Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
October 25, 2010 2:08 PM


Being like everyone else isn't the answer. Being like no one else is the answer. You have to be incompatible.

In this week's, Six Links Worth Of Your Attention #18, Hugh McGuire (from Librivox, iambik and a co-host on Media Hacks) recommended that I watch the Bloomberg TV documentary, Bloomberg Game Changers: Steve Jobs, on Apple co-founder and CEO, Steve Jobs. There's no doubt that Jobs is an iconoclast, but what really struck me was when someone described him as "incompatible," and pushed it further by saying that's what makes him so unique, special and creative. Guy Kawasaki went on to say that Jobs is so different from most other people, that getting him to even think like everybody else would be like trying to explain to a fish what it is to fly.

This pushes well beyond what we would consider to be a visionary.

Think about what it takes to really breakthrough. Think about what it takes to truly be a visionary. Think about what it takes to actually change the game. It's not easy. People are not going to like you, and odds are that you're not going to be able to be exceedingly social, simply because you see things differently. Why does someone commit suicide? I have (sadly) known more than a few people who have taken their own lives. It never really makes any sense. The problem comes in trying to understand it. You can't put a rational thought around a situation that is not rational. People who are incompatible don't think and operate the same way that the rest of us do. Trying to see them as we see others is not rational.

What makes someone incompatible?

  • Change. Incompatible people don't mind change at all. They try. They fail. They change. The don't look back. They look forward. The only constant in their lives is that things will change, and this is fine with them as long as it leads to perfection.
  • Disruptive force. Most people see their actions as irrational. These people scream, yell and probably demand what seems to be the impossible out of people. They don't work regular hours. They don't care much for vacation. Their life balance looks nothing like our work/life balance.
  • Artist. It doesn't matter if they're inventing the iPad or a new irrigation system. Their work is not their work. Their work is their art. It is what they were meant to do and - in the end - it is art. Both in the creation process and in the final product. Incompatibles embrace the artist's way and follow their muse. They don't care much about market research or customer insights. They know better than both.
  • Revolutionary. The work they do isn't just a few steps above the competition, they are - literally - revolutionizing their industry (and sometimes even creating their own industry). Everything they do is about causing maximum disruption to the way things used to be.
  • The reality distortion field. According to Wikipedia: "a term coined by Bud Tribble at Apple Computer in 1981, to describe company co-founder Steve Jobs' charisma and its effects on the developers working on the Mac project. Later the term has also been used to refer to perceptions of his keynote (or Stevenote) by observers and devoted users of Apple computers and products. In essence, RDF is the idea that Steve Jobs is able to convince himself and others to believe almost anything with a mix of charm, charisma, bluster, exaggeration, marketing, appeasement, and persistence. RDF is said to distort an audience's sense of proportion and scales of difficulties and makes them believe that the task at hand is possible."
  • Alone. There are only a handful of visionaries. The word may be tossed around to describe a whole lot of business executives, but there are only a few true visionaries. These people usually are very lonely. They are lost in their ideas and drive. It makes it challenging to navigate relationships and they feel that people either can't understand them or don't have the knowledge base to comprehend them. Yes, they believe others are stupider than they are.

Being incompatible isn't a bad thing. 

It's easy to get all negative about people who are incompatible, but imagine a world without people who did not fit in? Imagine a world without people who knew there was a better or different way to do things? Ultimately, we have to accept incompatible people for who they are, and simply hope that enough people can get past their reality distortion field to help them realize what is burning so deep inside of them.

We need more people who are incompatible.

By Mitch Joel