When I was a teacher, I started a Literary Magazine club in after-school that students ran and contributed to. Our motto was “Weird is Welcome.” The amount of joy and creativity in that room was immeasurable; when my students - many of whom weren’t deemed “successful” in traditional academic settings - were given permission to get weird, they did. They built beautiful magazines, they collaborated, and they created incredible writing and art.
Imagine what would happen if adults were given more permission to get weird.
Last week, I ran two design thinking workshops with after-school Site Directors. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: no one knows constraints like educators. Every industry has its challenges, but educators get it from all sides - and working on behalf of students’ lives can feel as urgent and important as life and death (as a former classroom teacher, I can attest to this).
The point here is that it’s often hard for educators to get weird, yet I believe that getting weird is critical to innovation. Here’s why:
Weird is fun, and play is good: We insist that kids have the time and space to play, but we rarely allow this for ourselves. Play and weird go hand in hand, because they both insist on releasing our expectations for how we’re supposed to show up in the world. And when we play, we not only learn better; we do better work, too.
Weird is the root of new: I’m certainly not the first one to say this, but I will say this again and again because as a design thinking facilitator, it’s one of the things I see most frequently: when you let your ideas go into the realm of weird, you unlock creativity and open pathways to true innovation and new ideas.
People need weird: Sometimes, the act of sitting in an open space that’s not your office, with a facilitator who doesn’t work for your company, and being asked to play with post-its and idea generation is enough - the simple act of doing something different than the daily grind can be invigorating. People in the working world are exhausted. Their work is often far removed from their customer/beneficiary. They do the same thing, day in and day out. Weird can inject a dose of joy and catalyze people to remember why they started their work in the first place.
When I tell my learners that we’re going to get weird, they usually giggle uncomfortably or roll their eyes. I can’t blame them - how can something like getting weird be useful? One of my favorite things about facilitating a design thinking session is converting those skeptics into believers. One of my most conservative participants at the aforementioned session for Site Directors went from naysaying even moderately weird ideas at the beginning of a brainstorm to volunteering the craziest ones at the end. He smiled. He let himself get uncomfortable. He got weird. If that isn’t valuable, I don’t know what is.