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In an age of efficiency, let’s usher in some more weird

Managing director of BC&F Dentsu Murray Streets makes a case for why rather than celebrating broad business terms like ‘culture’ and ‘inclusion’, we should look at embracing our inner weird in the workplace.

I’ve been a fan of Louis Theroux’s documentaries and films ever since his Weird Weekends first aired in 1998 on BBC2.  I recall watching him on my tiny portable TV in my flat in Nottingham as he hung out with right-wing militia in Idaho and the San Fernando Valley porn industry. I’d seen nothing like it.

Last Friday Louis appeared on stage at The Civic Theatre in Auckland. At the end of the show, Louis concluded that when he reflects on all the weird and strange people he’s met over 25 years, what strikes him is just how normal they really are. Just humans struggling with the human condition.

His reflections on the weird versus the normal made me reflect on the importance of weirdness in general. How the tension of fitting in and standing out is core to our identities.

And how it’s this very tension that powers any kind of business.

It’s always been easy to believe that a successful enterprise, in fact, a successful life, can be defined by efficiency: creases smoothed, problems eliminated, established procedures followed. Life and work optimized.  As a parent of three young daughters, there’s many a day I’d love to succeed on those terms.

But when it comes to success in work and life, we can get fixated on efficiency as the end in itself. As we optimize platforms, refine processes and build consistent culture, we forget that what creates the true magic is us: the unique and diverse social animals whose talents, when brought together in the right way, can lead to breakthrough ideas and advances.

In his book Change to Strange: create a great organisation by building a strange workforce Professor Dan Cable sets out the case for the benefits of not fostering a run-of-the-mill workforce. He sets out how to assess your own teams and start to build a stranger one based on distinctiveness.

An expert researcher in organizational behaviour, Professor Cable has also shared surprising findings on how to activate people’s best selves in life and work. The trick it seems is to get people to reflect on the specific moments or times when they felt they worked at their best.

He suggests compiling our own personal highlights reels and priming ourselves with them on a regular basis.

To me, this seems so much more energizing and interesting than the broad terms ‘culture’ and ‘inclusion’? This year let’s all create workplaces where people know their unique highlights reel and are primed for future success; a place where they can bring their distinctive selves to work liberated from the need to suppress their quirks and unique traits.

This year let’s forego the theatre of culture and instead invest more time to get to know colleagues and employees. Less reliance on all-company surveys and Town Halls, more direct and personal conversations to build trust and enable people to be their distinctive selves.

As humans, we’re all innately weird, but it turns out that a little bit of weird truly helps your business stand out.  

Murray Streets is the managing director of BC&F Dentsu. This was originally published on StopPress.

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