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Counter-culture, American Psycho, Stockholm Syndrome and Misfits ... what do they all have to do with Innovation?

26 May 2011

Are you a misfit or do you suffer from Corporate Stockholm Syndrome?

We have all become mental hostages. In fact, we collectively suffer from a corporate version of the Stockholm Syndrome. We try so hard to fit into our corporate cultures, that we forget to stand out.

Like children in the sand-pit, we constantly seek to be re-assured of our normalcy. We blend in, tow the line, and bow down to authority. We assimilate, integrate, and acculturate. We barter our individual values and scarce time on this earth for a pay cheque - cap in hand.

These charades serve neither victim nor captor. They create corporate cultural wastelands at best, and abattoirs of the human soul at worst.

In Stockholm in 1973, hostages at the siege at Kreditbanken at Norrmalmstorg started empathising with the cause of their bank-robbing captors and a new syndrome - the Stockholm Syndrome - was born. Essentially what it means is: feelings of trust or affection felt in certain cases of kidnapping or hostage-taking by a victim toward a captor. Maybe, just maybe, this is what many of our brightest and most talented feel like. Certainly, engagement levels and surveys like Hewitts would suggest so.

In turn, apathy, complacency and ignorance lead to undifferentiated, commoditised and bland brands, and they kill individual creativity. Sterile, cubicled offices fragranced with Dettol and accessorized with Kimberly Clark towel dispensers do little for the human spirit, except perhaps for our personal hygiene.

Ideas flourish when they get to have sex. They are potent when they get to bump and grind, but ideas don't evolve in inbred environments. Purebred ideas devolve over time and develop genetic flaws. We need less cognitive monogamy, and more cognitive free love (even if you catch an occasional cognitive STD). To be at their best and to bring human and business thinking forward, you must nurture a corporate culture that encourages cross-fertilisation of diverse strands of thinking genes. Innovation happens at the intersection of thought, and without setting up trendy intersections that facilitate ideafornication between divergent thinkers, your brand may find itself without innovation offspring.

This brings me to thinking about a scene in one of my favourite movies (excuse my tastes) - ‘American Psycho' - where the serial killer Patrick Bateman (Christian Bale) discusses with his prodding and slightly in-your-face fiance (Reese Witherspoon) why he is choosing to stay in his current and despised job as a Manhattan stockbroker and he responds with an exacerbated ‘I'm just trying to fit in'.

Stockholm Syndrome

Patrick Bateman lives the perfect, Yuppie-esque, yet sterilised lifestyle of a 1980s stockbroker, yet personal trouble is brewing underneath his manicured, on-trend and polished surface. As the opening scenes suggests ‘there is an idea of a Patrick Bateman, some kind of abstraction, but there is no real me, only an entity. And though I can hide my cold gaze, and you can shake my hand and feel flesh gripping yours and maybe you can even sense our lifestyles are probably comparable... I simply am not there."

A female friend once told me that if you go out partying, and come back smelling perfect, hair intact, and make-up the way you originally put it on, and you haven't sweated, if mascara isn't running, and you don't smell like you're alive, well, you haven't had a good time. Now this may be extreme, but she has a point. I think the deeper point here is that ideas are much the same, and it's when we step into our unique misfit intelligence, when we are prepared to become who we really are, and own that space that we become truly powerful. When organisations encourage and harness the best of its misfits, and it enables them to sweat ideas, to step into a playful and fun space, where they get to have a good time, that's when organisations truly succeed.

Misfit or Corporate Stockholm Syndrome

Otherwise, organisations may end up with organisational psychos, people suffering Corporate Stockholm Syndrome, and a bunch of drones who are incapable of innovation.

This is why organisations who challenge the status quo - like Zappos, Air New Zealand, Virgin, and Apple are renowned for their quirky counter-cultures. They disrupt, rather than ‘manage change'. And it's because they embrace, invite and encourage misfits to do what they do best - to live, be and work authentically in a way that represents their misfit genius.

We need to question the current status quo of the old, sterile system of group-think. A subversive global guerilla group of eccentrics already are. They demand more of corporate leadership, request a life full of vibrancy, and thrive on change. They turn up warts and all, stand out by not fitting in, and deliberately play devil's advocate with your mission statements. They are agent provocateurs, the pebble in your shoe, the grain of sand in the organisational oyster. Misfits aim to be the acupuncture needle that releases new energy through your corporate nervous system. Worst of all, they may well succeed.

Get ready for a clash with misfit counterculture. There is a probably a seditious cell operating within you already...

This idea of misfits will define the War for Talent 2.0. Take my obnoxious word for it.

What do you think?

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