Everything worth doing is weird

“Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well.”

It’s a common quote: whatever is worth doing, is worth doing well. What is worth doing, though?

I think everything that is worth doing is weird, bizarre, and unusual. And when you do weird things well, you will be surprised by the outcome.

In art this may be creating something that is novel and relevant, in business this may be a differentiated product or brand. If something must be new to be great, and what is new was previously weird, the implication is that, definitionally, what is great must have once been weird.

The Holy Mountain (1973), directed by Alejandro Jodorowsky - film still.

In fine art there’s an obsession with novelty. Great art frequently is a personal expression of identity or ideology that is representative of a collective. To be relevant within art history, there is an additional bar: a great artwork is both of the future and of the present. This means it is new, distinct, and relevant.

Business is similar: marketing is about standing out to your customers, sufficiently differentiated within a competitive landscape. If a competitor has previously done what you’re doing, it is not new and thus not differentiated. When you build a product, there are ambiguities and material constraints, which are honed to meet a consumer need better than incumbents have. In marketing, there are many ways to tell the story of a product. Great product and marketing ideas are continually discovered, yet before their value is recognized, they often seem weird.

Airbnb x Barbie campaign from film release

The first artist who strongly executes a great new idea is eventually lauded as a visionary, and leads a movement of lesser known talent, who similarly capture the value created by their exposing something meaningful. Similarly, the first entrepreneur to meet a consumer need through products and marketing captures disproportionate admiration and value. Over time, others use these now proven tactics, which dilute their usefulness and capture value on a smaller scale, because they become less differentiated, less novel, and less weird.

The feeling of doing something weird can be socially costly and uncomfortable — this is an opportunity. If great is new, new is weird, and weird is uncomfortable, then discomfort may mean you’re working towards something great.

You can reverse engineer this: what is the most uncomfortable thing you could be creating right now? No doubt, some of these things may be embarrassing and better left as social taboos. But inevitably, some of the “weird” is undervalued because of perceived social consequences.

Just because something seems weird doesn’t mean it’s worth doing. But it may mean that you’re onto something. If something seems weird, then pursue it diligently — you’ve made a discovery, and it’s up to you to prove its greatness.

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