Once upon a time, I had doubts…about a project.
It was one of the times I was first teaching full time at Butler University (#GoDawgs), and we for a senior project of students, gathered students from several different colleges on campus to co-write, produce, and publish a children’s book…about pharmacy. Candidly — I wasn’t sure it would work.
But back to that story in a second.
Let’s think about…that dark horse or troublemaker you have at work. You know the one — not super easy to work with, often frustrated, yet has some of the craziest ideas that the rest of the team rolls eyes at — often. Yet, despite having challenged the system and the company over and over, they don’t leave, because they truly want to make the institution or the mission better. They stay, because of their passion for the mission or the institution.
Most places define this individual as a misfit. They’re not often welcome within an organization. Yet, they do have some crazy ideas — so how do you positively channel their rage to make an organization even better?
Adam Grant discussed this in season two of his podcast — where he discussed one of my own favorite animated movie franchises — The Incredibles — at Pixar. It was created by — a band of underdogs. Misfits. The head of the project, Brad, went out of his way to get all the crazy troublemakers at Pixar into a room to work together on this project. This franchise went on to win Oscars, awards, and hundreds of millions of dollars for Pixar.
So, how exactly does one channel the rage so successfully? Further in the podcast, Adam’s interviewees go on to state that they throw the misfits into a room together, then have them go around and define who the company’s biggest competition is. Next, they have to wear the hat of the competitor…and then — get this — kill the company. Literally pick apart, dissect, and create an anatomy of killing the very organization they work for and within.
NOTHING fires up the misfits more than this exercise. They actually enjoy it.
From there, they can then rebuild what needs to CHANGE in order to survive. The leader must also create the enemy — and declare that the enemy can easily crush the company…that is, they — the misfits — are the underdogs. Anything they do or try might not work. The odds are against them.
And that’s when the magic happens. The rage is positively channeled. The misfits have been heard, and they then will work harder than ever to prove the enemy wrong.
This is the exact technique Michael Jordan used to keep crushing his own stats and goals.
Back to the story at the top about the children’s book: Now that I think back on that project, this is also the technique I used on the students. We put them in a room, kicked off the project, and I personally remember telling them that, “Hey — this project might not work. It’s not been done before. We will have challenges in putting this together. The pharmacy majors will during their final year have ‘day job rotations.’ You will all be scattered all over the planet throughout your final year.”
I had created a few mental competitive enemies for them…and made them underdogs day 1.
But you know what happened after my mountain of disclaimers? The next thing one of the pharmacy majors said was, “Don’t worry, Dr. Albert — we’ve got this.”
And you know what? They did. This book was the first interprofessional children’s book on campus as a senior project, called Pharmacy and Me. And while I don’t think of the students as misfits per se, I share this personal story in order to note that you can create great things by gathering a group of seemingly unlike people, and make them underdogs right out of the gate. That’s fuel for the misfits to spring into action. And that’s where great things can happen.
If you’re a misfit at your company or in your group — I feel you. I understand. You’ve been banging your head against the wall time after time putting out and creating crazy ideas, yet no one is paying attention. I get it.
And if you’re a leader in a group or a company — maybe consider gathering the prickly rogue misfits at your own company, and then go through the following exercise:
How to Channel the Misfits:
- Have them start by defining the biggest enemy or competition of the company.
- Then, have them put on the hats of the competition — and let them KILL YOUR COMPANY. (Really, think about it. Wouldn’t you WELCOME this think tank energy in your business in a safer, internal place, rather than have the market hand you your own demise?)
- Then, have them vote on the coolest potential project or innovative idea to PREVENT death at your company.
- Then, pit them, and their project, against their common enemy. Suggest that their ideas may not work, and that the odds and the enemy is against their success.
- Finally, sit back, and watch the misfits deliver, maybe even overdeliver, and take pictures while doing it. (See quote box above.) They’ll ENJOY it.
Of course, if you want to keep the status quo, keep ignoring the misfits. Rinse and repeat everything as it has been. Because it’s working…today.
But what about tomorrow?
Go under dawgs. I’m over here on the sidelines with my pom poms just for you.
Erin L. Albert is a clinical instructor at Butler University, senior director of education at ASCP, and a misfit at times. Opinions here are her own — except for Adam Grant’s podcast episode, of course.