You’ve probably never heard of idiosyncrasy credits and have no clue how important they are. Sure, you can Google them and get a fairly thorough Wikipedia definition that will leave you dazed and with a mild headache. I’ll spare you the pain and give you a user-friendly version that was taught to me in an undergraduate psych class. It may not be the scientifically elegant description, but it’s much more relevant and actually makes sense.

Whenever you join a new community—a new company, neighborhood, social group, whatever—you’re quietly given a little empty bag. A virtual one, in case you’re wondering. It represents the fact that you are a welcomed new member, but a complete blank slate as far as anyone’s concerned. The collective opinion of you, as they say, is “still out.”

As time goes by, with each positive act or contribution to the group by you, its collective (virtual) hand drops a chip—an idiosyncrasy credit—into your bag. Anything and everything counts: arrive early to work, write a crucial report, do a friend a favor, contribute in some fashion to the team and you get a chip.

There is no magic formula, and values differ from community to community, but the concept is pretty much the same. Bigger contributions and “attaboys” may earn you more than one chip, and the group will increasingly reward you more handsomely as your worth to it becomes evident. In fairly short order you may have a respectably healthy volume of chips in your bag.

Conversely, do something that is looked askance at by the group and its collective virtual hand will reach into your bag and withdraw an idiosyncrasy credit. Or two. Arrive late, leave early, miss a commitment, displease a social circle—any offense, minor or major, will trigger a chip-depleting action.

As you’ve probably figured out by now, the name of the game is to keep a positive balance of idiosyncrasy credits in your bag. For a member of the community who has a fairly impressive bagful of chips, losing one or two is hardly an issue. On the other hand, someone who operates on the edge of social acceptance and is light on chips can scarcely afford to lose any at all.

We are subconsciously and consciously evaluated by our superiors, peers and even subordinates on a constant basis. Our body of work and contribution to society defines us, and we are awarded benefits and forgiven miscues based on the amount of idiosyncrasy credits we have stockpiled. An outstanding worker who asks for a day off? Not an issue. A borderline performer who arrives late yet again? Time for a chat with HR.

The nature of the idiosyncrasy credit beast is that chip value is rather arbitrary and disproportionate. Do well that which is expected of you, and maybe no chips are forthcoming at all. Please your group and your prize is one chip. But displease it, and a number of chips are summarily removed based on the transgression and mood of the crowd.

Idiosyncrasy credits are vital to your standing in a group, be it family, social acquaintances, club members or co-workers. A wise (and shrewd) person will strive and devise means to keep his or her bag full and then some. “Recognition” is another word for a full bag, and recognized individuals reap social and financial benefits. Those with nearly empty bags or with a negative balance of chips are shunned by the community and lead lonely lives.

Mavericks have their place, but ignorant mavericks simply succeed in shooting themselves in the foot. So keep a close eye on your chip count. Contribute, exceed expectations and impress those around you, and you will bask in the warmth and glory that come from a bag full of something that you’ve never heard of before.

Bo Twerdowsky

Real estate agent, self-professed computer geek, grammar policeman, proud father of two. Opinionated, questioning, intolerant of stuffy sorts devoid of a sense of humor.