A couple of months ago I republished a list of all the ways Misfits (innovators) are misunderstood in the workplace and what they want from their boss to be able to get along with them. It got a great deal of attention immediately after I published it, many Misfits empathized with the list; non-misfits probably didn’t.
So for all of you non-misfits, today I’m going to elaborate on a key attitude of a Misfit: being a contrarian.
What it means to be a Contrarian
What does it mean to be a contrarian? It means to oppose popular opinion. Another way to look at it is: Being a contrarian means doing and thinking in unconventional ways.
With that said, I’m a contrarian. Not for the sake of rebelling but because I believe there is always a better way. And you figure out those “better” ways by challenging beliefs, ways of thinking and acting. It’s all part of having an exponential mindset, as we don’t just take easy answers and run with them; we question them in an attempt to find better alternatives.
So that’s the first thing you have to understand about contrarians: we have a never-ending thirst for better.
The second thing to understand about us is that we reject consensus in the pursuit for better alternatives. And this is what non-Misfits must understand about contrarians: you don’t achieve great performance in anything by following the herd.
The courage to be wrong runs deep in misfits. And for contrarians the challenge is you have to be right. If you’re not, you’ll look like a bozo and have to be ok with that; most of us are. And while it’s fun for us to be this way, many people get ticked off by it because we don’t follow consensus that aims to maintain the status quo; we oppose it.
Consensus is the enemy of innovation, and you don’t achieve it by thinking and acting the same was as everyone else. Remember, where all think alike nobody thinks very much.
The Necessary Condition for Great Performance
There are many examples of contrarian mindset in all domains. One close to my heart is in basketball, where the 76ers have deliberately chosen to lose on purpose for three years to turn themselves into winners. This strategy was lead by Sam Hinkie, the former President of Basketball Operations. Before resigning, Hinkie wrote a 13-page resignation letter to the 76ers board. The resignation letter served as a defense of his decision-making, as well as a kind of philosophical treatise that includes references to Elon Musk, cognitive science, the physicist James Clerk Maxwell, and Jeff Bezos’s 10,000 year clock. The letter cemented Hinkie’s reputation as a mad genius or a fool—all depending on your point of view.
The resignation letter is a thesis on thinking about thinking that could very well been written by an innovative CEO. I encourage you to read it, below I highlight the part on contrarian mindset:
There you have it. True innovators are contrarians, non-consensus driven. Again, this is the most misunderstood and hardest part of being an innovator: you have to be willing to be wrong and break away from the herd.
For people and organizations it’s easier to side with consensus, and this is the reason most people and organizations only pay lip service to it. Innovation is really hard. It’s risky, and it takes balls. So, do you have the courage to be wrong?
Innovation is as much about attitude and perspective as it is about process. With that said, contrarians shift their perspective by pushing against the conventional wisdom; understanding that perception separates the innovator from the imitator.
Also published on Medium.