Conformity and Creativity



“The worship of convention will never lead to astonishment.” Tama J. Kieves

Author and personal development coach Tama Kieves faced a number of challenges after graduating with honors from Harvard Law School, but felt compelled to leave her career as “an overworked attorney” to follow her “soul’s haunting desire to become a writer.”

In her book “Inspired and Unstoppable” she writes, “As a creative individual, visionary leader, independent thinker, soul-healer, or entrepreneur, it’s your birthright to utilize other talents, insights, resources, and innate strategies. You are not made to fit into the world…but to remake the world, heal the world, and illuminate new choices and sensibilities.”

[You can hear a brief audio clip of her talking about “What stops us?” in my post Tama Kieves on inspired desire and new directions.]

Conformity-SheepMany artists and creative leaders in various fields are unconventional, embracing unique thinking, following their own path. Not conforming.

Writer Susan Cain notes “Solitude is out of fashion.

“Our companies, our schools and our culture are in thrall to an idea I call the New Groupthink, which holds that creativity and achievement come from an oddly gregarious place.

“Most of us now work in teams, in offices without walls, for managers who prize people skills above all. Lone geniuses are out. Collaboration is in.”

But, she adds, “there’s a problem with this view. Research strongly suggests that people are more creative when they enjoy privacy and freedom from interruption. And the most spectacularly creative people in many fields are often introverted, according to studies…”

From post: Developing Creativity in Solitude.

Susan Cain is author of the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

Of course, you can be creative within a more conventional workplace, even wearing approved business clothes. Creativity doesn’t just happen at Google, to pick one example of an innovative corporation. But there can be subtle and powerful ways creative thinking may suffer within conforming groups.

Group norms

In his PsyBlog post Why Group Norms Kill Creativity, Jeremy Dean (a researcher at University College London) notes that “Groups only rarely foment great ideas because people in them are powerfully shaped by group norms: the unwritten rules which describe how individuals in a group ‘are’ and how they ‘ought’ to behave.

“Norms influence what people believe is right and wrong just as surely as real laws, but with none of the permanence or transparency of written regulations.

He continues, “The purpose of norms is to provide a stable and predictable social world, to regulate our behaviour with each other. In many respects norms have a beneficial effect, bolstering society’s foundations and keeping it from falling into chaos.”

But, he notes, “stability and predictability are enemies of the creative process.

“When groups are asked to think creatively the reason they frequently fail is because implicit norms constrain them in the most explicit ways.

He explains, “This is clearly demonstrated in a recent study carried out by Adarves-Yorno et al. (2006). They asked two groups of participants to create posters and subtly gave each group a norm about either using more words on the poster or more images.

“Afterwards when they judged each others’ work, participants equated creativity with following the group norm; the ‘words’ group rated posters with more words as more creative and the ‘images’ group rated posters with more images as more creative. The unwritten rules of the group, therefore, determined what its members considered creative.

“In effect groups had redefined creativity as conformity.”

Jeremy Dean is author of Making Habits, Breaking Habits: Why We Do Things, Why We Don’t, and How to Make Any Change Stick.

Pushing beyond those group norm constraints can enhance creativity

Management expert Tom Peters notes in his article The Entrepreneurial Spirit that “weird” can be good, “if we don’t judge others through our lens… Being weird increases creativity if we allow it to flourish.”

And Psychologist Robert Ornstein, PhD (author of The Psychology of Consciousness) has pointed out, “If you spend too much time being like everybody else, you decrease your chances of coming up with something different.”

“Gifted kids tend to hide their intelligence, as well as their talents, for a very simple reason:  Conformity.” Claudia, 16

That quote is from the book When Gifted Kids Don’t Have All the Answers – quoted in my post Gifted Kids: Nerds endure and create even without support.

In his post Do You Have the Weirdo Syndrome?, “incorrigible polymath” Charlie (Productive Flourishing site) quotes Judy Garland: “Be a first rate version of yourself, not a second rate version of someone else.”

He continues: “One of the things that comes up over and over again in my conversations with a lot of the cool, creative people that I meet is what I’m calling the Weirdo Syndrome. The Weirdo Syndrome is the love/hate relationship some people people can get from their own uniqueness.”

Tom Waits“I hope I’m becoming more eccentric. More room in the brain.”

Musician Tom Waits

Being eccentric – choosing not to be more safely mundane – can help our creative thinking and courage.

See more in post: Being eccentric and creative – an excerpt from my main book “Developing Multiple Talents.”

[Image at top: Rows of Identical Sheep Dressed as Businessmen (Peel and Stick Wall Decal)]

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