all we like sheep…

Liscensed from 123rf

I’ve argued recently that boredom has its benefits. Creative people manage isolation and solitude with innovation and imagination.

The bad news is that no one likes them.

Their innovations are not implemented because they are not noticed. That’s why putting a good idea into practice is difficult. Loners are not usually leaders.

And leaders are not usually innovators. Recent research into group psychology suggests that leaders are often “superconformist.” Yes, I know, it sounds ugly.

That’s because it is.

The group looks up to people who represent the most typical characteristics of the group. Innovation is atypical by definition. If I look at your leader I think I know what your group looks like. And in my group, I tend to look up to those who look more like me than I do.

These are not necessarily the men or women with the best ideas. They may have the safest ideas. Or the most expedient ideas. Or the oldest ideas. Or the dumbest ideas. But they are perceived as having the beliefs and behaviors that matter most to the group or organization.

Deborah Prentice, a social psychologist at Princeton says this can be dangerous. College students, for example, drink more because they think other students are drinking more. They aren’t even aware of those who aren’t drinking at all.

Drinking rates are actually much lower on campus than drinkers estimate. But drinkers are being influenced, even complimented, by a few high status campus leaders who only appear to represent the norm.

Superconformists. But they are leaders none-the-less, able to embarrass you and shame you into compliance. They can isolate you at school or fire you at work or ground you at home. And they do it by being the most like what you want or pretend to be.

In another study, Princeton sociologist Matt Salganic had students visit a website where they could rate and download the songs they liked. One group couldn’t see who downloaded or rated which songs. But in other groups, the songs that rose to the top depended largely on which songs got downloaded first and who downloaded them.

Independent music apparently isn’t.

Innovation gets overlooked and ignored in such a world, a world where those creative people least likely to be noticed depend on the affirmation of those least likely to notice them.

This might explain how so many truly stupid videos go viral. It also explains how many useful ideas go untried. Peer pressure isn’t just for children.

Innovation does happen. But the process is difficult and messy, and feels like it depends on chance. It doesn’t. It depends on persistence and awareness. That and the grace of God, extended through you to those who ignore you or to those you have ignored.

Take a more thoughtful look at those who are comfortable outside your group and you may find uncomfortable solutions with integrity and potential. (You may find a nutcase too.)

But go ahead and try new ideas, especially if what you are trying isn’t working or if your leaders are clueless.

And stop trying to be like everybody else. It’s embarrassing.

Just pick your own song and play it as often and as loud as you like.

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About wally metts

Wally Metts is the daysman. He is director of graduate studies in communication at Spring Arbor University and is a pastor at Countryside Bible Church in Jonesville, MI. The father of four adult children, he and his wife Katie raise barn cats and Christmas trees in Michigan. His grandchildren call him Santa.

8 Responses to “all we like sheep…”

  1. Sometimes its nice to be like sheep: peaceful, family friendly, and organized 😛 hahah…
    Except that we have reason, and we are responsible of what choices we make. Want to make your own choices or make that choices be made by others… still its our choice :D.
    Good post! 🙂

  2. Peer pressure to conform is not only limited to teens. We all face it every day. It can be especially strong for those of us who are in the church. Thanks for the word of encouragement: we not only don’t to have to be like every one else, we shouldn’t be like every one else. God highly prizes individuality. That’s why He created each one of us as unique. Time to go crank up the volume on my favorite song!

  3. I can always count on you for a good word. This is so true, but being a conformist, I never thought of it before. OK, I’m not totally a conformist. I don’t own an iPod or even a reasonable facsimile and I don’t download music from iTunes. But if I did, I’d listen to Yogi Yorgesson singing “Who Hid the Halibut on the Po-o-o-p Deck?”

  4. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

  5. Quick question: In the third sentence (“The bad news is that no one likes them”), is “them” referring to “isolation and solitude” or creative people? [sincere question, not lame attempt at joke]

  6. I just have a hard time accepting that people dislike creative people as a general rule. Do you think part of it is because all of us have an responsibility to create and those who are regularly creating make those who are not regularly creating squeamish about neglecting their responsibility?

    (Of course, this raises the question of whether or not every human has the responsibility to be engaging in creative work. I, for one, think so.)

  7. I also think we all do have this responsibility.

    But “no one likes them” may be an overstatement. I’m still playing off the idea that their work requires solitude and even separation, so they are often not the most popular people in their peer group (unless their peers are also creatives).

    But here I think I’m suggesting that the time they need to be alone makes them less likely to become the leaders, or superconformist, and thus less likely to be recognized or even accepted.

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