Dr. Emil “Jay” Freireich, inventor of modern chemo treatments for cancer, and President Barack Obama both lost their fathers at a young age. Goldman Sachs president Gary Cohn and billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson are both dyslexic, and struggled in school. Teacher/activist/poet Dr. Maya Angelou and her mentee, Oprah Winfrey, were both raped as little girls.
Contending with these hardships gave them confidence as adults, especially when facing failure. It’s all relative. NOW is easier than BEFORE when they tell themselves, “Hell, I came through that; this is nothing in comparison!”
Underdogs & Misfits
Even more intriguing to me is Gladwell’s idea that these successful creative innovators, social revolutionaries and entrepreneurs are willing to eschew societal approval. They work toward their goal—one they often have an almost “internal calling” to act upon—regardless of how others perceive them.
They always felt like outcasts and misfits before, so why should they start caring now if others don’t like them?!
“You have to be outside the establishment,” Gladwell writes, “to have the audacity to play it that way. … He was an underdog and a misfit, and that gave him the freedom to try things no one else even dreamt of.”
It’s called “disagreeableness” on psychological tests, and is actually a desirable trait for success.
By “disagreeable,” Gladwell means:
“They are people willing to take social risks—to do things that others might disapprove of. That is not easy. Society frowns on disagreeableness. As human beings we are hardwired to seek the approval of those around us. Yet a radical and transformative thought goes nowhere without the willingness to challenge convention.”
Meanwhile the rest of us are stuck playing by the rules and being nice, and childishly seeking external approval. That’s called “agreeableness,” and it won’t get us as far. Gladwell quotes psychologist Jordan Peterson, “If you worry about hurting people’s feelings and disturbing the social structure, you’re not going to put your ideas forward.”
It takes more than putting our unconventional ideas out there, however. “An innovator who has brilliant ideas but lacks the discipline and persistence to carry them out is merely a dreamer,” writes Gladwell. ” … innovators need to be disagreeable.”
Or in the words of playwright George Bernard Shaw, innovators need to be unreasonable:
“The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”
Or the unreasonable woman!
Sword vs. Stone
Goliath expected a sword fight; David threw a stone.
David didn’t care about the rules. He didn’t stop himself with fear, afraid others might see him as a lowly shepherd wielding nothing more than a slingshot. David was “disagreeable,” and he took down a giant.
As Gladwell says in the final pages of his inspiring book:
“… so much of what is beautiful and valuable in the world comes from the shepherd, who has more strength and purpose than we ever imagine.”
So no matter what you’ve experienced in the past, now is the time to be disagreeable!
[I know this is a Bible story and that might confuse you, given my disbelief in the book, but it’s a great metaphor. And there’s a stoning!]