The perceived weirdness index

The fact that The Perceived Weirdness Index (PWI) is even a thing is a joy to me. Its use in the world of organisation development and change aside, it’s just a gorgeous combination of words. An HR Director client said of one of my esteemed colleagues “anyone who turns up to a pitch dressed like that must be good”, was drawing attention to the power of perceived weirdness. When another of my colleagues put his arm around an huge-brained male strategy director and used the word ‘feelings’, I audibly gasped, but the client became an ardent fan – seeing in my pal, the difference he wanted to grow towards.

As a change agent – whether an OD practitioner, a coach or a leader with a transformational agenda, you have to be ‘just weird enough’. Too weird (a high PWI) and you provoke rejection from the existing culture, not weird enough (a low PWI) and you will be absorbed into the culture and be less effective at exciting and creating change. Somewhere between is where you want to be (the PWI Sweetspot). For more detail on the PWI and how it relates to Presence in general see Tolbert and Hanafin.

So, after you’ve established some foundational credibility and rapport to get you into the room there is some fun to be had on the continuum between confluence and challenge; between sameness and difference. Knowing which end of the continuum you are more afraid of, can be useful in checking your own habits and tendencies.

As a short, young-looking female consultant on an assignment in the male dominated senior echelons of a military organisation, I was terrified of not being taken seriously. But what was weird about me in that setting was not something I could change – there was at least a decade of life experience, a foot in height and a few body parts difference between me and everyone on that site – I had to get on with it. My fellow tall male consultants were agog at the results I managed to get with senior officials who had been much more buttoned up with them.

As consultants I think we are very aware of our perceived weirdness (or not) and we walk that tightrope maybe several times in a day as we move between meetings.   What I find more interesting is the way this idea can help leaders inside organisations. Amongst our own clients we know some brilliant ‘just weird enough’ leaders. Their “just weird enough-ness” can come from the simplest of things:

  • Being a straight-talking Kiwi amongst more reserved Scots
  • Being a Yorkshire Cattle Farmer’s son in a city setting
  • Being a feisty, feminine woman in a gritty male-dominated operations setting

These examples are a reminder that just really being fully what you are can be enough. But not all of what makes us weird enough are things you can’t change, like gender, height or place of birth, many are much more about the ways we choose to spend our precious time, focus our attention and exercise our actions. My sense is that if we bravely focus on liking what we like, saying what we see, doing what comes naturally to us, speaking with our own voices, we are all likely to be plenty weird enough for someone.