Do you ever feel that your best work gets done when you “color outside the lines?”
We have long promoted the element of leadership that involves taking risk, moving to the edge of where you feel safe and knowing that your comfort zone isn’t likely to be the place where significant progress happens.
Conformity can be defined as staying within the defined, allowed, or traditionally possible. Non-conformists willingly cross the lines. The Wall Street Journal posted a video article on their web site this week, “Does being a non-conformist pay off?” Theirs is a career and social perspective, for the most part; we offer our own considerations.
1. Part of the risk of being a non-conformist is that you could get branded or simply known for being different. In other words, the focus on your style or appearance or approach can mean that your far more important talents are overlooked or eclipsed.
2. A danger of non-conformity is that you may come across as being an individual who does not understand the dynamics of a group setting, or, worse, you understand the prevailing conventions or “rules” but do not respect them. Depending on the work you’re doing in a given community, your perceived or real lack of conformity to convention can derail everything, even if your intentions are genuine.
3. Another element of non-conformity is that some people choose to present themselves differently just to draw attention to themselves. The obvious example may be young people who look different—they may be truly deep thinkers or they may just be crying out for someone to notice and care about them. True or not, fair or not, strangers can’t know your motives and may likely dismiss you as a result.
4. There is a contrarian element to being the oddball, too—the goal of “being different for the sake of being different.” This may mean that a person’s position is less about the pursuit toward a genuine goal but more defined by what it is not. The danger here, of course, is that some non-conformists just seek to resist a prevailing idea. Is opposition, in and of itself, a form of leadership? The American civil rights movement would suggest that it can be.
5. On the other hand, a stronger argument of true leadership could require that the person standing in opposition to something is also ready to articulate a better solution. For an example of this, consider the political discourse around the Affordable Care Act.
6. Non-conformists are not all troublemakers. In an organizational setting, standing out from the crowd can shine a light on your unique talents and creativity, and can showcase your confidence.
7. Sometimes being different in a traditional hierarchy can be sign that you are exceptionally valued, i.e., “That person must really be stellar in order to be allowed to behave/look that way.”
8. Remember that even if you are an expert or the most accomplished person in the room, it doesn’t automatically mean that you have to stand out or distinguish yourself by being the most vocal. It is about trusting yourself and about confidence. The real top dog doesn’t have to do all the barking!
9. Perhaps the real value in this discussion is that we spend too much time worrying about “being the same” or “being different” when our attentions would better be served with doing good. Conformity is not universally discouraged, after all; there’s no harm in conforming to a positive standard; real change occurs in resisting a negative one.
10. The nonprofit sector is filled with stories of non-conformists who accomplished good for the world. George Bernard Shaw wrote, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable man persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” Here in Denver, our own Denver Post has long had as its editorial page masthead, “There is no hope for the satisfied man.”