Here’s to the Crazy Ones

…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…

No doubt those words brought to mind Apple’s Think Different campaign. While many people believe that Steve Jobs was the mastermind behind one of the most memorable commercials of our time, Rob Siltanen says otherwise. Siltanen was the creative director who worked on the Apple pitch alongside CEO and Chief Creative Officer Lee Clow. According to him, “Jobs was blatantly harsh on the commercial that would eventually play a pivotal role in helping Apple achieve one of the greatest corporate turnarounds in business history.” Jobs initially called the script “shit.” You can read what Siltanen calls revisionist history about Jobs’ role in the creation of the spot here.

But, one of the reasons that commercial is so powerful is that it juxtaposes the rebels, misfits, and troublemakers with people who change with the world. The contrarians who are ultimately hailed as genius. In fact, the very premise that underpins contrarian thinking has served as a catalyst for the evolution of our society.

There’s a wide spectrum of contrarian thinkers, ranging from the nonconformist who’s irritated by consensus, to the maverick who thinks rules are made to be broken, and the genius who has the unique ability to think differently from everyone else. Being a contrarian thinker doesn’t necessarily mean being argumentative. Many times, it’s a gift that provides a completely different perspective. Often, a different perspective is just what we need.

One research study applied the construct of contrarian thinking to the impact of gratitude. The researchers hypothesized that thinking of the absence of a positive event from one’s life would have a greater influence on one’s mental state than thinking about the presence of a positive event. For example, instead of reflecting on how grateful you are to have ice-cold water on a hot day, imagine what life would be like if you did not have access to clean drinking water at all.

The results were striking. People who compared themselves to the “life could always be worse”  version of their current-self reported more positive states. It turns out that the subtraction of positive events counteracts our tendency to take them for granted. Researchers have coined this psychological dynamic the George Bailey effect, in homage to the classic movie, It’s a Wonderful Life.

So, my gratitude challenge for you: Be a contrarian thinker with gratitude. Instead of counting your blessings, reflect on what life would be like without them.


Melissa Hughes, Ph.D.
Melissa Hughes, Ph.D.
Dr. Melissa Hughes is a neuroscience geek, keynote speaker, and author. Her latest book, Happier Hour with Einstein: Another Round explores fascinating research about how the brain works and how to make it work better for greater happiness, well-being, and success. Having worked with learners from the classroom to the boardroom, she incorporates brain-based research, humor, and practical strategies to illuminate the powerful forces that influence how we think, learn, communicate and collaborate. Through a practical application of neuroscience in our everyday lives, Melissa shares productive ways to harness the skills, innovation and creativity within each of us in order to contribute the intellectual capital that empowers organizations to succeed with social, financial and cultural health.

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  1. It is not uncommon to come across people who always have to take the floor to argue, argue, point out a difference, lead the example that contradicts.
    They are an inevitable and unavoidable phenomenon and I have resigned myself to taking into account at least one or two of them every time I have a public meeting, a conference, or a group training. Indeed, after years of training I had almost learned to spot them even before they opened their mouth or even before I opened it, based on their facial expressions and other non-verbal cues.
    Observations and objections are legitimate and, indeed, can be an enriching contribution if made with a criterion, but some people do them in a non-specific, systematic way, regardless of the content. As long as the interaction is occasional, the polemics of the contrarian are resolved in a brief and harmless annoyance, but continuously relating to a significant figure who adopts this modality can be a reason for intense discomfort: others may in fact feel unheard, not including, constantly criticized, not appreciated, not recognized, disavowed.

  2. Melissa–
    So, as I was reading and thinking about your message, I could not help but think of this scene toward the end of the movie, “La La Land.” (Sorry, I have no way to attach Kleenex, which I alway seem to need whenever I watch this.)

    I love the counter-intuitiveness of your message here: that if I think in the absence of what I have, I actually become a more positive thinker. Boy, do I have some areas of life where I can apply that!

    Thanks, my friend. You always make me think.