Why Companies Should Hire More Little Monsters…
Should companies be changing their dress codes to accept raw meat dresses and more sequins? Not necessarily, but they should consider hiring individuals bold enough to wear them.
“I’m obsessively opposed to the typical.” – Lady Gaga
A true original in every sense of the word, when it comes to being an innovator and re-imagining an entire field of work, Lady Gaga is queen. Her music, her choreography, and of course her fashion, have inspired a storm of media buzz and has strongly influenced pop culture. While her talent has certainly given legs to her rise to fame, it is the unique lens through which she views the world that is shaping her legacy. Coining her loyal followers as “Little Monsters,” Gaga has built an entire movement of outsiders who connect to her music and the empowering message behind it. Leading by example through her own life experiences of dealing with bullies and leveraging her “outsiderness” to drive her creativity, Lady Gaga has helped her fans overcome adversity and find self-acceptance. She has created a sub-culture of inclusion that celebrates the beauty and power found in being “different.” Her message has helped individuals move beyond acceptance to a point of self-actualization, which has allowed them to understand that those qualities that seem like disadvantages are actually their most powerful contributions to society.
So what does this have to do with company hiring practices?
Should companies be changing their dress codes to accept raw meat dresses and more sequins? Not necessarily, but they should certainly consider hiring those individuals bold enough to wear them. Innovation is the leading buzzword of recent dialogue around the economy and market systems across the globe – a buzz that does not seem to be going away anytime soon. The economy as it once was, and as we know it to be now, will never be the same. We need a new type of talent to spark the invention of new products and companies that will solve the massive global challenges we face and create the jobs needed to alleviate the global unemployment crisis. We will see more value in idea generators, inventors, designers, problem solvers, critical thinkers, and individuals who do not fear disruption, but instead deliberately pursue it. Many companies have acknowledged these changes and the corresponding hiring needs; however, their systems for talent development and assessment are outdated and do not incorporate these truths into the design of their processes. Companies put up invisible walls constructed by the impermeable material of resumes and through other highly limiting assessment strategies. These types of evaluations are based solely on credentials that allow only one mold of a person to succeed, which unfairly excludes many individuals from our work spaces. Some populations are vulnerable to these exclusionary practices and are suffering as a result. For example, individuals with Autism have proven to be brilliant high tech employees given their ability to hyperfocus. Yet the social boundaries of interviews and rigid company cultures prevent many autistic candidates from contributing their talents to our economy.
Time for the Great Underdog Uprising
These non-inclusive practices are unjust, often forcing individuals to be financially dependent and barring them from fully participating in society. They also leave large amounts of needed ideas, skills, and unique perspectives out of the workforce. These are the very same ideas that are needed for the type of innovative disruption required by the new economy. Currently, many thought leaders and authors at the moment are contributing works that highlight how underdogs and the marginalized actually possess advantages when it comes to being an impactful employee or entrepreneur. In his most recent book, “David and Goliath,” Malcolm Gladwell points out that an overwhelming amount of successful entrepreneurs are actually Dyslexic and 67% of the Prime Ministers that were polled had lost a parent before the age of 16.
As a self-proclaimed underdog for having dealt with racism and economic hardship from an early age, Anna Akbari, Ph.D, a sociologist, social entrepreneur, and professor, has provided great insight on Gladwell’s book and the phenomenon of successful underdogs. She pinpoints several key areas in which underdogs develop positive traits stemming directly from the obstacles they must overcome. Some of these traits include: an inherent optimism and immunity to complacency, a rich imagination stemming from a need to improvise for survival, strong skills of observation and understanding of what it takes to succeed (a better view of this from the outside), fearlessness of taking risks which comes from living life without a safety net, and a strong drive to succeed coupled with a willingness to acquire new skills and knowledge.
I would like to add one trait to the list, for me the most important: perception. Regardless of the source of one’s underdog-ness, chances are they have not had many people shaping a positive vision of the future for them, have never received validation for their talents and abilities, and certainly have not had much encouragement to pursue their dreams. This type of negative environment can be highly oppressive and underdogs can either be crushed by it, or find the strength to defy it. Defying it does not mean meeting their opposition with anger and rebellion, but instead learning how to shape their own perception of themselves and the circumstances surrounding them. They must learn to define what is possible for their lives on their own terms, rather than the limiting ones established by others. This is clearly easier said than done, but for those who can rise above and do it, their self-perception, vision for the future, and overall confidence is unshakable.
Redefining the Possible
It is not just poise and strength that stems from this perception-defining experience that propels underdogs to greatness. It is actually the heavy lifting by one’s imagination to reach that point that sets them apart and yields great innovators and visionaries. As a five-foot-tall, 110-pound woman who played college basketball against opponents 100 pounds heavier and a whole foot taller than me, I have personally experienced this underdog imagination exercise. Due to my size, I grew up playing for coaches who, by stereotype, limited their expectations of me on the court. While many of my teammates were able to refine their skills by watching others, I was forced to adjust my own conception of the game; I had to re-imagine input from the outside world and create a new world of possibility for myself.
Lady Gaga’s movement has been built on her ability to redefine possible for herself, the music industry, and most importantly, for her Little Monsters. Her community of outsiders is bursting with talent, innovative ideas, creativity, and a willingness to challenge convention. It is time to transform limiting hiring systems and to extend economic opportunity to outsiders and underdogs. If these individuals remain in the margins, and their perspectives, ideas, and talents continue to go untapped, the world will be missing out on more Gaga-like greatness in the future…a greatness powerful enough to move entire industries forward and solve the global social and environmental challenges that we face.