“Conformity Reigns but Exceptions Rule”

“Difference is a commitment to the unprecedented…a commitment to letting go.” ~Youngme Moon

I love Harvard professor Youngme Moon’s sub-subtitle of her new book, Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd: “Succeeding in a World where Conformity Reigns but Exceptions Rule.” In her book, she makes the case that true innovation — and success — comes when a business offers something meaningfully different.

As much as we Americans often claim the mantle of individuality and freedom to be different, most of us rarely are. From what we wear to what we talk about, from the party at the bar to the big wedding we attend, conformity reigns and rains and, as my poor friends here in Chicago have heard too much from me lately, I’m feeling all wet.

Moon makes the case that almost every success story of the past couple decades has been the exception to the rule, the outlier that has rejected orthodoxy, the difference-maker that did not simply compete in the same game as others. “Differentiation is not a tactic,” she says. “It’s not a flashy advertising campaign; it’s not a sparkling new feature set. It’s not a laminated frequent-buyer card or a money-back guarantee. Differentiation is a way of thinking. It’s a mindset. It’s a commitment. A commitment to be different, not in a superficial, I’m-going-to-offer-a-couple-of-features-my-competitor-doesn’t-offer kind of way, but in a way that is fundamental and near impossible to replicate.”

Now I happen to be allergic to too much conformity, but I realize that it’s often easier, and even satisfying, to conform. But creativity — which we need more than ever in our organizations and for our own personal success — requires deviance, a willingness to be different. A willingness and a mindset and a drive to be the one who doesn’t do it that way, who draws outside the lines or creates meaningful new lines, who risks the stares and comments (and there will be many) from the conforming majority.

Moon’s wonderful Anti-Creativity Checklist video (above) shares her top 14 ways to keep your place in the conforming majority and ensure that you won’t be a difference-maker in your organization.

Want more from Adam?  See his Innovation on my Mind blog.

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