Do you know that we are all weird?

Have you ever met someone who was 100% normal and perfect? Probably not. There are passions, hobbies, and habits in even the most boring among us that set us apart. Collectors’ stamps? About psychonauts? Metalheads? All weird?

Why does the universe seem built for conformity if we are all weird? Our economic, cultural and political systems have been structured around the concept of the consumer market for a century, a mythical ideal where ordinary individuals only want normal things. The mass-market status quo, however is soon to be swept away by the ever-rising tide of the strange.

It is an important skill for your business and personal life to learn to ride the wave of weirdness, and the novel, We Are All Weird, by Seth Godin shows why. This short and snappy manifesto, packed with informative anecdotes and wry observations about our evolving cultural world shows that weirdness might and should be the new standard.

Antwerp Zoo was in turmoil a few years ago. The park once faced declining popularity as a major attraction. Its menagerie was no longer able to bring in the crowds that it once had. Then her elephant became pregnant. Hoping to create a bit of buzz, the zoo posted a sonogram of the animal on Youtube. It worked; the in-utero elephant, a national news case, was a success. To keep the public interested, they kept going, posting polls and conducting a naming competition. More and more Belgians have been investing in this baby elephant. Attendance soared. In the limelight, the Zoo was back.

What makes this tale of performance stand out? That’s a relatively rare fact. Big media events with mass appeal these days just don’t happen as much as they used to do. Mass market success, in fact, is becoming as rare as a baby elephant. The main message here is the mass market is fading quickly, and the future is going to be weird.

According to Godin, grasping exactly what this change entails requires knowing a few key terms: mass, normal, weird, and rich. 

Mass first and usual. To characterize the old way of doing things, the system of large-scale, undifferentiated development that is our present status quo, the author uses these terms. Under this structure, by appealing to what they think of as usual, manufacturers and advertisers strive to fulfill the needs of the masses effectively. Normal is subjective of course. It’s natural in Mumbai to be a vegetarian, but not so normal in Kansas. Either way, they even try to make things morally correct once advertisers decide something is natural.

Weird applies, on the other hand, to someone who falls outside the regular masses. This does not suggest persons with unusual physical traits or minority identities. Instead it means those with characteristics and attributes, that is, peculiar hobbies or odd interests, that are unique by choice.

What Godin considers becoming rich is getting the resources to make such odd choices, which doesn’t necessarily mean money in the bank, although that definitely helps. It may also mean getting free time or support from the group.

This leaves you with a decision to make: do you want to be on the side of the normal masses, or use your riches to make a leap into the weird? It’s not an easy choice, but Godin believes the way to succeed in this brave new world is by being bold enough to buck the status quo and embrace the bizarre.

Think of what your fridge has inside. There is probably a bottle of Heinz ketchup stashed somewhere between the cartons of milk and the leftovers from last night. This at least, is true for 70% of Americans. So how did the intake of your condiments become so predictable? Blame the mass production logic. Companies were structured around one common concept for most of the twentieth century: customization is expensive. The most profitable way to make money, instead of catering to individual desires, was to appeal to the masses.

Marketers had to first make everyone’s wishes the same in order to sell mass-market goods to most individuals. They must have invented natural. With the influence of ads, they pulled this off. Marketers were able to describe the public’s preferences with clever advertisements and ostracize those who did not adhere. And it’s been working. We all know what is meant by standard. Regular people drive cars. Coke is intoxicated by average people. Average people purchase ketchup from Heinz. The main message here is to sell mass-market goods, the notion of normal was invented.

So, are we all destined to live lives where consumption is dictated by conformity? Not necessarily. We can choose to be weird. Let’s compare two neighborhoods in Manhattan. First, Midtown. Here on Fifth Avenue we have major retailers like Abercombie and Tiffany’s selling goods to throngs of tourists. The products and people here are the same ones you could find anywhere. This is “the masses.” 

However, head 50 blocks to the East Village, and it’s a different scene. Stand on a street corner, and you’ll see New York in all its diversity. Tattooed artists rub shoulders with Chinese tourists and retired beat poets. A classic Italian bakery sits next to a boutique hawking hydroponic herbs. Nothing here is normal.

Given the option, which neighborhood would you choose? The weird one, right? Like you, more and more people are opting for the odd – and it’s changing how people approach purchasing products, entertainment, and other services. Thirty years ago, the three big TV networks were watched by 90 percent of the population. Now, their viewership is down to 30 percent. As more people turn away from mass media, the weird in all its varieties will only become more popular.

Check out my related post: What is the dragonfly effect? – Part 2

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