5 Signs You’re a Misfit (and Why That’s a Good Thing!)


Are you secretly afraid you’re a misfit? Do you worry your ideas are out of step? Or do you pride yourself on pushing the envelope?

Does it even matter?

Depending on what we mean by “misfit,” it can matter a lot. In fact, one of the most popular misfit callouts – one that went viral at the time – went like this:

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.

It’s the quote from Apple’s Think Different ad campaign from 1997.

This ad captured the spirit of misfits everywhere, and it did so in two powerful ways: (1) by celebrating innovators and problem solvers around the world; and (2) by inspiring hope in anyone who’d ever questioned or challenged business as usual.

What Misfits Do



Fast forward to 2015 where we’re likely to swap the terms innovator or entrepreneur for misfit or rebel. Yet it’s that misfit aspect – the countercultural, boundary pushing, systems challenging behavior – that Alexa Clay and Kyra Maya Phillips chose to discuss in their book, The Misfit Economy. Every misfit they interviewed – from gang leader to pirate to botanist to inventor – did one or more of the following:

  1. Hustled. Created opportunities, made something out of nothing, improvised, worked with constraints, took action.
  2. Copied. Built on other’s ideas or work. Transformed, reinvented, customized, localized, or globalized.
  3. Hacked. Gained deep knowledge of an established system, in order to disrupt, rethink, or reinvent it.
  4. Provoked. Shook up the status quo, took a stand, challenged what had always been done, imagined alternatives, or encouraged dissent.
  5. Pivoted. Pursued a new path and stepped into the unknown.

Learning to be a Misfit

We need more misfits. We need more people who hold a different perspective. And with all the ways technology can connect us to information and people, we’re better positioned than ever to “change the world.”

But that means we need to practice these skills, model them, and yes, teach them. Here are some ways to start developing a misfit mindset:

Hustle: Make something out of nothing: (1) share an idea or resource in a blog post; (2) tweet a powerful quote or idea; (3) post useful or inspiring photos or images online; (4) learn how to use a new piece of software; (5) draft a TED Talk; or (6) teach someone something they want to learn.

Copy: Build on what others have done. Choose a piece of art or writing or music or software. Copy it (attribute, of course). Then customize that copy for yourself. Then customize that copy for a particular group of people.

Hack: Reinvent something that’s established. Take a specific problem, idea, or challenge in a particular field, ideally something that’s driving you crazy. What solution do you want? Give yourself five minutes to answer the following questions: What are three steps to take to get the solution started? What are the next three steps? Who could help?

Provoke: Take a stand and shake up the status quo. What is one aspect of your life that strikes you as unexamined – an expectation you have, a way of doing something or interacting with someone? How might you challenge or rethink your approach? How might you share what you’ve learned and maybe inspire someone else to do the same?

Pivot: Step into the unknown and pursue a new path. Read something you don’t normally read. Try a different kind of food. Take a different route to work or home. Try a new hobby. If you feel doubtful or afraid, know that your feelings are normal.

These activities are the starter kit. You may already be further along. Either way, let me know how it’s going. There’s never been a better time to be a misfit!

How Early Do Your Students Trade Must for Should?



It looked like it didn’t belong. That’s what caught my eye. The cover and the binding were too artistic, especially compared to the traditional hardcovers stacked neatly nearby.

And those differences compelled me to start paging through Elle Luna’s book, The Crossroads of Should and Must

Oddly enough — though there isn’t a single person’s photo in the book — I began to picture the faces of students I’d taught. I also remembered our conversations. Continue reading

If Not Now, When? If Not You, Who?

Tempt One

Tempt One

Tony “TemptOne” Quan is a legendary graffiti artist. He started working out of Los Angeles in the early 1980s and, over the years, became known for images that fused the city’s cholo or Latin American culture with New York style writing.

In 2003 Quan was diagnosed with ALS, the degenerative nerve disease that ended Lou Gehrig’s baseball career in 1939. Quan assumed it meant the end of his career, as well. But 70 years can make a big difference, especially when it comes to all the ways technology allows us to communicate, collaborate, and access online resources. And that’s where Mick Ebeling comes in. Continue reading

How Successful Entrepreneurs Are Amazing Designers

Bengt Nyman

Bengt Nyman

Have you ever looked for a job? Bought a house or a car? Invested in the stock market? If you’ve done any one of these, you’ve participated in a market.

And when we talk about markets that’s where terms like supply and demand come in: How many people am I competing with for that job? How many homes or cars are available in my price range? How many shares can I afford to buy?

For most of us, markets are an afterthought. We participate in them, but we don’t see ourselves as shaping them in any way. While they’re known to evolve over time, they’re not seen as systems we intentionally design. That is, until recently. Continue reading

Why Success Doesn’t Guarantee Happiness (And How to Fix It)

Wendy Suzuki

Wendy Suzuki

Have you ever felt like you wanted more out of life, even if you’d already achieved a measure of success? Did you ever wonder what you’d sacrificed to achieve your goals?

These are the questions Wendy Suzuki asked herself when she woke up at 40 and realized something was missing.

What sets Suzuki apart is that she’s an award-winning Professor of Neural Science and Psychology at NYU. She studies how our brains retain long-term memories and how exercise affects our cognitive abilities. And she chronicles how she put that expertise to use in her recently released book Healthy Brain, Healthy Life: A Personal Program to Activate Your Brain and Do Everything Better.


Suzuki had a hunch that her academic success also contained the roots of her unhappiness. She hypothesized that she’d traded good health, friendships, and outside interests to achieve it. With this realization came the conscious decision to apply her award-winning skills to herself. And there’s a lot we can learn from her results. Continue reading

A Creative Way to Solve Your Most Nagging Problems

Will Evans

Will Evans

Pick a nagging problem. It can be big or small. It can be personal or professional.

Choose one that’s defeated you so many times you’ve given up on ever trying to solve it.

Do you have one? Once you do, keep reading.

Doorways to Creativity

To solve your problem, let’s take a page from Mona Patel’s new book Reframe: Shift the Way You Work, Innovate, and Think. What’s refreshing about her approach is that her background in user-centered design causes her to view every problem, no matter how challenging, as an opportunity.

For Patel, problems are doorways into creativity. Continue reading

The Most Essential Skill to Spark Creativity

Jae C.

Jae C.

Brian Grazer is a successful movie and TV producer. Even if you don’t know his name, you probably know his hair. It’s iconic. Probably more iconic than Grazer himself. He wears it tall and spiky, and he’s been wearing it that way for years. Can you picture him now?

Grazer and his business partner and long-standing friend, director and former actor, Ron Howard, have garnered award after award for films like, Splash, Apollo 13, and A Beautiful Mind, as well as television shows, like 24 and Friday Night Lights. Their success in the movie and television industry is unparalleled.

While Grazer could chalk his success up to his amazing intelligence or savvy business sense, he goes a different way. He attributes it to what I think is the single the most essential skill for sparking creativity and innovative thinking. Continue reading