Why weirdness is at the center of belonging, diversity, and innovation | by Ida Persson | Dec, 2023

In my senior year of college, I took a class about how to prepare for the workplace. The class taught us how to write a resume, what to wear to job interviews, and what companies look for in candidates.

It was an easy A. All you had to do was learn the rules, answer simple quizzes, and submit the answers online. However, the easy A left me worried about the future. I remember thinking, Would I fit in? What if I wasn’t able to dress or talk in a professional way? What if my accent wasn’t perfect enough? What if my Swedish background made me too different for corporate America? What if I was too weird?

I left college thinking that to fit into the workplace you have to dress and act a certain way. And that “certain way” didn’t feel like me.

I was fortunate enough to land a job at a marketing firm where the CEO wore Converse, and my direct boss couldn’t care less if you wore a suit or PJs to work. They were different. And I loved it. I quickly learned that in the creative field, the rules are less strict. You don’t have to be proper. It’s OK to be different — it’s even encouraged. After all, our field is one where thinking outside the box will earn you praise and awards.

10 years into my career, I’ve found that more companies than I realized aren’t “all buttoned up.” There is weirdness and quirkiness at most workplaces. Because places are made up of people. And people are weird.

However, unlike the creative field, some industries don’t allow the weirdness to show through. They provide strict guidelines rooted in the fear of what others might think. But I am here to tell you why weird works, and why we should embrace weird in every office (and home) across the world.

For many people, the first day at a new job is nerve-racking. Most of us worry about every little detail before we start. And most of us also remember every insignificant detail of the first day years down the road. We’re scared of the unknown, and we’re scared that we won’t fit in. However, at companies where the weirdness is a part of the culture, new people often don’t feel AS scared after a day or two. When I arrived at my first marketing firm and discovered the Converse shoes, I immediately felt more welcome. Not because Converses are weird. But the CEO+Converse’s combo wasn’t really common in the American south.

One of my favorite creative people is Tina Roth-Eisenberg. She is the author of the design blog SwissMiss, and the founder of Creative Mornings and Tattly, among other things. She’s really creative. And through her social media channel, she shares a lot of the weirdness they use to make each team member at Tattly feel accepted. One example is the confetti drawer. Yes. A drawer full of confetti. Why? Well, why not? It’s fun and it brings joy to the team as well as their consumers. Tattly is a creative company. They make temporary tattoos. But who says that financial firms can’t do weird things? They’re people, too, after all. And as humans, we all have our own weirdness. The regular guy probably does weird things at home. Why should we have to leave some parts ourselves at the door when we get to work? The creative James Victore tells creatives that “Things that make you weird as a kid will make you great tomorrow.” The same is true for accountants, CEOs, Managers, etc., etc. — those unique things that made you weird as a kid (and still make you weird today) also make you feel great. And greatly at home.

A few years ago, I listened to a podcast with entrepreneur Derek Sivers. In 1990, he founded an online CD store for independent artists called CDbaby. The company became hugely successful, and one of the things Sivers said contributed to its success was that it had the courage to do things differently. One example he mentioned was that if the artist asked the company to change the cover art of an album (this was done manually at this time), the company asked that the artist to pay them with pizza. Weird, right? Guess what? People thought so too, but they remembered it. And they told their friends and their friends checked out the site. Was it a smart business decision? What if everyone wanted their cover changed? That’s a lot of time they’d have to spend. And they couldn’t possibly eat all those pizzas. That dreaded “what if..”. often stops us from trying something new or being who we are. What if people won’t get it? What if they’ll laugh at us? But what IF it actually works?

I know what you must be thinking. This blog post is…weird.

Or maybe you’re thinking you just don’t have time for weird. We have spreadsheets, deadlines, and important things that come before weird. I get it… but what if those weird moments are just the things your employees or coworkers need to make it through that stressful day? What if your weirdness makes your customers remember you? What if weird works?

Speaking of customers…

What does being weird mean to your brand, and can you use it to reach new (the right) customers?

Your weirdness or uniqueness is something to also actualize outwardly. In In this article, my previous creative director and mentor Amy Small wrote about the resistance we often encounter from clients when they are asked to take a risk. Fear is a natural response when someone presents you with a new, and different way of thinking. Or when someone asks you to show your true, weird self. But I am here to tell you that it is your weirdness that will set you apart. It helps you break through the clutter. It stops the scroll and it connects to the weirdness that is inside all of us.

It’s time we stop thinking that “professional” and personal can’t go hand in hand. Employees and customers want to feel a sense of personal connection and belonging. And we’re all weird in different ways. Showing our weirdness invites others to do the same. And it helps people know that it is OK to be human… I mean weird.

So I leave you with a challenge: what weird thing can you do today?

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