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CONFORMITY HINDERS CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION

Zig Ziglar once said, “If you and your boss reason the same one of you is redundant”. What this statement in essence implies is that institutions should encourage people to suggest new and diverse ideas even if they are contrary to their leader’s opinion.  A friend of mine told me recently how they are always called to a meeting by their leader and he addresses them without giving them opportunity to give different opinions.  This leader loves those who agree with what he says.  In other words this type of a leader believes that there can only be one sun at a time and therefore no one should rival the sun’s brilliance. This kind of thinking is not only retrogressive but also fatal to the growth of an institution because this kind of environment does not encourage creativity and innovation.

When one decides not to conform to what others say, do or have been doing one will experience unprecedented changes.  For example, take Dr. Mahathir Mohamed- former Prime Minister of Malaysia whose style of leadership was unconventional.  He dared to think of things and introduced major changes in his country that few Prime Ministers would attempt.  In fact his pragmatic non-conformity approach to leading a multi-racial nation brought peace, stability, progress and prosperity.  In one of his programmes where ‘prime movers’ of society and key opinion leaders gathered to discuss issues of critical importance to the nation, he required that each participant to carry with him or her a raw egg at all times during the entire four day programme.

Participants were checked from time to time whether they had the egg with them.  Those who thought it was ridiculous to carry an egg with them all the time and therefore left it behind the dormitory were punished when found out.  It was only at the end of the programme that participants were told the significance of having to carry the egg all the time. Dr. Mahathir said “… living in a multi-racial society is like carrying an egg. If we don’t handle it well, it will crack and it won’t be any easy putting it back together again.”  I think this is a simple yet powerful analogy on how to do things differently and creatively.

From the foregoing example, I can unequivocally say that when people think differently it brings transformation and consequently growth.  It is therefore important to have diversity in the organization that you lead and at the same time it is also imperative to have a level of disagreement within the context of a group or a team.  In other words an organization composed of people who fear to express opposing thought will not be innovative.  These people may conform to certain ways of doing business and miss to take advantage of great opportunities around them

Abraham Lincoln for example came to power when the nation was in trouble and he had the intelligence and self confidence to know that he needed independent and creative people by his side.   People who were leaders on their own right and who were very aware of their own strength.  Even Barrack Obama did the same thing by choosing his Chief rival Hillary Clinton to be Secretary of State, by picking rival Joe Biden as his Vice-President and including powerful Republican in the cabinet like Robert Gates and Ray LaHood.

The major reason in my view for these two leaders doing this was that they wanted people who were free to question their authorities and who were unafraid to argue with them.  They wanted to work with people who were original in thought and who do not imitate others.

Herman Melville wrote, “It is better to fail in originality than to succeed in imitation.”  As long as you are trying to conform to someone else, the best you can ever be is number two. You cannot reach your destiny when you take another man’s road.  If you never walk except where you see another person’s tracks you will never make new discoveries for yourself or your organization. In other words a person who walks in someone else tracks never leaves his own footprints.

While exploring in Africa Dr. Livingstone received a letter from some very well meaning friends which read, “We would like to send other men to you.  Have you found a good road into your area yet? ”Dr. Livingstone sent this message in reply, “If you have men who will only come if they know there is a good road, I don’t want them.  I want strong and courageous men who will come if there is no road at all.”  What Dr. Livingstone wanted in essence were people who would not conform to what he was doing but rather people who were to adventure to a realm of discovery that would become the logic for the future.

Henry Ford forgot to put a reverse gear in his first automobile. The automobile would still get you where you wanted to go but there was no backing up if you went too far. He innovated ways of coming up with the reverse gear. Therefore success and growth are unlikely if people do things the way they have always done them.

John Henry Fabre placed caterpillars in a circle. For twenty four hours the caterpillars dutifully followed one another around and around and around. Then Fabre placed the caterpillars around a saucer full of pine needles (farorite food). For six days the mindless creatures moved around and around the saucer, dying from starvation even though abundance of choice food was located less than two inches away. All they were simply doing was conforming and no one of them was innovative enough to discover a great opportunity (food) around them.

Several counties in Kenya face a challenge of managing waste because they always want to conform to known methods of managing waste without being innovative. Take a country like Sweden for example; it has an innovative waste management program where it uses 96% of its garbage to generate electricity. In fact in the year 2012, it faced a crisis because it ran short of garbage. It had to start a process of importing it from neighbouring countries. This makes me wonder what potential my county has with the volume of garbage that it generates daily!. What I learn from this case is that there is the conforming thinking that leads to setting up disposal boards to figure out how to deal with garbage problem and there is the innovative thinking that sees garbage as a blessing and cannot get enough of it.

Let us all be transformed and not conformed! Remember if everyone in your organization agrees with you then there is no need for them to be there.