Why Do We Love Outlander So?

What you’ll discover:  There’s a common drive that compels the characters of Outlander and inspires its millions of viewers, binding everyone to the cause of this great saga. Employers can harness that drive to serve their own company mission.

If you were to visit this page of my website, and scroll down to the 9th point, you’d see that my favorite time of day is predawn at my desk, writing while the lovers’ theme from Legends of the Fall keeps me inspired. The window is open to the fresh high-desert air, and I get to watch the day dawn on the Sangre de Cristo mountains, the southern end of the Rockies, looming over Santa Fe.

Well. That would be mostly true. The part I don’t say is that on those mornings when I’m not feeling especially pressured to crank out the words, I’m still at my desk, with my coffee. But I’m farting around on Facebook.  Or, more accurately, farrrrrrrrrtin’ roond on Fessbooooook. My issue here is that I’m in the habit of listening Outlander on audible.com while I’m falling asleep. And after a few hours of Scottish accent pounding into my sleeping brain, I wake up thinking in a Scottish accent.

This morning was a Facebook morning. As I was scrolling down my feed, my eyes landed on a “suggested group:” The Gathering of the Outlander Cast Clan. How many followers? Almost 10,500. That’s 10,500 individuals (mostly Americans, I assume) who probably have jobs, and who are passionately invested in the goings on of the Highlander Clan Fraser. So much so that they’ll attend a clan gathering on Facebook. I wondered how many of them are worried about their annual rrrrrrrrrrrreviews.

The answer to the question, “Why do we love Outlander so?” might seem obvious. I mean, the kissing scenes alone – have you seen Jamie and Claire?  Oooh la la. But really, how much kissing do you need to drive 10,500 people to a Facebook gathering of the Outlander Cast Clan?  (I’m thinking there won’t be much kissing going on on Facebook. But you never know.)

Here’s my guess: It’s the clan part. In an era when the universal, insatiable craving seems to center on the Belonging level of Maslow’s Hierarchy, even the bloody broadsword Battle of Culloden makes sense. Inside a single hour, almost 1,500 doomed Scots were soaking their raggedy tartans in their own blood on the Culloden Moor. That’s roughly 10 percent of the Facebook group!

When it came to Highlander identity, the plaid was such a powerful symbol of belonging to the vanquished survivors that the banning of the tartan was an official part of the post-rebellion reprisal. The Dress Act of 1746 actually goes so far as to forbid the Highlanders from wearing the very thing that represented their cultural identity and unity. Lose the tartan, lose the culture, destroy any future threat of further uprising. Gone are the Highlanders, taking both high and low roads to starvation, ravaged villages, then the pages of historical romance, and eventual tourism from modern Americans bearing the same clan names. (Many of the Culloden survivors high-tailed it to the colonies, just in time to get caught up in the American Revolution. Trouble seems to follow them just everywhere.)

(In case you are wondering what the punishment was: The first offense would net you 6 months in the clink. Second offense would send you to one of His Majesty’s many plantations anywhere in the world for a period of 7 years. You had to really love your plaid. Personally, I don’t like what it does for my butt.)

So, am I rrrrrrrrrrramblin’?  Nay, Sassenach. I have a point here.

Employers have a lot to learn from the Highland clans, their to-the-death attachment to the cause, their loyalty to one another, their pride of belonging, and ultimately their swag.

A client of mine who leads a company that depends greatly on the enduring loyalty of Millennials (as a group, not especially known for their enduring loyalty) tells me that in addition to all the other rewards and recognition programs they have, the everyday acknowledgements of achievement and appreciation that get the most excitement are the swag. Not kilts or tams (at least not yet). But golf umbrellas, drink coolers, mugs, t-shirts, polo shirts, bags, etc., all in the company colors, with the company logo.

High achievers get really excited about these artifacts of belonging. They want that cause. They want that leadership that they can respect and follow, even if it presents a risk to their self-interest. And they want the power of the plaid to bind the team in good times and bad.  Only in this case the “plaid” is your company colors.

But is this really about a polo shirt or a piece of plaid that (as far as Americans are concerned) should really be reserved for picnic blankets and matching family Christmas pajamas from LL Bean? No.  It’s about the powerful drive we all have to belong to something greater than ourselves. We yearn for the meaning that community belonging brings us, even when membership is dangerous (we’re seeing that now playing out on American city streets). Americans are driven to join political movements or Facebook groups that extend the Outlander fantasy to collections of people who have absolutely nothing to do with the story or the production of the tv show.

We all want to belong to a group who share our pride and powerful sense of mission. Since you have people working for you who want to belong to something powerful, why not let it be the community of your company and the mission it serves?

Only now, please, let’s just skip the broadswords and blood part. I think OSHA might have a thing or two to say about that.

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