How nonconformists are the best chance for a company to long term success.
In a famous experiment carried out by american psychologist Solomon Ash in 1951, people were asked if a drawn line on a blackboard was longer, equal or shorter than another one. The answer was given aloud and in the presence of the rest of the participants. Despite the obvious answer, everyone gave the wrong answer following the psychologist´s instructions. When the final participant (who received no instructions and was blind about the plot) had to answer, he was in a dilemma: to give the obvious correct answer, or to purposefully give the incorrect one, to avoid being a discordant element among the group.
Only 25% of the people were resolute in giving the right answer instead of buckling under the group´s pressure. That means, that three out of four participants gave wrong answers, deribelately making a mistake to suit the group´s opinion. That is called social conformism.
Humans are social beings. This characteristic explains a great deal of our supremacy over stronger, faster or better-acclimated animals. Our capacity to survive and to thrive as group is infinitely bigger than as isolated individuals.
Today the social bounds and belonging to a family, a group of friends or a company are crucial not only for personal success, but for our mental health. We have to shape our life in groups because our biology drives us to do so: the brain analyzes the faces of the people around us, looking for signs of approval, and when it doesn´t find them or instead finds rejection, it triggers an alarm that tries to correct our behaviour to adapt to the group. That´s why social rejection, unemployment, status loss, or beign bullied is so devastating.
But social conformism can lead a group or a company to disaster when the beliefs and principles are wrong. A lot of people could detect the problem, but only the nonconformist will take the lead and react.
The nonconformist can make two things: Try to change the group´s principles and values or leave the group. The first posibility is a classic leadership example: people able to stand up to change the status-quo for the group´s sake. The second possibility is followed by the mavericks, individuals that prefer to go their own way, leaving the group.
The nonconformist in the company
The nonconformist is valuable to a company because she or he detects problems and put them on the table before they become unmanageable. The thing is, that casting light on a problem often challenges the privileges of a few.
Don´t confuse a nonconformist with a complainer. A nonconformist detects a problem and proposes a solution. A complainer just sees problems all around, even when there are no problems.
A successful company has two challenges to face: immobility and complacency. When we have a good work system, we tend to continue doing the same thing. Why should we change? Well, the world changes and along with that change, our company can go from being the leader to falling behind within months. In those cases, the nonconformist detect the changes, warns the company, and challenges the status-quo to develop brave strategies to guarantee its future survival.
A good leader has to look for the nonconformists, listen to what they say and protect them against the pressure of the group. The leader doesn´t have to heed all of the warnings, but nonconformists are always a source of innovation and healthy development for a company.
Breaking the rules. Making new rules
A few years ago an architect founded a company with a partner in Spain. To be known at that time, it was crucial to be published in a national architecture magazine. But the company had no chance to get there; they had no contacts, they had made only a few projects, they were in the market just for five years and haven’t participated on architecture competitions. The solution: They created and printed not a magazine, but their own book with their buildings and projects. They gave it to clients and prospects. The succeed was immediate.
In 1860, if a painter wanted to be someone in Paris, he had to hang his paintings in “The Salon”, an yearly exhibition with the work of the best painters in France. A panel of experts selected the works by composition (Classic, if possible), theme (usually related to gods or heroes) and technique (If the brush strockes were not visible and it looked realistic, that piece would have a better chance). A group of painters understood art in other terms. They painted common people, their brush strokes were evident and the classic composition was missing. They lived in poverty, and they knew that being selected for “The Salon” was the guarantee to fame and a comfortable life.
They had to choose: to renounce their concept of art to fit “The Salon” style or to be condemned to poverty and irrelevance. They chose a third way: They created their own exhibition in an appartment in the center of Paris and they hung more than 150 pieces of work. Despite the initial mockery and criticism, they soon achieved fame. Among the artists were Cezanne, Renoir und Degás. They were the creators of the Impresionism. They changed the concept of art and today many of those paintings are valued in millions of dollars.
These are two examples that show how the nonconformist break the rules to make their own. Malcom Gladwell wrote in his book David and Goliath, that to win a fight against the status-quo (Goliath), we can never attack directly, because Goliath is invincible. We have to take him by surprise, from a distance and following our own rules. We have to be fast and agile. We have to be like David.