Weird Is Good

by Tom Swift

I don’t have a microwave or a television. I’m not on Facebook. I don’t have a Venmo account. In other words, yes, I am weird.

I grew up in the suburbs. I drive a Honda Civic. I am six feet tall. I eat a lot of chicken. In other words, no, I am not all that different from you or someone you know.

There are advantages to being more of the former and less of the latter, says Olga Khazan, writing in the April 2020 issue of The Atlantic in an article entitled “The Perks of Being a Weirdo: How Not Fitting in Can Lead to Creative Thinking.” In short, she says, weird is where it’s at. That is, if creativity, thinking “outside the box,” and the formation of novel ideas in the face of complex problems matter to you.

“A body of social-science research suggests that being an oddball or a social reject can spark remarkable creativity,” Khazan says.

The article’s argument reminds me of a thoughtful book I read a few years ago: “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain. That book brings a good deal more oomph to any conversation about what it means to be a non-prototypical kind of human in contemporary American culture, as Khazan’s article is neither as long nor as in-depth as even most that appear in her own magazine. But the point of the piece still speaks to the importance of not shying away from one’s own peculiarities. The research suggests that there is “something about being a weirdo,” Khazan says, “that could uncork your mind and allow new ideas to flow.”

Khazan quotes Chris Crandall, a psychology professor at the University of Kansas, who says that people on society’s fringes “tend be freer to innovate” and, thus, they have the potential to cause greater cultural change. Outsiders are less concerned with what the in-crowd thinks of them, so they have more leeway to experiment. “Fashion norms come from the bottom up,” Crandall says. Also, weird people are less likely to be invited to parties and so have more time for thinking.

I make that last editorial comment half-jokingly. But there is a legitimate line of thought here. For a crucial aspect of tapping into the power of one’s own inner weirdo is the ability to accept that you are, in fact, not of common stock. For as liberating as it may be to stand on the outside and see things the rest of the tribe cannot, by definition you are on the outside. That can be lonely. And it takes courage to remain there.

But though it’s not the more forceful case one could construct, it’s easy to accept Khazan’s argument, that potential rewards await if you do.