How to Profit from Non-Conformity
By Steve Gillman,
Author of Secrets of Lucky People
There is some evidence that more creativity results in more of what many
would call luck. No real surprise here - more creative and new ideas obviously
means more opportunities for good or "lucky" ideas to come about.
But how do you become more creative?
There are actually many techniques for generating more creative ideas.
Books on creative problem solving, for example, are full of these techniques.
You can use them in a given situation for immediate results, or train
yourself to use them habitually for a permanently more creative mind.
However, there is one important aspect of creativity that this lesson
addresses. It is the tendency we have to conform, and how this stifles
our creativity. Learn when and how to step outside the lines, and you
will be far more creative, and therefore potentially luckier in life.
Conformity To The "Rules"
In 1999 Daniel Simons, from the University of Illinois, published a paper
with C.F. Chabris, in the journal "Perception & Psychophysics."
It was titled "Gorillas in Our Midst: Sustained Inattentional Blindness
for Dynamic Events." It reported a simple experiment in which subjects
watched a 30-second film of people playing basketball, to see if they
noticed the guy in the gorilla suit on the court.
Richard Wiseman, the expert on luck and creativity, took the idea and
ran with it. He showed the following film to many groups of people. In
the film, three basketball players are dressed in white t-shirts, and
three in black. The are playing a game, but in the middle of the film,
a man in a gorilla suit walks into the middle of the court and beats his
chest for the camera.
This is something very obvious, which most viewers would notice, right?
However, viewers were instructed to watch for and count the number of
passes made by one team. They were focusing on that task, so when later
asked for their totals, and then asked if they noticed anything unusual
in the film, only a small percentage ever said yes.
In fact, when Wiseman introduced enough competitiveness to the process
(for example, by pitting one side of the room against the other in a test
of accuracy), the number of people who noticed the gorilla was as low
This is an example of how "in the box" we can be when we're
in a given situation. We stay within the normal "rules" for
the situation. It is a useful part of our psychology. Too much awareness
of everything else going on can interfere with concentration on the task
However, there are times when the task at hand is to think outside that
box and see something new.
Thinking Outside The Box
The "box" is the normal way of doing things and looking at things.
It is the assumptions that almost everyone involved is making. The best
way to start thinking out of the box then, is to identify and challenge
all the assumptions that make up thinking inside the box.
For example, one of the major liquor brands was faltering years ago, and
they couldn't seem to boost their sales. Promotions, lowering the price,
getting better shelf placement - these were the "in the box"
solutions. Then someone challenged the assumptions, by asking "What
if we stopped the promotions and just raised the price?"
The price was raised as an experiment, and sales soon doubled. As it turns
out, some types of liquor are bought quite often as gifts. Buyers don't
want to buy the most expensive one, but they also don't want to seem cheap,
so they won't buy products that don't cost enough.
Now imagine what happens to your profit margins when you raise the price
and double the sales. That's the power of thinking outside of the box.
Ways To Get Outside The Box
Challenging assumptions is a powerful and creative problem solving technique.
The difficult part is to identify the assumptions. If you are designing
a new motorcycle, write down assumptions like "speed matters,"
"it has to run on gas" and "it needs two wheels,"
not because you expect to prove these wrong, but because challenging these
can lead to creative possibilities. Maybe the time has come for an electric
Another way to get to creative solutions is to "assume the absurd."
This is either fun or annoying, depending on how open-minded you can be.
All you do is start making absurd assumptions, then finding ways to make
sense of them. The easiest way to do it is by asking "what if."
What if a carpet cleaning business was better off with half as many customers?
It seems absurd, but work with it. Hmm...less stressful, perhaps. More
profitable if each customer was worth three times as much. Is that possible?
Commercial jobs that involve large easy to clean spaces (theaters, offices,
convention halls) make more money in a day than houses, with fewer headaches.
Focusing on getting those accounts could be the most profitable way to
go - not so absurd.
Another way to more innovative ideas is to literally do your thinking
out of the box. Get out of the house or the office. Park the car and walk
around. New environments can stimulate new ideas.
Always look around at how others outside of your usual "circle"
of friends and associates are doing things. On busses in Ecuador, salesmen
put a product into everyone's hands and let them hold it while they do
a sales pitch. Then you have to give back "your" product or
pay for it. It is very effective. How could you use the principle in your
There was an experiment in creativity in which brainstorming sessions
were done in two ways. The first set consisted of normal sessions. In
the second set of sessions, one simple change was made. The participants
were told to take their shoes off.
Consistently, people produced more ideas when their shoes were off. This
is a neat little example of how just getting out of our normal routines
can stimulate more creative thought.
One of the things that stifles our creativity is our need to conform to
the people around us. We tend to do what they are doing and think what
they are thinking. There are certain expectations that are there, even
when we aren't aware of them.
Of course there is good reason to conform most of the time. Singing while
in a bookstore, refusing to shake hands, or certain other demonstrations
of non-conformity probably won't give you any creative edge in life. We
conform to most unspoken social "rules" because they benefit
all of us.
On the other hand, there are other times when breaking the rules or not
following the herd makes sense. If everyone goes to the closest check-out
registers at the grocery store, you might get out faster by going to one
further down. If most people are using credit cards and as a result are
in financial trouble, you might do well to be a non-conformist.
Luck or opportunity is often where the crowd isn't. For example, many
tourists here in Colorado like to pan for gold. Of course, they all go
to the same easily-accessible places, so these places are don't have much
gold left. Where would you have more luck looking for gold? Wherever the
people don't go, of course.
When I was sixteen I hitchhiked across the country. This was back when
hitchhiking was common. I came to one freeway entrance ramp and saw over
20 hitchhikers lined up with their thumbs out. As I walked past them I
heard complaints about how long they had been waiting.
I just kept walking. A mile later, away from the crowd, there was room
for a driver to pull over, and he didn't have to make a choice about who
to pick up. I easily got a ride there - my reward for being a non-conformist.
Non-Conformity - The Lottery Example
Here's an example of how being a non-conformist can even increase your
luck in the lottery. It is so common for people to bet on birthdays, that
winning tickets with numbers below 31 (the days of the month) usually
split the pot more ways. This means that each winner gets less money.
On the other hand, when the winning numbers are all over 32, fewer tickets
have winning numbers. This means that the money is split fewer ways and
each winning ticket is worth more. All numbers are equally likely to come
up, so if you bet the numbers between 32 and 40, you have a better chance
to win more money.
This doesn't make the lottery a good bet, by the way, but just a better
bet. It is a great little example of how getting away from the crowd can
be a creative way to improve your luck.
is an excerpt from Secrets
of Lucky People by Steve Gillman. Learn how to create your own
luck with dozens of simple exercises which will make you the luckiest
person you know.
Also by Steve Gillman: 70 Ways to Increase Your Brain Power
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