An Upside To Social Rejection: It Makes You More Creative
People who are socially rejected might also be society’s most creatively powerful individuals, writes Jennifer Miller on Fast Company:
“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, Johns Hopkins University 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.’
This may seem like an obvious conclusion, but Kim pointed out that most companies don’t encourage that kind of freedom and independence. ‘The benefits of being different is not a message everyone is getting,” she said. ‘I’ve read article after article about how organizations want creative people. But it appears to me that all companies want candidates from the same schools, with the same background, and the same experiences.’
Kim hopes her study will have an impact on how companies think about who they hire, how they can retain the most creative individuals, and whether they’re really facilitating creative thinking among their employees. She says even small changes, like relaxing a dress code, can help.
Of course, there’s an irony here. If creativity depends on rejection, then companies would want to make it more difficult for employees to individuate, not less. Kim isn’t so worried about this outcome, however. ‘Even in a company where you feel happy, there are still plenty of opportunities to be rejected,’ she says. ‘You can still pitch that great idea to your boss and your boss will say, “Um, no.”‘” Read more here.
Kim makes a great point—companies (and schools) say they want to foster creativity, but in practice many of them act in ways that enforce conformity. It’s safer to hire “candidates from the same schools, with the same background, and the same experiences” than to take a chance on someone different.