#516  from Innovative Leader Volume 10, Number 2          February 2001

Let’s Learn to Play Ball With the Oddballs!
by Anne Durrum Robinson

Ms. Robinson is a human resource consultant in Austin, Texas (phone 512-472-4412), helping organizations implement creativity. www.io.com/~stellar/adr/anne.html

Some time ago, I saw a drawing of a suited young fellow dancing on a high wire outside an office window.  Inside, one executive is saying to another, “Don’t judge him too harshly; he may be our next vice-president.”

That, more lenient, attitude is fairly indicative of current existing situations because today’s business talent is coming in some eye-opening packages.  Since nearly every male one sees is sporting some kind of facial adornment, beards are no longer a commercial no-no.  The same goes for ponytails or shoulder-length hair.  And not-too-in-your-face piercings are found in both sexes.

Even guys and gals roaring into parking lots on motorcycles don’t rate a raised eyebrow.

But, generally speaking, CEO’s are not yet too forgiving of boots on the conference table.  Or flat and unadorned rejections of their suggestions and plans.  Or a young employee’s confident out-in-left-field solution to a posed problem.

How much fresh and salient thought is coming from what the old-timers call the “crazy corner?”  And it isn’t presented in neatly-assembled-a-copy-for-everybody format.  It’s often blurted out as a total non-sequitur to the currently discussed topic.  To the utter dismay of the more conventional participants, the abrupt, out-of-order announcement is frequently the solution the group has been fruitlessly seeking.

Needless to say, the reaction of most of the recipients of “the ideal solution” is negative, ranging from outrage through sarcastic rejoinder to “Is that you speaking or the water bucket leaking?” glares.  Even when bright boy’s (or girl’s) suggestion is obviously right on, the group feels compelled to put the pugnacious problem-solver in his/her proper place.

Obviously, such a knee-jerk reaction can rob a group or an employee of valuable mind-power.  On the other hand, meetings should be scheduled for a purpose, and that purpose should be met in the shortest possible time--thereby honoring the schedules of the participants.

Dealing With “Strange” People

So how can we acknowledge the worth of the interrupter’s contribution without denigrating the value of the other employees?  Here are a few approaches:

  The chairperson immediately acknowledges the suggestion and its worth, and says, “Hold that thought.  Talk with me immediately after this meeting.”

  The chairperson asks the group to briefly table its agenda and applaud the suggestion--announcing that immediate plans will be made to consider the idea further. 

• If there is a vice-chair present, the chair turns the meeting over to him/her and takes the interrupting problem-solver out for a one-on-one consideration of the idea.  The chair then sends word to the vice-chair that another meeting will be scheduled in the near future to consider and, if necessary, build on the idea.

These approaches applaud the value of the idea, while acknowledging the worth of other employees’ time.

Of course, meeting interruptions aren’t the only challenging aspects of the oddball’s personality.  One employee had an abiding fear of forgetting appointments, so he strung a clothes-line across his office and used clothes’ pins to hang up reminders of his “important encounters.”  This aberration naturally was met with a sneer from a strongly left-brain fellow employee who said, “That looks as if he’s doing the weekly wash!”

Another off-the-wall personality (this one female) decorated her office with pictures of famous courtesans, feather boas, fake jewelry and hair ornaments.  There was also a recognizable scent of an international perfume.  Snapped a more down-to-earth colleague, “It reminds me of Mae West’s bedroom!”

Members of both sexes occasionally burn incense, do Yoga poses, sit in meditative positions.  They claim these definitely-not-Wall-Street approaches help them relieve stress, lower their brainwave frequencies to a more creative level, and induce their best thinking.

Who can argue with any of these rather unusual practices?  How the clothes-line guy jogs his memory interferes with no one.  And he regularly meets his appointments.  As long as the perfume in “Mae West’s bedroom” isn’t offensively strong in the next room, cubicle or hall, who is harmed?  How different types court their individual Muses is their private business, so long as their meditations aren’t time-consuming cop-outs.

Anyone who reads current literature on the encouragement of creative thought will realize that there are many paths to Eureka!  Human brainpower is undeniably the treasure capital of the future.  It comes in many forms, sizes, flavors and wrappings.  So let’s not judge the gift by the gift box.  One of the most delicious treats I’ve run across is called “reindeer feed” and it’s sacked in a burlap bag.

Appearances are consistently deceptive.  I am an identical twin.  My sister and I were very much alike outside.  Inwardly, we couldn’t have been more different.  We had different preferences in friends and wardrobes--not to mention life in general.  Our minds worked in utterly divergent ways.

So if you are in a management position, continue to appreciate your less colorful cohorts.  They may think more slowly, more predictably.  They may be simply your safekeeping group.  You will need those too.

But if you hope to run alongside or surpass the leaders, you will have to lengthen your stride, pep up your pace.  For those kinds of improvements you will require the leap-the-steps thinkers, the interrupters, the blurt-outers, and the impatient geniuses.

That’s why I say:  Let’s put aside prejudice. Let’s juggle judgment.  Let’s underscore understanding.  Let’s learn to play ball with the oddballs!

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