Creativity drives innovation and entrepreneurship. It's the essential skill that leads to new and more efficient solutions to old problems. In theory, creativity is widely praised and desired. But, in reality, creative solutions are often met with pushback, sometimes even open hostility.
Why? A creative idea is usually a novel one, which means it's inherently more risky than the tried-and-true alternative. (People say they value creativity, but what they really celebrate are the successful results after the fact). "Being creative is going to be associated with a lot of failure," says Dr. Lynne Vincent, co-author of 'Outside Advantage: Can Social Rejection Fuel Creative Thought?,' published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. "You have to have the confidence to persevere and continue on past the hurdles and barriers."
A recent crop of research has revealed that this creativity bias is widespread. Creative individuals often face social rejection, which "can harm memory and learning, reducing both our executive control and our self-regulation," says Vincent. The pain of social exclusion is so acute that it can register as physical pain. For most of us, it's enough to stop us cold in our creative tracks. For certain individuals, however, social isolation doesn't lead to a creative shutdown; instead, exclusion fosters more creativity.
So how can you use social rejection to your creative advantage?
Start by breaking free of social expectation: Social norms are ingrained in most of us, but to approach a topic in a fresh and innovative way, we often need to break conventional rules. "Steve Jobs was especially well known for this," Vincent says. In his biography of Jobs, Walter Isaacson noted that Jobs acted like the rules didn't apply to him. He'd find loopholes in the law and exploit them (like parking his unlicensed car in a handicap spot).
Violations don't have to be this blatant, but if you get in the mindset of looking for ways to sidestep what's expected, it can help you come up with innovative solutions down the line.
Develop a sense of independent identity: Developing a strong sense of independent self-concept is, Vincent says, highly correlated with creative thinking. "In organizations, it's very easy to identify with the company to the point where you identify as an employee first, instead of an individual who happens to work at said company."
This group mindset can cause you to accept company policy and practices as fact. "If you don't challenge the available information, how can you find creative, new solutions to any given problem?" she asks. An independent identity is stronger in some us than it is in other but it can be learned, Vincent says. By actively focusing on qualities specific to yourself instead of qualities that connect you to those around you, you can prime yourself to be a more independent thinker.
Use alienation to your advantage: If you break conventions (even harmless ones), you have to be prepared for the negative social backlash.
Instead of focusing on how terrible being excluded makes you feel, use it as a tool - brief periods of social isolation can liberate you from traditional and predictable expectations that working as a group reinforces, says Vincent.
Find your champions: More often than not, the safe solution will be the more popular solution, so Vincent recommends finding people in your life who respond to, and encourage, creative thinking. This may take time, but it's important to find your champions. "It allows you to go from being that lone nut to having a support network who can help you hone your ideas, initiate them and apply them," she says.
But don't get ahead of yourself: To break the rules, you first need to understand why they're there. "Most people aren't going to create a creative rocket if they don't know anything about rocket engines," Vincent says. "You have to have that foundation first."
At the end of the day, creativity is directly tied to nonconformity - "You can't be overwhelmingly influenced by social expectation," Vincent says.