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Hypothesis About Freaks

American espionage in World War II was carried out by freaks.

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Hypothesis: an organization’s success positively correlates with its ability to attract outliers.

A short story to illustrate this point.

When Hitler started razing Europe, America did not have a spy agency. By 1942, William Donovan, a Wall Street lawyer, created the Office of Special Services (OSS).

OSS had a big mission: to win the war by running espionage and sabotage in Europe and other theaters of war.

What’s most interesting about OSS, though, is how it went about its mission.

Instead of relying on military people, OSS organized a motley crew of actors, artists, tricksters, and business people (OSS’s British counterpart, SOE, was nicknamed “the irregulars.”)

In other words, American espionage in World War II was carried out by freaks.

And guess what? It worked.

Most organizations know how to handle their average employee — the person with a knowable education, work history, look and personality, and career trajectory — but do not know how to handle an outlier, even or especially a wildly talent one.

From Google to Duke basketball to OSS, winning organizations embrace the outlier, the weird, the freakish, the misfit, and the wildcard.

Winning organizations welcome messy hair, tattoos, non-traditional career paths, and quirky personalities.

If it’s good enough to beat Hitler, it is good enough for your startup, company, and — clutch your pearls — civic organization.