Fight Conformity: What Is Holding Back Our Ideas?
I received an email announcing the arrival of an Innovation Officer to the organization. I was excited. Innovation! This is going to be great. The email went on to say that if our department wanted to innovate we could submit ideas, or write a grant proposal to secure funds for our ideas.
Ok. This sounds great, oh but wait. Didn’t we have a department meeting a couple of days ago where we actually discussed how people liked the supplies sheet I taped to a cabinet? I mean didn’t that happen. Didn’t people have to weigh in on whether they were okay with me collecting a list of supplies on a piece of paper taped to a cabinet?
Innovation. What does that mean here?
It becomes apparent at times that some people simply aren’t ready for any type of change at any level. They like the status quo. Well not really. They complain about how busy they are, how rushed they are, how the have no time to get to anything done, and how they will improve processes, someday. Try to help, or provide aid in improving the current situation, and they lash out. Don’t change me! I would rather complain then change.
In this type of environment it’s easier to conform. Conformism is the “tendency to follow the crowd — conform unthinkingly to authority or to group standards of conduct and belief” (Bassham, Irwin, Nardone, & Wallace, 2013). It is driven by the desire to fit in, and belong.
Why don’t we enable people to write down the office supplies they need on a sheet of paper? When the paper gets full we can order supplies. No one has to remember what they or others need. We write it down, we order it. Task done!
I sit there at my desk and depression begins to seep in. Not only am I not where I want to be in my career, my only outlet for creativity is stifled by micromanagement, fear of losing control. Ideas must be approved from the top down. We don’t move or act unless it’s okay even if that means a piece of paper.
I shared others ideas. It was okay at first because I was new, but a few months into it and I was feeling ostracized, left out, and pretty sure that if I didn’t conform I would never get a promotion at this organization. So I quit sharing, quit trying to improve processes, and found myself liked, and a part of the team. I fit in. As I fit in a part of me died. How will I ever succeed and find passion when I can’t even create a piece of paper and tape it to the cabinet without having a meeting?
When I think of creativity I think of start-up’s, Apple, entrepreneur’s, writer’s on Medium, physicists discovering new theories, and pretty much any speaker that leads a TED talk.
Yet, I have to believe that everyday creativity starts in small ways. It starts with taping a piece of paper to a cabinet. “When everyone thinks in similar ways and sticks to dominant norms, businesses are doomed to stagnate. To fight that inertia and drive innovation and change effectively, leaders need sustained original thinking in their organizations” (Grant, 2016).
We each have the capability of being innovator’s. It’s not just for a specific set of people. Let’s recognize the pressure to conform, and let’s fight it. We can start in small ways at work, and in big ways in our lives. If we can’t hang the piece paper at work, we can for sure hang it at home.
Let’s live our lives!
*Bassham, G., Irwin, W., Nardone, H., & Wallace, J. (2013). Critical Thinking. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
*Grant, A. (2016). How To Build a Culture of Originality. Harvard Business Review, 94(3), 86–94.