Why You Should Value Creative Misfits

I wrote recently about Leonardo da Vinci, who by some accounts was a brilliant misfit. Some speculate that he may have had Asperger’s, but at the very least, he didn’t socialize well. Writing that post about da Vinci reminded me of a friend who worked for a very large national nonprofit organization. She was remarkably creative, and she showed them how to use digital media in some very innovative ways. She made deals with outside firms to create apps, helped them integrate new platforms to share their message, and created a stable of young filmmakers to produce short films to help share their story.

While the donors and the public loved the new creativity, the leadership team never got it. They were set in their ways, and didn’t really understand why she wanted to work late at night or weekends, challenge their policies, and dress differently than most others at the organization.

In spite of the challenges, her actual work was doing so well, she asked to form an official media department and be the leader. Her frustrated boss told her he’d consider it, and set up a meeting to discuss the idea. But when she arrived at the meeting, it was an ambush. Her boss had invited a guest – the head of Human Resources – who proceeded to read her the riot act about working hours, types of dress, official rules, policies to follow, and much more.

My friend was so discouraged, she handed in her resignation the next morning and moved on to another job.

Since that time, the nonprofit has shrunk. Because they didn’t understand the value of digital and social media, they may eventually disappear off the radar. Plus, as their primary group of older donors has aged, they’re not being replaced by younger donors – because they don’t know how to speak their language.

The bottom line is that because they were uncomfortable with a creative misfit, they just might lose their chance at the future. Because they were set in their ways, and didn’t understand how the culture has changed, they burned the bridge to the next generation.

Creative misfits shake things up. They challenge conventional thinking. They frustrate people. They don’t care much about “the way we’ve always done it.”

The lesson? Get comfortable with creative misfits, or get comfortable with struggling to survive.

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  1. Sadly, I’ve seen this occur in more than one company I’ve been involved with. It also speaks to why “change” is so hard to accomplish. Owners, board of directors, general managers often speak of wanting to change their company culture but when people start trying to make those changes there is push back by the older leadership. The result is frustration by the change makers leading them to either leave or being dismissed. Thank you for the article Phil.

  2. As a creative misfit, and one, i believe, that Mr. Workman below is referring to i thank you for this. The exact same thing happened to me. Sadly i believe the other getelman that commented is correct. Only creative misfits and those that believe in us will read this article. Thanks again for standing up for us… that, sadly, is not one of our strengths.

  3. What’s really sad is when a company that’s supposed to be chiefly made up of creative misfits starts shunning their own for not being the right type of misfit.

      1. I’m sure you do. I’m a misfit without an island. Which makes me an island unto myself. Hmmm. Perhaps I shouldn’t post replies before the coffee has kicked in.

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