This is What Happens When You Don’t Conform

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To be an indispensable employee to an organization and have a successful career, there is one thing that you have been taught for most of your life you must reject. 

I’m pretty sure there are many of you who remember getting guidance — no, orders — from your parents that you should obey the teacher and not be THAT child that sticks out and disrupts everyone else.

You were directed to keep your head down and follow the rules — stay out of trouble and avoid the dreaded walk to the principal’s office.

1. Don’t be that kid

There was always a stigma attached to the kid that was noticed in class as being different than their classmates.

It was somehow viewed as being inappropriate, unusual and unacceptable to be noticed for who you weren’t, not who you were — for how you didn’t conform.

Unfortunately through this process many kids were tagged as “outcasts” as they succumbed to the pressures and expectations of those around them. 

Their natural talents to look at the world differently and to offer ideas that were out of bounds relative to traditional norms were stultified by the storm of criticism that was aimed at forcing them to be like everyone else and conform.

These kids became victims of a society that wanted clones; we never got to witness and value the potential they had to contribute. 

They were “beaten down” to be the same as their well behaved peers and as a result left 50% of their potential on the table — it was our loss.

2. Sameness kills 

Compliance, conformity and sameness breed mediocrity and comfort with the status quo ; neither of which will serve us well in a chaotic world of technology disruption, economic variability and surging competition.

What I learned in my 30+ year career is that sameness kills organizations and unfortunately the collateral damage are employees and the investors that support them.

Just look at some of the retail companies currently in financial difficulty — Toys R Us, Nine West, Sears and Neiman Marcus are a few organizations struggling to make it. 

The source of their woes is irrelevance; they are becoming out of touch their customers in the face of new competition and new alternative ways of consumer buying. They are not changing fast enough to break the mould of what worked for them in the past.

They are falling short of discovering how to become an organization capable of adapting to and thriving in the future amidst the new challenges imposed upon them.

3. Forget what you’ve been taught

This is an unbelievable challenge for leaders who must create a culture of innovation and creativity in their organizations to create a competitive advantage and survive. 

They must counteract what people have been taught; to dispel the notion that fitting in is what is needed to be successful.

They must embrace the weirdo’s that for some bizarre reason had the strength to push back against the establishment and peer pressure to maintain their breakaway views. And to encourage those who chose to fit in to now breakout and impose an edge on normality to cause change.

As someone who is on the divergent side, your personal challenge to step away from the crowd is formidable. 

You have to:

  • Reject the imprinting you have received for most of your life to “be a good boy or girl” and do what you’re told, and
  • Convince those that control your career opportunities that organizations need to be different to win in tomorrow’s markets and that YOU are a key ingredient to make it happen.

4. Advocate being different

It’s not sufficient that you personally change; you must be a strong advocate of standing out from the herd to others.

Compliance and conformance teachings aimed at keeping you in the crowd will hold you back, not get ahead.

Try to forget what was drilled into your head during your school years. Complying to knowledge requirements is the table stakes to a successful career, but it won’t enable you to reach your lofty goals.

Only being different will.

Written By
Roy Osing is a former President and CMO with over 33 years of leadership experience covering all the major business functions including business strategy, marketing, sales, customer service and people development. He is a blogger, content marketer, educator, coach, adviser and the author of the book series Be Different or Be Dead.You can also read more of Roy Osing's articles at his website.