An outlier is an observation that lies outside the overall pattern of a distribution.” Moore and McCabe 1999

Once again, I had a wonderful conversation with Michael McMillan. I feel fortunate that Michael shares his time, thoughts and conversation with me. I find our conversations wander. Today it was our discussion about outliers and Michael’s thoughts about the freedom outliers have.

For those of you who have read Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers
this is not what we were talking about. The plot of Michael’s thought is that many who we revere today for their thoughts and leadership were outcasts at the time they were proposing their new thinking.

To name a few –

  • Einstein(many thought atoms did not exist)
  • S. Freud (set back psychiatry)
  • B. Franklin (radical)
  • Socrates (heretic)
  • S. Anthony (woman)
  • B. Gates (anti-competitive)
  • A. Gore (nerd)
  • M. Curie (woman)
  • M.L. King (overstepping)
  • R. Nixon (crook)

The list can go on…….

Because their ideas were not immediately accepted – it gave them a freedom to do as they wish. How much worse can it get than for people to constantly question, critique, deny or put down their thoughts? Outliers continue on their way, with little concern for what other people thought. Today we might call that a “I don’t give a crap” attitude. Or “sticking by your guns,” “believing in yourself or your ideas.”

In the case of outliers, they actually don’t care much what others think. They know what they believe, continually try to prove it and go on with their lives. I would call that the ultimate freedom of thought, creativity and action.

I think it’s a lot of work – making sure other people share your idea, checking in or worse not standing up for a thought because it’s too hard to have the conversation or maybe even fight for what’s right. Like telling a lie – too much to keep up with.

Think of outliers you know – we all have friends who are the “odd one.” The person who says what they think and does what they like with little regard for what you might be thinking. (This is not to say that any action that negatively impacts others is appropriate or condoned.) Think of the freedom, creativity and openness they have and share.

Where would our world be if there were no outliers who had thoughts and ideas and bowed to peer pressure or professional questioning?


  • No Freedom March
  • Women voting
  • No psychoanalysis
  • No real climate conversation
  • PCs might not be in every home
  • Western philosophy, ethics and teaching individual thought might not exist
  • Electricity?
  • Apartheid in America
  • China still an enemy
  • Radioactivity
  • No Fermi Lab and atom busters

 I like outliers.

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