a his & hers weblog of worlds apart
The Odd Future of Business
“Our model at Method is that being weird and different is good. Weird changes the world, and Detroit could use a little more of weird in terms of creative ideas.”
– Eric Ryan, Method Products Co-Founder (AdAge)
I’ve been into the idea of weird lately. It feels like odd and peculiar themes are increasingly breaking through and holding the public’s attention. Somehow, today’s world of endless choice still offers us an oversupply of sameness; so we’re almost begging for non-conformity. If you look to popular culture, the not-so-weak signals are everywhere. Austin’s “Keep [City] Weird” support-local movement is spreading across the US. The world’s number one pop artist wears clothing made of meat. The LA Lakers’ starting Small Forward is changing his name to Meta World Peace. It seems the novelty of of the unconventional is pushing us to the edges of our relative notions of comfort. And we are liking it.
Unlikely friends have benefits.
One of my more specific interests around weirdness is the uncharted space that odd combinations can lead us to. I realize cultural mash-ups are not a new idea. And yes, they can be excruciatingly bad (think Rap-Rock). But they can also be hugely interesting, inventive and inspiring (this blog is a rewarding personal case of uncommon collaboration between Allie’s work in genetics and mine in marketing).
Artists of course have been fearlessly blending and bending ideas for centuries. But in the business world we seem more hesitant to look beyond category borders for experimentation and learning. The recent emphasis on Design Thinking and Innovation has more key players preaching the merits of cross-disciplinary collaboration, but in practice this approach is still barely visible.
Recently I stumbled upon Grant McCracken’s Culturematic posts proposing the need for more culture-smashing tools. I think we’re likely to see an explosion of similar Oblique Strategies over the next few years. You can only imagine the fruits of a Large Hadron Cultural Collider. Or an event series that promotes weird cross-industry collaborations like Food & Psychology or Comedy & Finance (call it Funny Money).
A weird little brand case.
One of my favorite new local brands is a microbrew out of Barrie, Ontario. Flying Monkey produces a roster of delicious craft brews like Hoptical Illusion and Netherworld Cascadian Dark. The brand is not just a nod to oddity, it’s built on the idea. Their tagline “normal is weird” is a pledge to the peculiar, and everything they do serves to honour that pledge. The glassware, for example, is littered with little bits of unusual magic like the “Reorder Line” (photo below). The brand purpose extends to its people as well, as is evident in this excerpt from an article on a hot new little Toronto snack spot:
“Peter Aitchison, a salesman with Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery in Barrie, told us that he could sculpt anything. So we said, ‘OK, let’s see you make a draft tap out of a telephone pole.’ And he did, over a span of 12 hours with a chisel.”
Their website also keeps it surreal. Upon arrival you’re unsure if you’ve landed on the brewery’s mainpage or if you’re embarking on a journey to the fantastical underground of the early internets.
Things could (and should) get weird.
The Age of Weird is arriving. The business world is already playing catch-up. We know creative advantage is more crucial now than ever before. Firms willing to move beyond their core comforts, embrace their cultural quirks, and experiment on the fringes will be best positioned for innovation. Yes, this will be a difficult transition for many. But it also promises to be fun, enlightening, and potentially lucrative for those wiling to get a little freaky.
UPDATE: I stumbled upon this awesome quote the other day from Jane Jacobs:
“I was brought up to believe that simple conformity results in stagnation for a society, and that American progress has been largely owing to the opportunity for experimentation, the leeway given initiative, and to a gusto and freedom for chewing over odd ideas.”
Jane wrote this in 1952 in a response to federal inquiries about her Communist sympathies.