Most of the outliers know that being strange, unique, and original has always been advantageous to creative ingenuity and discovery. Drawing, for example, is not simply the muscle memory of the hand, but a different way of ‘seeing’. Actors and writers succeed mostly due to their ability to craft alternate realities based on experiences from their twisted past. Scientists, futurists, inventors, political scientists and philosophers make history by asking heretofore unthinkable questions, and proposing even more absurd answers (both of which may have elicited some odd looks from peers and family members alike).
It’s about time science recognized the value of being a loser, an outcast, or a social reject. Many successful ventures, after all, may have been the result of a fair bit of name-calling back in middle school.
Researchers at Johns Hopkins and Cornell have recently found that the socially rejected might also be society’s most creatively powerful people.
The study, which is forthcoming in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, is called “Outside Advantage: Can Social Rejection Fuel Creative Thought?” It found that people who already have a strong “self-concept”–i.e. are independently minded–become creatively fecund in the face of rejection. “We were inspired by the stories of highly creative individuals like Steve Jobs and Lady Gaga,” says the study’s lead author, Hopkins professor Sharon Kim. “And we wanted to find a silver lining in all the popular press about bullying. There are benefits to being different.”
The study consisted of 200 Cornell students and set out to identify the relationship between the strength of an individual’s self-concept and their level of creativity. First, Kim tested the strength of each student’s self-concept by assessing his or her “need for uniqueness.” In other words, how important it is for each individual to feel separate from the crowd. Next, students were told that they’d either been included in or rejected from a hypothetical group project. Finally, they were given a simple, but creatively demanding, task: Draw an alien from a planet unlike earth.
Kim found that people with a strong self-concept who were rejected produced more creative aliens than people from any other group, including people with a strong self-concept who were accepted. “If you’re in a mindset where you don’t care what others think,” she explained, “you’re open to ideas that you may not be open to if you’re concerned about what other people are thinking.”
In other words, you’re better off if you learned early not to worry about the club. In a larger sense, businesses could learn a lot from these findings, instead of hiring the same vapid acolytes to the status quo. There’s more to the study, so read about it here, and look for it in the Journal of Experimental Psychology.
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