Dominic Cummings, the advisor to Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, writes from his blog that he wants, amongst others, misfits to join the civil service and to drive new ideas into 10 Downing Street. Conventional modes of doing no longer apply. This is the age of oddballs surfing.
Every company should have someone who doesn’t conform. Their ideas come at you left field and often they don’t take to the phrase, “Can’t be done” very kindly. Some people call them disruptors.
The ad industry is, supposedly, full of them. When I worked in Soho in the 90s, there was a legendary figure with multi-coloured socks, who’d bound enthusiastically into meetings and seemingly, with his feet on the table, unlock creative constipated ideas. Then he’d leave.
You’ve probably got a few at work, except you might chuckle calling them eccentric, or mark your diary to stay clear of them in the kitchen.
Back in 1994, in Britain’s newly deregulated cable, a newspaper sought to launch a broadcast station. They needed unusual type of journalists, ones who weren’t afraid to do what seemed impossible. You know, hold a camera, do sound, interview and edit.
You might consider that’s easy now, but it’d never been done on a grand scale, and broadcasters rubbished the idea. Three thousand people applied for the job. Thirty were selected. Michael Rosenblum, the consultant, was in the habit of turning down those who’d already figured out how broadcasting works. Today, many former Channel Oners our household names.
In 1991, I worked for a British TV youth programme called Reportage. The editor was Janet Street Porter ( if the name means anything). She wasn’t after traditionalist types either, though you’d find yourself within the BBC. I sat in front of Esther McVey. Trish Adudu, and Hardeep Singh Koli were to my right. We were all different and brimming with ideas.
There are people that perhaps don’t traditionally fit, and then there are misfits. Has Cummings styled himself on Vladislav Surkov, someone who also is an admirer of misfitication (Sorry! Made up word). Surkov is the tour de force behind Russia’s Vladimir Putin. According to filmmaker Adam Curtis in Hypernormalization, Surkov, a former surrealist theatre director ( and business strategist), likes to mix things up ( see below).
Trouble is misfits, perhaps are so, because they fall outside of a range of formal etiquettes. Don’t feel like going to work? Feel like you don’t need the boss’s approval? Having trouble not igniting a third world war? Be careful what you ask for.
If it’s Disfits you’re after — data scientists, cyber psychologists, anthropologists to replace the Oxford arts grads, (which Cummings is one of) then that might be a different matter. How I wish my Chemistry Maths degree could have got me a shot into the BBC. It did eventually x applications later.
Being a Disfit led me to code, write and build one of the first video magazines when YouTube didn’t exist. It won a major US award in 2005.
A full six years later the Guardian won a Batten; it claimed it was the first Brit company to win one( Finally got that of my chest then!)
And working across disciplines, as a digital storyteller means I now have my sights on collapsing AI and journalism, as a way to counter the stupendous attempts to disinformation.
So here’s to a brand of misfits, like you, who far from disrupting everything for the sake of division, wants to create a better place, so we can all share in peace and prosperity in 2020.