How to Happily Balance Creativity and Nonconformity

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July 10, 2018
The World Needs Outliers

Think about Elvis Presley. Before he was lauded as the “King of Rock and Roll,” the police told him that he could not swing his hips onstage.

His dance moves were so offensive that 1956 newspaper headlines announced that he would have to clean up his act if he wanted to continue his career.

Look at the Presley legend today. It often takes someone willing to sacrifice immediate acceptance in order to make true, groundbreaking progress in any industry.

No matter if it’s the music industry, the printing industry or another, innovation only comes when a person (or group of people) is an outlier. A weirdo. A curious soul. Someone who dances to the beat of a different drum. A kook, perhaps.

Chris Guillebeau, author of “The Art of Nonconformity,” says the world needs people who question norms and values. You never know how one shift in perspective can inspire generations to come – with any medium.

Can you imagine a world without Elvis’ influence? Who knows how long it would’ve taken us to move our hips. Without that evolution of social dancing, the huge hip-hop movement of the ’90s may have never happened.

Of course, in the corporate world, “creative thinkers” aren’t always accepted.

While their fresh thoughts and points-of-view are needed for growth, there’s only so far a company can stray before wondering what’s worth the time and money.

This delicate balance leads us to one question: How can we capture the essence of nonconformity (the creative ideas that drive a company forward) without letting new ideas derail the entire livelihood and structure of a company?

Creativity Versus Conformity

Finding a happy medium between stimulating creativity and conforming to a set of norms can help breed a progressive company culture that encourages out-of-the-box thinking.

Guillebeau says that type of culture is one way to stimulate company growth: “Foster environments where different perspectives are valued and people are encouraged to experiment.”

But creating an environment where different perspectives are valued can be tough in today’s corporate world.

When people hold traditions too closely, they risk fizzling out when the market or other factors change. That’s why the culture shift must start at the top.

“Leaders must genuinely want and support nonconformity in their organizations, and then they need to demonstrate that in their communications and actions,” says Jill Hollingsworth, Molson Coors’ Global Senior Director of Employee Communications.

“At the same time, they have to allow for failures, because true creative nonconformity is impossible without them.”

Take how Molson Coors, the world’s fifth-largest brewer by volume, fosters such an environment.

“At Molson Coors, taking smart risks is a core behavior in our culture and one against which we measure individual performance,” Hollingsworth says.

“Stories of people who are curious and challenge the expected while using a growth mindset to fuel innovation are shared and celebrated. Using colleagues as role models is an effective way to inspire and embed cultural change.”

Guillebeau believes that sharing stories of successful nonconformists can spark the innovation bug in others.

“I think it’s good to shine a spotlight on different people who’ve chosen to pursue an unconventional path. Those kinds of stories tend to encourage others to make their own changes far more than anything an expert tells them.”

Ask Innovative Questions

It’s good to let employees spread their wings a bit. Once company leaders understand the great benefit of celebrating creative thoughts, they can then begin implementing some behaviors of their own to kickstart an innovative culture.

Guillebeau recommends that leaders ask: “Who disagrees with this idea? What’s the counterargument?” This is especially true when making big decisions and most people are in agreement.

“It’s important to welcome outliers to come forward with their takes. Asking these questions can sometimes open up space for an alternate view that might have otherwise eclipsed the group.”


This article appears in the new July/August 2018 issue of Connect magazine published by NextPage, which can be found online here. If you would like a free print subscription to Connect, please click here.

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