Leadership Lesson #3

Learn To Love The Weird: Anita Roddick, Founder The Body Shop

“Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules, and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify, or vilify them. But the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.” 
—Steve Job, Apple Computer 

I was standing in the background waiting for Anita Roddick to finish her speech as I was scheduled to interview her for our forthcoming book on leadership. Every time she tried to end her speech, the audience kept applauding. They lined up to talk to her and the line stretched for what seemed like miles. As I sat there waiting for the founder of The Body Shop, I remembered the story of how she got her start.

In 1976, a husband informed his thirty three year old housewife and their two children that he had decided to fulfill a lifelong ambition. Trouble was, his burning desire was to ride a horse from Brazil to New York. He figured he would be gone for 6 to 12 months. Imagine her surprise!

Faced with the dilemma of how to support herself and her two children while her husband was absent, she turned to what she knew best. Concocting homemade cosmetics, lotions and oils, she opened a tiny shop in the English resort town of Brighton and thus The Body Shop was born. Today there are over 1000 Body Shops in 47 countries. 

My friend Anne Robinson co-founded Windham Hill Records during the height of the disco craze because she just believed in her heart that people would buy good piano music. Signing an unknown artist by the name of George Winston, Anne traveled up and down the California coast, selling her music and keeping track of her customers in files made out of shoeboxes. Anne’s weirdness led to 27 Grammy’s and a buy out from the largest music group in the world—BMG. 

Undoubtedly, when these people were devising their dreams many labeled them dumb. Undaunted, and often marching to a different drum, they moved forward with an unrelenting passion to launch their dream. It’s as though they came to the conclusion that famous ex Beatle, Paul McCartney came to years ago: “it’s not the people that are doing “weird” things that are weird. “It’s the people who are calling people weird who are weird!” Thus, most invention, creation of products, and new ideas that have changed the world were launched by the dumb and the weird! 

Homogenization Machines

We’re always quick to tell our employees “to think out of the box.” Yet all too often in our organizations we find it difficult to lead or manage those employees who not only think but live outside of the box. Our systems and process end up being huge homogenization machines and the creativity and innovation found only in the weird are all too often quieted or fired.

How many of you would want Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, Yvonne Chainard working here in your organization? On your team? When I ask these questions in organizations, almost every hand in the room goes up.

How many of you would like to manage an Albert Einstein, Steve Jobs, or a Yvonne Chainourd? I’ve yet to see one hand go up in a room of leaders when I ask that question.

To be an effective leader today, I’m convinced you have to learn to love and learn to manage the weird. Reward people who continually question present practices. Don’t tolerate those who think and act differently—promote them.