Why your creative culture needs a few kooks and spoon benders

A few weeks ago, I was hanging out with a person steeped in the art and science of bringing cool stuff to life, and they made a profound observation: every creative culture needs a few kooks and spoon benders.

I thought about it and agreed, but it didn’t really click until I witnessed the following rendition of My Way.  I’ll explain why this is so after you watch a few minutes of this video (be sure to watch through to the part with the drummer…):

Watching this, your reaction may fall into one of two categories.  Or you may start in the first camp and transition to the second, as I did:

  1. This drummer’s demeanor is annoying! He is an insecure, narcissistic, attention-seeker.  Were he a teenager, he’d be sporting blue hair.  Who does he think he is?  Why is he distracting from the nice vocals of the woman upfront?  And please stop with the twirling-drumstick trick, and what’s up with that stand-up cymbal?  Above all, get him away from me, and please don’t make me be in a band with him.
  2. This guy’s energy is inspiring, infectious, and makes me want to get out there and embrace my unique creative ability to make things happen!  In his stick twirls, manic expressiveness, and unabashed joy in banging on drums, I see myself on a great day, when the muse has arrived, I’m in flow, and creating like nobody’s business.  Give me more of this—let me watch that video again.  Oh, and I want a white tux jacket.

Here’s the deal: This drummer is a spoon-bender, he’s definitely kooky in mannerism and presence.  He’s deviant.  He’s not afraid to be what he is, no matter whether it’s a fit to his immediate social context.  We think spoon-benders are kooks and weirdos because doing something out of the ordinary is pretty strange, when you stop and think about it.  But since having the courage to do so publicly and risk criticism, embarrassment, and failure is the price of entry when it comes to innovating, shouldn’t more of us be taking cues from the kooks?

I’m not saying that you should literally go out and hire a spoon-bender (though it would be cool if you did).  But I do think that a high-functioning creative culture is populated by a subset of individuals who can’t help but be who they are, and what they are is someone put on Earth to do remarkable things.  These are your kooks.  Their unrelenting confidence in their own unique mode of creative expression—even if it be the transmogrification of metallic feeding tools—helps everyone else have the courage to go after things in a big way, too.  If you don’t have them, you won’t have any good examples of what extreme passion of expression looks like.

Have a few kooks in your organization, shine a light on their creative behaviors, and watch the positive effects ripple through your culture.