It is a good question and all hinges on your definition of weirdo. Martin Davidson, professor of business administration at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, has two categories of weirdo.

Little w’s and Big W’s. Little w’s tend to use their weirdness as purely an outward show of being different – they tend to have prodigious egos. In contrast Big W’s oppose the norm because they are seeking something or trying to achieve a larger goal and they know that following a normal path won’t get them there. They are often much more humble than the little w’s and are focused on getting a great result. Davidson defines this difference as being constructively different. And constructively different people can be extremely valuable in challenging group-think and conflict avoidance.

Davidson offers this advice;

Finding constructively weird people starts with knowing the strengths and weaknesses of your team and your company. Then it requires searching for the person with the attributes you need in order to compensate for what you don’t do well. We can learn a lot from weirdness and weird people. We can learn how those of us who struggle to stand out and be noticed can do so more effectively.

In his on-going research Davidson is trying to discover why some Big W’s thrive whilst others don’t. Is it something to do with their behaviours or with the environment that they exist in?  Answering these questions will allow companies to recruit more people who are constructively different because they will have better tools and processes for embedding them within the organisation so both the individual and organisation can thrive.

The picture is Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni, Davidson’s number one Big W.

Davidson is the author of The End of Diversity as We Know It: Why Diversity Efforts Fail and How Leveraging Difference Can Succeed. He is currently working on his next book tentatively titled Embrace the Weird that will explore how people who don’t fit in at work can offer powerful ideas.