Willing To Be Weird
In our industry, we throw around terms like “social change” “progress” and “inclusion” in a very positive sense.
What this overlooks is that they all stem from the same uncomfortable action:
The willingness to be weird.
By definition, these changes are uncomfortable.
If they were natural and easy, we wouldn’t have to go out of our way.
The status quo is the path of least resistance, and our brains are wired to spot things that are different.
They’re also wired to respond to differences as threats.
The question is; when are you willing to be weird?
What are the circumstances in which you’re willing to be uncomfortable in order to reshape what’s considered normal?
Reusable coffee cups are weird.
Separating rubbish into recyclable components is weird.
Electric cars are weird.
Changing your lightbulbs and shower heads is weird.
Paperless offices are weird.
Board quotas are weird.
Employment quotas are weird.
De-identifying resumes is weird.
Buying pets exclusively from rescue homes is weird.
Social procurement is weird.
B Corps are weird.
Impact investment is weird.
Calling out casual sexism is weird.
Calling out casual racism is weird.
Calling out unconscious biases is weird.
It’s important to remembers that weirdness eventually becomes normal.
Smoking indoors used to be normal.
Caged eggs used to be normal.
Bans on interracial marriage used to be normal.
Criminalising homosexuality used to be normal.
Buildings without accessibility features used to be normal.
Segregated schools used to be normal.
I believe there’s two dimensions here: Progress and Likeability.
This gives us four main categories, and it’s worth exploring each of them.
1. Conservative and unlikeable
These are people who are very easy to hate.
They’re seen as rude, outdated, backwards and unintelligent.
You can find them in YouTube and Facebook comment sections worldwide.
2. Conservative and likeable
These are well intentioned people who generally don’t mean harm.
They aren’t sophisticated in their understanding of tricky issues, and continue to casually offend the progressives.
These people bristle at the label of being bigoted or inappropriate, and you can understand why.
3. Progressive and unlikeable
There are people with noble causes who tread on a lot of toes.
They saddle high horses, act high and mighty, and demand the moral high ground.
They annoy the other three categories, and are ineffective at changing people’s minds.
4. Progressive and likeable
These are the most effective changemakers – who encourage other people to reconsider their mindsets and behaviours.
They make us want to be better people.
What do you think people refer to when they complain about political correctness?
I think they generally mean that they’ve been scolded by someone from the third category, who screeched at them and tried to embarrass them for their unintentional behaviour.
Now we have a person who walks on tiptoes around a delicate subject – not because they agree with the cause, but out of fear of humiliation.
This creates a group of people who “act appropriately” without genuinely changing what they believe.
Nobody changes their worldviews while feeling defensive – all their energy is going into clearing their name in the debate.
As they say “A mind that’s changed against its will, is of the same opinion still”.
By contrast, when someone in the fourth category highlights our poor behaviour in a likeable way, we feel a short term sense of embarrassment, and we internally commit to being better in the future.
This happened to me last week.
One of the participants in our accelerator program is an organisation who help people fleeing family violence.
Their CEO pointed out, in a friendly way, that my terminology had a questionable history:
“You keep saying “rule of thumb”, do you know where that comes from? It’s the width of the stick you could legally use to beat your wife”
Needless to say, I was stunned.
Later that day, one of my colleagues was getting frustrated with her friend.
Without thinking, I joked “I thought she was going to hit him!”
Not exactly comedy gold, but made even worse when I realised that I’d said it in front of the same CEO as before.
Cue the Curb Your Enthusiasm music.
I felt silly and embarrassed.
She handled it well, but we both knew that our general vernacular contains a lot of casual references to violence, and that makes it sound like a normal part of life.
All it took was a casual comment on her part, and I now think more about the terminology I use.
That’s how you slowly, subtly change people’s minds.
Nobody likes to be embarrassed, and even less when it’s a deliberate attempt to be humiliated in public.
We respond well to nudges, the little but firm signals that our behaviour should be slightly different.
It helps if we separate the person from the viewpoint.
This is the difference between “You’re racist” and “that sounds racist”.
Or the difference between “you’re part of the problem” and “I think you’re unintentionally sending the wrong message”.
It also helps if you have the conversation in private, so that the other person doesn’t worry about how they look.
It’s good to be weird.
It’s even better to be weird and persuasive.
If you’re committed to changing people’s minds and actions, have a think about these questions:
1. Are the people you’re talking to well-intentioned or deliberately combative?
2. Would these people say you’re likeable?
3. What’s the most effective way to change their perspective?
4. How will you detect change over the years?