grant tells us about Post-Traumatic Growth, in which we become stronger because of a large failure or trauma we had in life.

This happens when we have the attitude of “I survived that, so I can definitely survive this“. Like you managed to write that dissertation despite still doing all your other subjects at uni, so you can definitely get through this project at work.

Take It In Your Stride

There are 2 approaches to taking rejection in your stride.

See Yourself as More Than Your Job

First, you can realise that the person rejected only one part of you.

You aren’t your job, or your painting or your dating profile.

You are made up of many different parts.

If you consider yourself a husband, father, surfer, knitter and accountant, then when someone doesn’t like your knitting, they have rejected 20% of you at most. That means 80% of you is left unscathed, which hurts a lot less than 100% of you being rejected.

Remember You Still Have Fans

The second way is to realise that one person rejecting you isn’t everyone rejecting you.

There could 500 people who hate your cooking but there could be 500 or 5,000 people who love your cooking.

Unless your contribution to the world is child-murder, you are unlikely to be rejected by everyone. Take comfort in knowing you still have some fans.

Please let me know in the comments below if this has helped you think differently about rejection.

Networking For People Who Hate Networking Part 1 – Work Life

Do you hate networking? Does it feel slimy to you? I’m the same. I love making new friends and meeting interesting people, but I hate approaching people only to see how they can help me.

Luckily, Adam Grant, an organisational psychologist, has some great advice for this very situation, in his Podcast: Work Life with Adam Grant.

Become the Person People Want to Meet

If you have nothing to offer, people won’t want anything from you, so they won’t want to talk to you. Everyone wants to know what they get out of every conversation. It’s sad but it’s true. I imagine you’re only reading this because you want to know some networking tips, right?

If you build expertise in a subject, then anyone interested in that subject will be interested in what you have to say. Grant says this is just human nature.

If you want to know what it’s like to live in France, you ask your friend who lived in France for a year. They are someone you see as an expert on living in France.

So if you master a skill or become an expert on a topic, people who know this will seek your opinions and recommend you to others, so your network builds without you doing any slimy self-promotion.

Grant cites a study in this episode where the radiologists in a hospital that were the most knowledgeable in radiology made more friends in the first 9 months of working at a new hospital and went on to have better job roles than their less expert peers.

The second part seems obvious, but think of your workplace, I bet you have or have had terrible managers who got promoted for being an expert in their previous job. Sadly, being a subject matter expert doesn’t make you a great manager though.

What Kinds of Connections do People Make?

Grant describes 2 levels of connection:

  • Low Level: These tend to be transactional in nature. You do something for me, I’ll do something for you. You both get something, but a meaningful friendship doesn’t form.
  • Deep: You will help this person, even if you get nothing in return because you either care about them or share some core values with them. Maybe they want to save the turtles, you also want to save the turtles, so you are happy to help them. Or maybe they’re your mum and you would do anything for her.

I’m at a Networking Event, What Do I Do?

Networking events sound intimidating. Imagine a bunch of suits grinning, boasting about where they summer and handing out pristine business cards. Sounds hideous.

In reality, this does not have to be the case. Just approach the event as a way to meet some interesting people in your field or a field you want to be a part of. Simple.

Quality Over Quantity

You are better off aiming to have 1 or 2 quality conversations. People don’t remember the person who handed them a business card then disappeared the rest of the night.

People do remember the amazing story they heard about your travels through Iceland or the new system you started at work that saved thousands of pounds in admin time.

Be a “mini-helper”

“So what do you do?”. This is the most boring question. You will probably bore yourself by the end of the night if you keep asking it. Instead, ask what problems they are trying to solve.

If you can solve it in 5 minutes, you have made a meaningful connection at next to no trouble to yourself.

If you can’t help, maybe you know someone who can. The value you added then, is the introduction. Now you have made 2 people happy, the person who’s problem will be solved and the person in your network who you just helped meet a new connection.

Give More Than You Take

Grant actually has a whole book about this topic, I highly recommend it and may even do a post about it one day.

Focus on what you can give to other people.

Don’t match them.

Don’t take too much.

The more you give, the more people will value you. The trick is to actually care, people can sense insincerity. So don’t fake it if you don’t care, just don’t do that thing. Do something you do care about instead.

Do you hate networking? Have any of these tips made it seem less horrible? Let me know in the comments below.