Why You May Need to Hire a Nonconformist

There’s a great children’s story, Chester’s Way, about two friends, Chester and Wilson, who had their own way of doing things and did everything together. “When they cut their sandwiches, it was always diagonally. When they rode their bikes, they always used hand signals. If Chester was hungry, Wilson was too. They were two of a kind, and that’s the way it was.”

Does this story remind you of your business or an organization to which you belong? It’s human nature to want to be part of a group where everyone subscribes to the same beliefs and values. Such a group attracts others who believe and behave similarly to everyone else in the group, which is how a company’s culture is formed.

Unexpectedly, in the children’s story, Chester’s way of doing things gets shaken up when indomitable Lilly moves into the neighborhood and proves to have her own ideas. Guess who does NOT cut her sandwiches on the diagonal?! Vijay Sathe, author of Manage Your Career: 10 Keys to Survival and Success When Interviewing and on the Job, would call Lilly a maverick (someone who subscribes to the group’s beliefs and values but has her own norms for how to enact them) or even a rebel (someone who neither believes nor behaves as prescribed by the culture).

Adam Grant has another term for such a creature: an original. His book, Originals, shows how to identify, foster, and nurture these outside-the-box thinkers, and he makes a good case for why you may need to hire a nonconformist.  Wait! What? Why would you want to hire a Lilly, someone counter to your culture, who will probably upset the routine you’ve worked so hard to develop and maintain? Doesn’t Amtec always encourage employers and candidates to look for a good culture match?

Yes, usually, but there are situations where introducing an original into the mix may be a good idea. Lurking within the comfort a group of likeminded people is the inherent danger of never being exposed to a dissenting view. Remember the story of five monkeys and a banana? The monkeys ended up missing out on the banana because of the “we’ve always done it this way” mindset.

Could your organization be missing out on something great because everything is working as it always has? This is why you may need to hire a nonconformist! According to Grant, a company’s culture develops in the image of its founder, and “people of the same stripes are increasingly drawn to the organization, chosen by it and retained at it. The way to combat that homogeneity creep is to proactively infuse the culture with originals, who have the will and skill to think differently. It’ll put you in a much better position to continue innovating, not only on a product- or technology-level, but all the decisions that go into running a company.”

The fresh ideas of originals can help you challenge your current business model and adapt to the changing needs of the market. Grant suggests that these people, sometimes labeled as troublemakers, can potentially be turned into innovators who create new products and build your business. (Read his full article here.)

If you decide you need to hire a nonconformist, how can you identify one? For starters, suggests Grant, look for someone who:

  • Is insubordinate but innovative
  • Has gotten fired
  • Asks questions that no one else has thought to ask
  • Doesn’t worry about pleasing others or fitting in
  • Challenges the status quo with reasons for why it doesn’t really matter
  • Has worked to change a rule that doesn’t make sense

We still highly recommend hiring for a good fit with your company culture. But occasionally, there are also reasons for why you may need to hire a nonconformist, AKA a change agent. Chester and Wilson were growing stagnant until Lilly came along. Perhaps your organization could use a little shaking up too!

Not sure what your company culture should look like? Read this. And if you need help solving a workforce issue or finding qualified professionals who are a good match, click here.

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