In Defense of Those Peculiar and Freaky

Joyce Carol Oates, in a letter to the editor of the New York Times Book Review this past Sunday, takes issue with a reviewer of Flannery O'Connor referring to O'Connor as peculiar:

Was Flannery O’Connor “peculiar” — or is this mildly pejorative and condescending adjective just shorthand for suggesting that she was unconventional, original, strong-willed and serious in both her art and her life, in a way that isn’t common in our experience? Is there any individual of distinction who might not appear to be, from the perspective of the smugly bland and judgmental, “peculiar”?


It reminded me of Tom Peters imploring people to "hire freaks." In a PowerPoint deck, he explains:

(1) Because when Anything Interesting happens … it was a freak who did it. (Period.)  

(2) Freaks are fun. (Freaks are also a pain.) (Freaks are never boring.)

(3) We need freaks. Especially in freaky times. (Hint: These are freaky times, for you & me & the CIA & the Army & Avon.)   

(4) A critical mass of freaks-in-our-midst automatically make us-who-are-not-so-freaky at least somewhat more freaky. (Which is a Good Thing in freaky times—see immediately above.)   

(5) Freaks are the only (ONLY) ones who succeed—as in, make it into the history books.   

(6) Freaks keep us from falling into ruts. (If we listen to them.) (We seldom listen to them.) (Which is why most of us—and our organizations—are in ruts. Make that chasms.)

5 comments on “In Defense of Those Peculiar and Freaky
  • Freaks can usually be identified by their higher than average intensity. They’re less complacent, and can be trusted to find a solution — especially if an original one is required. However, freaky people live in an altered reality; either by a shift in emphasis or with a more serious delusion. Thus, open-minded mainstream people are needed to verify their solution will work in ‘our’ reality … someone “normal”, but with vision, needs to check that the solution is in accord with the vision. In other words, hire them but don’t give them the keys!

  • The trouble with businesses (and other organizations) is that they often look upon freaks as problem children who need to be shown the door. And, from the freak side of things, organizations are viewed as something to be avoided like the plague.

    You’ll find a lot of talented freaky people slugging it out as creative freelancers, and, guess what? Some of them are quite successful. Not so much due to their super-freakiness but due to their business skills.

  • Everyone probably things of someone different when they think of a freak. The person I happen to think of first is Ayn Rand. And she’s irate that, twelve hours into the discussion of our mix of awe, fear and patronage of the 3-sigma, we still haven’t mentioned her. (Is she mollified? She’s so difficult to please.. but I imagine she likes being identified as a freak.)

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