Why You Should Surround Yourself with ‘Weirdos’​

Pic on licence from Shutterstock

The front page of this morning’s Times makes for interesting reading. According to the article, “The prime minister’s chief adviser has appealed for ‘weirdos and misfits’ to come to work with him in 10 Downing Street”.

Despite the expected and understandable opposition of Civil Service mandarins and my own personal inclination not to trust anything emanating from Dominic Cummings, I think there is a lot of merit in this approach. Cummings has argued that the way the British Civil Service is currently structured does not best serve the Government.

The article quotes Cummings explaining that, “While there are many brilliant people in the civil service and politics, there are also profound problems at the core of how the British state makes decisions”. He decried the “confident public school bluffers and Oxbridge humanities graduates” and called for “some true wild cards, artists, people who never went to university and fought their way out of an appalling hellhole, weirdos from William Gibson novels.”

                                                            Some true wild cards

Cummings has posted what amounts to a very untraditional job advert on his personal blog, encouraging people to apply direct to his gmail address for various roles at Number Ten, bypassing the usual channels through the Civil Service. I can see why traditionalists will be up in arms and there is much to be said for a structure that has been in place for two hundred years and is designed to serve successive Governments irrespective of political leaning.

Having said that, do the current structures lead to the best mix of advice? I regularly encourage my clients to surround themselves with people who think differently to them. People from different backgrounds, who have experienced a different type or level of education, who have different skillsets and who approach issues in different ways.

This is exactly what Cummings is trying to achieve. He said, “If you want to figure out what characters around Putin might do, or how international criminal gangs might exploit holes in our border security, you don’t want more Oxbridge English graduates who chat about Lacan at dinner parties with TV producers.

“What SW1 needs is not more drivel about ‘identity’ and ‘diversity’ from Oxbridge humanities graduates but more genuine cognitive diversity.”

What SW1 needs is not more drivel about ‘identity’ and ‘diversity’ from Oxbridge humanities graduates but more genuine cognitive diversity

I am not convinced that Cummings will truly be aiming for a full spread of cognitive diversity in his recruitment. Will he, for example, welcome people who don’t agree with the politics of this Government? Who will challenge the decisions being made or, indeed, the way they are being implemented? In fact, given how polarising politics is in the UK at the moment, is he likely to attract applicants who will genuinely take issue and challenge the administration?

If he can and does, then this approach could work. The goal is to find unique and creative solutions to current issues and an administration populated and advised by a group of people from similar backgrounds will struggle to achieve that.

It is an interesting experiment, one that is replete with potential challenges and pitfalls. It risks upsetting centuries of tradition.

But is that necessarily a bad thing?