The always interesting Bill Simmons, in his recent ESPN.com column, rejects the usual line that superstars like A-Rod or Barry Bonds, while cancers in the clubhouse in one sense, are on the whole destructive to team unity. On the contrary, the "guy everyone hates" can be helpful in fostering team dynamics:
It's a common bond of sorts. Even as you believe he's tearing your group apart, he's bringing it closer and distracting anyone from turning on someone else. He's your mean decoy, your Paula Abdul, your Newman. He's your necessary evil.
As Simmons notes, baseball is an individual sport masquerading as a team one, so this theory plays better in the field than on a basketball court for example. But I do think there's something worthwhile here — the benign role of group outcasts — that's applicable in other settings…
9 comments on “Every Group Needs an Outcast”
I don’t think I agree that every group needs an outcast. My current office (small at 8 people) lacks an outcast but has strong cohesion.
I think the role of the outcast you mention does provide a situation with mutually shared adversity; I think this characteristic of the outcast rather than an outcast himself/herself is what promotes team cohesion.
Agreed not every group needs one. And baseball is unique in its individual / team dynamic, as Simmons says.
This is a wonderful opinion. The things mentioned are unanimous and needs to be appreciated by everyone
There is no question that in the short run this can bring people together, but in the long run it avoids the hard work of building a team through mutual positive interest and learning to deal with disagreements. Consequently when the “lightning rod” is no longer there (and this is almost inevitable, since it becomes a goal for the rest of the team to get rid of the person), things fall apart rapidly (perhaps after a brief honeymoon).
I play indoor soccer religiously. While it’s not 1% as competitive as professional sports, the thing I’ve noticed is, dirty players are the worst. If the player’s a jerk, that’s one thing, but when you’re on the field and he is over-agressive (and it’s always a he), it’s really embarrassing and ultimately demotivating.
Usually dirty play is worse when you are losing, so it makes you look like sore losers. So my response is to dial it back and be prepared to play peacemaker in case a fight breaks out.
Classic pack structure for wolves includes not just the Alpha (leader) and Beta (right hand man) but also the Omega (the whipping boy). It’s not surprising to see the same dynamic play out on teams, or among other groups.
Phil Jackson was always known to select a “whipping boy” on his teams, someone he could yell at when he wanted to get a point across to his stars (without yelling at them).
Following your line, one of my colleagues–when I was a university faculty member–used to suggest that every faculty department needed a “yeller.” He was a Southerner, but he was talking about the same thing. Sameness and uniformity can very often be a negative for creativity.
Saved by the Bell needed Screech
Nirvana needed Kurt Cobain
The Bulls needed Rodman
The Democratic party needs Howard Dean
And any group needs me
Theory seems to make sense
Ben, an interesting subject that I’m currently dealing with in my own office. Part of what makes a true outcast difficult (but still worth it) is the sense of entitlement that comes with knowing one’s own outcastedness. It reminds me of this recent article in the Globe & Mail: