The Big Blindspot of Every Culture-Maker: How to Go From “Outsider” to “Insider”

Can a changemaker become an insider?
Or by definition are you destined to remain the outsider?
Will people ever get what the %#@! you’re all about?

I’m increasingly aware of the many ways innovators and changemakers sabotage telling their story, without even realizing it. This only makes it more difficult for the gift of your message, product, or solution to be accepted.

Changemakers are Cultural Heretics

Most changemakers—if they’re any good—are cultural heretics.

I don’t mean that in a bad way. As an entrepreneur/innovator/status-quo-challenger, you’ve got to have a good amount of independent spirit. You probably have opinions and visions that are at odds with what’s generally accepted by the culture. You take on the identity of a disruptor, someone on the edge, pushing the boundaries. And chances are you’re not willing to conform to something just because that’s the way it’s always been done.

What motivates some people to walk this path, while others don’t?

In my experience, the longing to innovate often comes from finding yourself in circumstances that just don’t make sense. You see potential where others don’t. Something is broken; and you see a better way to do it.

Perhaps it’s the result of an early experience, or years of underlying frustration. You realize you’ve been operating under certain constraints, a level of rigidity you can no longer live with. Or it could be born out of a trauma or loss, a big move or life change—or an experience where you got burned, disappointed or flat-out disillusioned. Regardless, something in your life pulls you in a different direction or causes you pain.

Crossing the Threshold of the Hero’s Journey

In the classic hero’s journey, the hero must overcome her fear of the unknown, and enter into a new and unfamiliar realm.

Maybe you left the comfort of home (a steady paycheck, a spiritual path, a relationship, or your place of origin…) in order to find yourself again. You want to remake the world in a new image, one that fits what you see and seek to understand.

It sounds heroic and all, but the truth is, being alone, in unfamiliar territory, can be a pretty lonely and scary path. You must leave the place of comfort and home. That’s if you’re not thrown out.

You have go out into the wilderness; probably you’ll get lost, and experience many trials and tribulations. You take some on the chin, you eat some shit pies, and you slay some monsters. Through the process, you keep recalibrating on your search for answers. Hopefully you find some allies. Hopefully you discover your gifts and tools. Eventually you start figuring things out.

And then, if you’re lucky:


The stars align; the clouds part…and you have a Moment of Clarity. Finally: you understand how to put the world back together.

Or at least some little slice of it.

But Hey…What the F%#^ Happens Next? 


The hero’s journey doesn’t end here – at the top of mountain.

It’s the second half of the story we often forget, overlook, or underestimate.

See, the awakening is not actually what matters most. Reality is, the awakening is going on all around you. Everybody’s got a vision, an idea, or an insight for how to make the world a better place.

Instead, the hardest, longest and most difficult part of the journey is…

The Long Walk Home.

That’s the story about the return back to the culture. How you make your way down the mountain and into the valley where the river flows. You can’t wait to share your gift and enlightened breakthroughs back with the tribe.

You’re thinking:

“Wait till they get a taste of this. Man, oh, man. A hero’s welcome for sure!”

Except, when you get back into town…

There’s no welcome party, no ticker tape parade, no mariachi band blowing trumpets.

Instead, you get blank faces. Or worse yet, “What the heck are you talking about?”


<Sad and lonely face>

You’re back to rejection and judgment you felt early on. The same feeling that sent you off on the quest in the first place. That’s the real dragon to slay, or better yet, befriend.

To put it in modern terms, the entrepreneur has a grand idea, something that’s going to really change things in a good way. And once he brings his idea back to his company, his investors, his industry…sadly, people don’t quite see what he sees.

What does this look like? Consider the following common storylines:

  • The tech entrepreneur who wants to disrupt and transform an industry
  • The social activist who wants to shift cultural norms and values
  • The seeker who wants to transcend mundane constraints and obligations

This is where a lot of us changemakers let our egos get the best of us. Our desperate need for validation. We either think we are better than everyone else, or inadvertently take an adversarial stance.

Except the renegade doesn’t make for a scalable story.

So How Do You Tell a Different Change Story? 

Changemakers (aka our heroes) often self-sabotage the story. Which means the gift they have to share often gets lost in translation because of all the emotional baggage and unresolved issues.

Think about it: When you tell a story of innovation and change, you’re in the new story, but others still inhabit the old story. You see how your technology or product or innovation can make a big difference. But no one else gets it like you do.

When you’re introducing your big innovation back to the culture, it comes across as if you’re asking others to reject the world as they know it. Remember they never left the village…you did.

In a way, you’re basically telling people they are stupid and wrong.

Not cool, dude.

Asking people to reject what they know or believe hits an automatic kill switch. It sends them into fight or flight—and you want to avoid both. Nobody wants to contradict their existing operating system. Circuit-breakers get tripped immediately. And your story has nowhere to land or be received.

Yet innovators and disruptors do this all the time to their audience. We think that simply having truth on our side will conquer anything, right?

So what’s a hero to do?

As I described in my last blog post 7 Storytelling Reasons Why Innovation Fails, most people don’t like a change story. They like a continuity story.

So the strategy here is to find something in the new story that serves as an anchor to the past. Give people something from which they can find themselves in your story. Sometimes if you share your own personal motivations for change, they may let down their guard a bit. They may listen more. And they might open up to your ideas.

Heal Your Wound, Transform the World

For most of us, the ultimate wound is an experience of the world not working the way you once thought it did. Maybe it was when you were seven years old, and your dad lost his job. Or the day you discovered the teacher you idolized was in fact a fraud. Whatever the moment (or series of moments) led to a sense of rejection and disappointment. That you just don’t *belong* where—or with whom—you thought you did.

That same core wound, when you’re conscious of it, can actually motivate you to leave behind what’s not working, to discover who you really are and do things differently. It might even save your life.

You don’t have to go all Debbie Downer victim about your core wound. Instead, name it. Make friends with it, understand how it shapes and informs you—and you will see it transform before your very eyes.

I know from experience.

As a kid, I was a total nerd. Long before it was cool to be a nerd. I was picked on a lot (who hasn’t been picked one point or another?). But more so, I really didn’t fit in. Wherever I went, I always felt like the outsider. Frankly, it sucked. Yet, looking back today, I see how those experiences conspired to prepare me for the work I do today…and the journey I continue forward—how to go from outsider to insider, and to translate anything new and different into cultural acceptance. Low and behold, there revealed is the arc of my life.

Sure, I could’ve relished in my victimhood about getting picked on. Instead, I was able to use and recognize that personal pain, as it taught me empathy about the human experience. It’s only by getting conscious about our core wound that we can transform it. By naming it and knowing it, we can leverage its power in our life’s work.

You are a Truthsayer

As an innovator, a changemaker, you aren’t just a cultural heretic. You’re a truthsayer. You point out something that has been ignored or dismissed in the culture—that’s just what you do.

But it’s important, as a changemaker, to also look within, to investigate what you’ve been overlooking internally. You’ve probably heard me say: We all teach what we need to learn most. Which means, change is an inside job. Changemakers want to fix the world, to mend what is broken, but we all have to start with ourselves.

In other words, we’re projecting onto the world the change we seek inside.

Because we all have that wound, we tend to perpetuate the drama. I see heroic innovators spilling a lot of unnecessary blood; entrepreneurs wasting a lot of unnecessary time and money and energy; and social activists perpetuating the very thing they are trying to change. There’s no need for adversarial conflict. You will do your message and your product and your work a greater service by being less combative.

So instead of seeing yourself as someone on the outside—a disruptor, a fringe heretic —how about you turn the story around?

Flip the script and choose to inhabit the village again. Meet people where they’re at, and you might actually just get the hero’s welcome you’re longing for.

Here are some questions to guide you.

Ask yourself the following: 

  • Beyond the “outsider’ street cred, what can turn you into an “insider”?
  • What is so personal about this changemaking/innovation journey you’re on?
  • What is the common theme or experience you share with your audience?
  • Where in your story are you holding onto fear of judgment or rejection?
  • How can you shift from a change story to a continuity story?
  • Does your story generate more connection or separation?
  • Where do people repel from your message? Sense into why…

What’s Your Big Blind Spot?

What’s one insight or take-away from the article above? Where do you struggle to fit in and make your message more relatable? Leave us a comment below—we love hearing from you.

And if you’re interested in addressing your own cultural-making blindspot, stay tuned. It’s a key focus of our forthcoming course in early 2014 at Get Storied U. Let us know what you want to learn most by adding your thoughts in the comments below. We read every one of them.

Want to explore this topic some more?

Stop Trying to Change the World, Find a Better Mission
7 Storytelling Reasons Why Innovation Fails
You Can’t Change Anything You Hate

22 thoughts on “The Big Blindspot of Every Culture-Maker: How to Go From “Outsider” to “Insider””

  1. Thanks Michael, as an internationally published novelist, and a teacher of the outsiders, all I can say is… 100% true. Good on you!

  2. This line hit me like a sockful of hot nickels: “Remember they never left the village…you did.” Super good point and something that needs to be considered in all your conversations. I had never quite thought of it this way, Thanks Michael!

    1. Kathy Klotz-Guest

      I had that same reaction to that line. Love that thought, Michael. For entrepreneurs with really disruptive innovation (scary to the status quo), the ‘disruption’ story can be perceived as shaking the big scary stick at people. Though often unintended, the ‘villagers who never left’ feel some judgment.

      1. You’re so right Kathy, it’s that “judgement” piece of the equation that is so insidious and tricky. Totally gets in the way of the innovation story being heard, received, and metabolized by your audience into their own.

  3. Wow! That was great. I’ve known for a while that I’m a bit of an outsider and I’ve also grown to know that placing myself in an adversarial position to those perceived ‘others’ doesn’t really serve anyone in the end, but that is just about as far as I got till now. I’m ready for action that works with, rather than against, what is happening in the culture around me–in befriending it so-to-speak. Your post gave me some new ways to think about refining the process in terms of narrative and storytelling. Thanks for that.

    P.S. I’m on fire about the Compassionate Cities movement and compassion generally, so I want to focus my energies here–it’s what I believe in most strongly.

    1. Hi Audrey, delighted to hear. This is the core healing so many of us innovators and change-makers are in the midst of. Delighted to hear you focusing your mojo on Compassionate Cities movement. Story of Place is a wonderful place of exploration.

  4. Blew open my mind, and heart. Will read and re-read many times. Merci for distilling so much wisdom and sharing it.

  5. My main takeaway is the calculation that Change + Continuity = Evolution. Thanks, Michael – resonates deeply on a number of levels.

      1. Definitely – all the more important to bring a kind of QiGong energy to work, staying flexible and fluid through the shifts in balance.

  6. Loved this, perfect timing. As someone who grew up on the outside, I’m writing the story of how those times have helped define me in a positive way. We have to frame the story well not only for others, but ourselves as well. 😉

    1. Hi Denise,

      Grateful to hear your perspective! The odd thing is, most of us at some point or another have experienced feeling on the outside. I think its more common than insider. And you’re right, the way it defines each of us and builds our character is a really important and revealing part of our individual journey.


  7. On the button as usual, Michael! The archetypal phases in the Hero’s Journey are no coincidence after all. The hero brings a Gift to the Village which transforms it AND transforms the Hero’s status within it (before the Journey she was regarded a odd, a simpleton or weakling or 3rd daughter, right?). Look for the Gift that was bestowed, won or discovered. Mine is Deep Listening.

  8. Hi Michael, this is a great post, thank you! We truthsayers, we’re projecting onto the world the change we seek inside. That makes sense to me. I realize now why I’m going back (home) to the financial sector after 15 years of finding my own path and developing myself in so many wonderful ways. Yesterday someone said she saw me walking in a room full of mirrors that all reflected what is going on inside me in the different perspectives of my life and work. I begin to see now what is actually going on and that there’s something inside me that needs to be healed first. Thank you for sharing Michael!

    1. Delighted you’re returning home. It’s always quite the unexpected return, for the seeker themselves, who thought they swore off ever going back. Good on ya, for being able to reconnect with your once familiar world, yet from a new vantage point.

  9. The most powerful article for “Thoughtleaders” I have ever read.

    The article changed my story and inspired me to shift from personal branding to professional and inspirational storytelling.

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