Conformity may be overrated. Most innovators really do “think different.” Learn to spot them, and what they can teach us!

I grew up in Silicon Valley and credit many people for my fascination with innovators. One early conversation with my Dad still stands out.

My Dad, a PhD in Physics, worked at Stanford Research Institute and had innumerable patents. Dad  lived the “Think Different” mantra long before Steve Jobs coined the phrase. One day I brought home a girl friend from school. She wore perfect little plaid pleated skirts, slept in a canopy bed and had a Princess phone – every girl’s lifestyle dream at the time. But my Dad asked me why I invited her over. “She seems ordinary,” he said.

In contrast, Dad got on like a house on fire with another friend that I brought home. Jonathan aspired to be a brain surgeon. He wrote original operas and wore a white tuxedo to high school every day. The meta message from my Dad was, “Aspiring to be conventional is perhaps not a worthy goal.”

Flash forward many years. No wonder I always treasure time with Ben Orthlieb, Partner at Off-the-Grid Ventures, an early stage fund that intentionally bets on outsiders. Ben invests in female and foreign-born founders (including investing in Swarm.) Ben says more than half of the US-based “unicorns” have a foreign founder. And that venture funds that invest more in women-led businesses have better performance. Wow!

So why is it that Outsiders are often so innovative?

Four Reasons Outsiders Are Often More Innovative

  1. When everyone thinks alike, they tend to assume the whole world is like them. Being an outsider, you are free to move in and out of groups. And you realize that the status quo in each group is often self-imposed.
  2. Moving from one “norm” to another (such as moving frequently as a kid like I did), you discover that there are many ways to do just about anything. So, it’s easy to imagine there is yet another way.
  3. When you are not on the inside of a social group, you can hang back and notice the larger patterns. When new patterns are emerging, opportunity abounds.
  4. If you’re not part of the mainstream, it really doesn’t bother you as much to stick your neck out and do things differently. You don’t need the approval.

OK so Outsiders can be more innovative. But how can you find and engage them?

How to Identify the Outsiders in Your Company

  • First of all, Outsiders may not draw a lot of attention to themselves. (I for one, am a high-functioning introvert. And many successful innovators are.) Seek out the quiet ones.
  • Wait for the end of any meeting. Ask the person who has said nothing what they really think. They may just produce a challenging point of view, which can be priceless.
  • Outsiders are often hyper-aware of, and involved early, in emerging patterns that most people dismiss. (Like the guy who bought BitCoin 5 years ago.) Invite them to share their new obsessions. Ask, “What if they’re right?”

Much has been written about outsiders and creativity, and Swarm research proved this correlation. People with high Swarm scores not only tend to be impatient with the status quo. They also seek out novelty, and intentionally hang out with people who are not like them. Why do Swarm scores matter? Because people with high Swarm scores generate three times the business results from innovation as those with low Swarm scores.

Now if you want to find those innovators, you can just profile your workforce. Take the Swarm Innovation Profiler here yourself and share 15 free licenses with your colleagues:


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As always, I’d love to hear what you think. In what ways are you an outsider? How has it made you more innovative?

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By Suzan Briganti

About the author

Suzan Briganti brings 25 years of experience in research, strategy and innovation. Suzan has a patent pending in innovation software. She has grown Swarm Vision from a garage start-up to a trusted solution provider to global Fortune 500 clients. Swarm Vision is a platform to identify and leverage innovation talent in the enterprise to drive growth. Suzan leads Swarm Vision with a focus on building great products and teams. Suzan has an MBA summa cum laude from Boston University and a design degree from Italy. Contact:

Featured image via Unsplash.