Every team needs a deviant, someone who can help the team by challenging the tendency to want too much homogeneity, which can stifle creativity and learning. Deviants are the ones who stand back and say, “Well, wait a minute, why are we even doing this at all? What if we looked at the thing backwards, or turned it inside out?” That's when people say, “Oh, no, no, no, that’s ridiculous “. And so the discussion about what’s ridiculous comes up… The deviant opens up more ideas, and that gets you a lot more originality.Diane Coutu in a Harvard Business Review article called Why Teams Don’t Work based on a study of numerous teams in a variety of situations.
In our research, we've looked carefully at both teams that produced something original and those that were merely average, when nothing really sparkled. It turned out that the teams with deviants outperformed teams without them. In many cases, deviant thinking is a source of great innovation.
I would add, though that often the deviant veers from the norm at great personal cost. Deviants are individuals who are willing to say the thing that nobody else is will to articulate. The deviant raises people's level of anxiety, which a brave thing to do. When the boat is floating with the current, it really is extraordinarily courageous for somebody to stand up and say, “We've got to pause and probably change direction,” Nobody on the team wants to hear that, which is precisely why many team leaders crack down on deviants and try to get them to stop asking difficult questions, maybe even knock them off the team. And yet it’s when you lose the deviant that the team can become mediocre.
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