Freak Out: Why You Need Freaks — and How to Find Them

Your company is defined by a group of individuals so rare and so unique that they’re really “freaks.” The freaks are the ones who bring about innovative, disruptive change that upends an industry. If you want your company to be a leader in creating breakthrough solutions and products, then you need something more eccentric, passionate, and opinionated than the norm.

“Freak” is hardly a negative term. In this instance, we are referring to the wildly passionate, creative people who look at problems differently. These people value the phenomenal product breakthrough over today’s stock blip-and-create solutions that cater to board members above users. They break rules because they don’t believe in limitations.

If your company prizes innovation, the type of business and culture you want to create is a home for freaks. To do this, consider how you can recruit and attract the people less concerned with making to-do lists and more interested in creating true value.

Recruiting Freaks

Freaks are passionate about what captivates their interest, and they apply their considerable intellectual power to it with a kind of commitment that most people simply aren’t capable of. And freaks can’t coexist with administrative minutiae. They require freedom, even if it’s guided. Your business must be known as a place where freaks can achieve great things in order to propel the company forward — along with their own seemingly quirky agendas.

For companies, it’s important to create outlets for your talented freaks to be constructively “freaky” — and to have clear guidelines, barriers, and hard-and-fast rules. Why? Most of the time, freaks are frustrated with the hypocrisies and narrow-mindedness of the status quo. That’s why they rebel, sometimes inadvertently, against norms and rules that bind the rest of the population. But it’s the ability to dance on the edge of people’s comfort zones that’s the source of genius among the freaks working for the most innovative, important, and impactful companies today.

If you’re looking to add a few new freaks for your workforce, it’s smart to cultivate a relationship with professors at top-tier universities. These instructors have a bird’s-eye view of the promising students who are beginning to let their freak flags fly, and they can point you to the students developing the outlooks and skills you need. But be aware: The talent you’re looking for may not have the highest grades because universities still thrive on rules. (It’s worth noting that three of the iconic freaks of our time dropped out of college altogether: Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, and Steve Jobs.) Still, professors can recognize talent when they see it, and they’re often willing to introduce you to their brightest, most creative students — even while they may be giving you plenty of caveats and warnings about their maverick viewpoints or inability to play well with others.

Getting Freaky

Freaks brainstorm innovative products, do breakthrough research, and view problems differently than most people. How? They embrace the offbeat and the unexpected because that’s just who they are. In fact, everyone can tap into a freak mindset — and a lot of amazing outcomes can develop as a result. Here are some ideas to awaken your inner freak:

•  Don’t be afraid of being considered “weird.”
•  Learn new things obsessively.
•  Challenge your assumptions and beliefs constantly through travel and new experiences.
•  Awaken your senses by looking critically at your own assumptions about the world.
•  Identify the “norm,” and embrace the cacophony of life beyond and around it.

Hiring “freaks” is about more than looking for those who view the world a bit differently. Instill in your staff the idea that disruptive ideas, creativity, and passion aren’t just the domain of the freaks. Through freaky leadership, you may even be able to realize a transformed team — and an organization that is anything but business as usual.

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