Conformity and Innovation

Conformity and Innovation

I am not a big believer in conformity. My view of conformity is that it is a means of control. It is a manner in which to ensure that the status quo remains, that the population does not question and that everyone has the same information available to them.

Think of the educational system. From grade school through to the end of high school, we learn the same information. We are taught to do things the same way. We are told that school develops and reinforces social skills. We are told to play nice and not to stand out. Don’t be an individual, teamwork is the only way. Why is that? Because it is a means to an end. Now don’t get me wrong. I believe education builds knowledge. I believe school can teach a lot of valuable life lessons. But I also recognize that there is a certain mold that students are forced to subscribe to if they are to succeed in school.

Have you ever heard a student say, especially in grade school, I finished my work early but my teacher told me I cannot progress farther and must wait for everyone else. I have and I think it sucks. Here is a student trying to advance themselves and the existing establishment is saying “You need to wait for everyone else”, which to me is the same as saying “You’re not conforming”.

Now let’s fast forward a few school years and give a prime example of what non-conforming can do. I think a lot of people have seen the movie about Facebook. There is a particular scene which really drives the point home – it’s the scene where Zuckerberg is hauled in front of the committee at Harvard in an attempt by the school to discipline him for his actions. It’s obvious what they were attempting to do – force him to conform. To tell him- “what you did is not nice and you need to be reprimanded”. I think most people were shocked at his response – essentially telling the establishment he did them a favor. But why was anyone surprised at his response? Innovation doesn’t happen by following the status quo. Creativity is not created by listening to what you’re taught. It’s by doing things that you’re not taught.

The willingness to go outside the norm, to question what you’re told and to push the boundaries is what enabled us to create the world we have today. Not willing to conform is in essence the same as being willing to innovate. Imagine if Zuckerberg had instead just agreed. His reprimand might have left him feeling dejected and it might have been the last straw that quashed any innovation and creativity he had. And then we wouldn’t have what we have.

Conformity is innovation’s enemy. Don’t forget it.

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