Defying social norms and thinking outside the box are often seen as prerequisites for entrepreneurial success, but being unapologetically weird can be both an advantage and a liability, according to new research.
In the study in Personnel Psychology, researchers explore the link between investor funding and perceived weirdness—defined as an individual difference characterized by failing to adhere to widely accepted social norms regarding one’s appearance, speech, or behavior such that one is perceived as odd, strange, or abnormal.
“People tend to draw conclusions about those who are non-normative,” says coauthor Emily Grijalva, associate professor of organization and human resources in the University at Buffalo School of Management. “A person’s willingness to violate, or their inability to follow, norms can enhance their creativity; yet at the same time, weird entrepreneurs are perceived to have diminished competence.”
Using pitches given by individual entrepreneurs from the five most recent seasons of the popular television show Shark Tank, the researchers surveyed three separate groups of people recruited through Amazon Mturk, a panel data collection company.
The groups were surveyed on either the perceived weirdness of the Shark Tank entrepreneurs; the entrepreneurs’ own creativity, competence, and warmth; or the creativity of the products (without seeing the entrepreneurs themselves). Ultimately, these entrepreneur attributes, including weirdness, predicted investor interest from Sharks on the show.
The study found that weird entrepreneurs benefited from being perceived as more creative, but suffered from being seen as less competent. The researchers also found that entrepreneurs with more creative products attracted more investors, and that interpersonal warmth (i.e., being friendly and kind) was key to leveraging the advantages of weirdness and reducing the disadvantages.
“Although the study focused on entrepreneurs, our findings might extend to other professions as well, including in the selection of leaders,” says Grijalva. “Companies can sometimes benefit from attracting and selecting employees who tend to deviate from norms, particularly if the person is interpreted as trustworthy or kind because they can potentially better maintain relationships or find people to work with that compensate for any weaknesses.”
Jun-Yeob Kim, a PhD candidate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is the study’s lead author. Additional coauthors are from the University at Buffalo; the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Source: University at Buffalo