A recent article in The Economist sings the praises of both misfits (defined as people with Asperger’s syndrome, attention-deficit disorder, and dyslexia) and well-rounded “organization men,” arguing that to truly succeed, businesses need both types.
But it was the paragraph at the end of the article was most interesting to me:
More broadly, the replacement of organisation man with disorganisation man is changing the balance of power. Those square pegs may not have an easy time in school. They may be mocked by jocks and ignored at parties. But these days no serious organisation can prosper without them.
Yes, the future belongs to the geeks, but when you’re raising quirky kids, adulthood feels a million years away. And those of us raising boys, who are more likely to receive the labels and diagnoses (troublemaker, ADD, dyslexic, ASD) that are increasingly a badge of genius in adulthood, are left to wonder — how do we help our square pegs survive childhood and the pressure to fit in of the teenage years?
Well, I have good news, and I have bad news. The bad news won’t surprise you at all: Raising your quirky kid (whatever his quirk may be) will be more work than raising the average child. But the good news: All the extra work pays off in the end, and sometimes it does so handsomely.
A few years ago, there was an article in The Atlantic Monthly that discussed the orchid hypothesis. It basically splits children’s temperament into “dandelions” or “orchids”:
These dandelion children — equivalent to our “normal” or “healthy” children, with “resilient” genes — do pretty well almost anywhere, whether raised in the equivalent of a sidewalk crack or a well-tended garden. Ellis and Boyce offer that there are also “orchid” children, who will wilt if ignored or maltreated but bloom spectacularly with greenhouse care.
I also appreciate that this hypothesis acknowledges that just like a company needs both types of genius to survive, so does humankind:
In this view, having both dandelion and orchid kids greatly raises a family’s (and a species’) chance of succeeding, over time and in any given environment. The behavioral diversity provided by these two different types of temperament also supplies precisely what a smart, strong species needs if it is to spread across and dominate a changing world. The many dandelions in a population provide an underlying stability. The less-numerous orchids, meanwhile, may falter in some environments but can excel in those that suit them … Together, the steady dandelions and the mercurial orchids offer an adaptive flexibility that neither can provide alone. Together, they open a path to otherwise unreachable individual and collective achievements.
Of course, this is a generalization — that’s the nature of a hypothesis, after all — and just like no two normal kids are normal in the same way, no two hothouse flowers are challenging in the same way. What works for one child won’t work for the other. As parents, we will make mistakes, and sometimes, despite all of our hard work, our children will “wilt.”
There are no guarantees in parenting. Still.
But I think that this idea, that the children who suffer most from bad environments will also profit the most from good ones, is simple but revolutionary. It redefines the behavioral card our kids have been dealt as not just a problem or vulnerability, but also as potential and possibility.
Isn’t that refreshing?
What do you think of the orchid theory? Does it make sense to you?
If you still need more inspiration as you raise your quirky sons, here are 10 misfits who grew into extremely successful adults.
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