Why We Need Outliers

Why We Need Outliers

We need outliers, and we need their ideas. We need the involvement in our lives, especially in the big projects on which we work, of those who see the world differently and think about things in ways which will surprise, if not discomfort us.

For those who will quickly say that they already embrace diversity and discomfort, let them appreciate that those are their comfort zones, and they need the input of others, others who privilege uniformity and comfort. Whatever our default position is, be it political, social, spiritual or psychological, we need at least some regular input from those whose default setting is different from or own.

The temptation in almost every field, from politics to parenting, is that shared beliefs, focus and clarity are the most important tools for creating success. It turns out though, that we also need the perspective and input of those who walk different paths and see the world radically different from ourselves, if we hope to truly succeed.

It may sound obvious, but how often do we really include the participation and perspective of outliers? How often instead do we surround ourselves with, or expect others to be, an “amen chorus” mirroring back to us whatever we already believe?

Of course, shared values, common beliefs and an agreed upon goal are all key components when building anything, be it a family, a community or a nation. That said, when the need for commonality translates into a single perspective or vision for how to achieve or define success, we lose perspective, choke off creativity, and typically burn out along the way. That is where the interested outlier comes into play.

The value of the outlier lies not in their becoming more like us, or us like them. Their value lies in the fact of their difference, the insight which can only emerge from that place of difference, and our own willingness to learn from it even though they, the outliers, will remain genuinely different.

None of us, and no one ideology, could possibly have a monopoly on wisdom. In fact, real wisdom is the composite of multiple approaches that come from a range of people and places.

When we open ourselves to that larger understanding of wisdom and apply it to whatever specific tasks and goals define our lives, it is like a breath of fresh air which revitalizes us and brings new life to whatever we do.

Brad Hirschfield

Brad Hirschfield is the co-founder and co-executive editor of The Wisdom Daily. A rabbi, Brad has been featured on ABC's Nightline UpClose, PBS's Frontline, Fox News and National Public Radio. He wrote a long-standing column, "For God's Sake," for the Washington Post, and has also written for The Huffington Post and Beliefnet.com. He authored the book, You Don?t Have To Be Wrong For Me To Be Right: Finding Faith Without Fanaticism. Brad also serves as President of Clal, The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership, a leadership training institute, think tank and resource center in New York City.

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