The Photocopy Syndrome (Part Two)

If you have to radically change who you are to fit a place — you’re changing the wrong thing. Full stop. To be clear, there is no place on earth that will be a perfect fit. That’s life. You know that already. But you also know that becoming someone else doesn’t work either, don’t you?

A friend recently shared with me how a personality test changed his life. The test provided more categories than most, sixteen in total, and his dominant trait placed him in the smallest group of all. He was identified as matching a profile that applies to less than 1% of the general population. It helped him better understand why people and places were constantly wanting to change him and get him to simply fit in. It liberated him to be himself.

The Outer Ring

Some of us are more different than others. But all of us are individuals. So, we can’t create a new “inner ring” with exclusive privileges afforded only to “outsiders.” You might call this the “outer ring.” The outer ring should be avoided just like the inner ring we discussed in the last post. Somehow, we have to find ways to cultivate spaces where diverse gifts and personalities can compliment one another and flourish.

The answer is not to light a match and watch all the structures burn to the ground as the outsiders and non-conformists exit stage left. If you are an outsider and a non-conformist, you will understand this point. The persistent pressure to comply and acquiesce can be an experiment in toomuchery. But you can’t swing the pendulum to the opposite extreme and expect better results. We really are better together, if we can just find a way to co-exist with mutual respect, support, and appreciation.

There’s a certain Yin and Yang symmetry and balance here. The company person (let’s call him Jake) is going to look and act the part. Jake is going to comply and carry on the policies and mission. He’s going to look a lot like the executives in the inner ring. The non-conformist (let’s call her Jennifer) will keep Jake from being too comfortable and overly certain about his perspective and methods. Jennifer will disrupt patterns and ways of thinking that need to be challenged and changed.

On the other hand, Jake is going to keep Jennifer out of jail. I’m only partially joking. He will keep her from drifting into anarchy. Like the law of gravity, there are necessary rules and policies that govern any organization or movement and keep them grounded so they aren’t floating about like helium baloons. Jake will prevent an incurable mission drift, but Jennifer will keep them from becoming a mere monument to their founding mission.

Jake will give them some gravity, while Jennifer will keep them reaching for the sky. Both are needed. There must be a system even if it needs to be disrupted from time to time. Without disruption, the system will eventually corrode as it fails to adjust and correct. But constant disruption without any norming culture will inevitably lead to chaos.

The Loss of Genius

There’s a word of warning here. If we’re not careful, we’ll stymie one another in our gifts and growth. There’s an interesting research project that illustrates this point. NASA conducted a study in the 1960s to better understand the nature of creative geniuses. What they discovered is alarming:

The focus was on young children, aged 3 to 5, as they embarked on a journey to decipher creativity. A group of 1,600 kids enrolled in a Head Start program were subjected to a creativity test initially crafted for NASA recruits. The results were startling; 98% of these youngsters were labeled as creative geniuses. However, a follow-up revealed a concerning trend. The genius tag dropped to 30% at age 10 and further down to 12% at age 15. When compared to adults, only a dismal 2% maintained this level of creative genius.

The study identified two forms of thinking, divergent and convergent. Divergent thinking is tied to creativity and imagination while convergent thinking is linked to judgment and evaluation. The study critiqued educational models that blended the two into simultaneous processes. It’s not that one or the other is bad, it’s that forcing them into a box together doesn’t work. This sort of uniformity in the educational space is sadly true in the professional space as well. In seeking a blended and flattened way of thinking, something significant is lost in the process.

There’s a whole lot of us who have misplaced our creative genius along the way. Have you cast away anything important in your journey for the sake of uniformity? Maybe you did it to get into an inner ring somewhere in your journey. Or, if you’re in a position of power, perhaps you’ve limited others by refusing to allow them space for their peculiar genius? The truth is, whether divergent or convergent, we need each other. Maybe, just maybe, our distinctive qualities are a far greater asset than a liability.

So, I’ll say it again for those in the back, if you have to radically change who you are to fit a place — you’re changing the wrong thing.

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

Part Four