Weirdos can do great things.
They create disruptive companies, build new technologies, start movements and encourage people to think differently. If weirdos didn’t exist to challenge the status quo, all of the amazing advancements of our generation would not exist.
So how do we tap into our inner weirdo to reach our creative potential? And what we can do to be a little weirder, a little better at thinking outside the box, a little less tuned in to the expectations of society and culture? Because it’s the answers to these questions that show that being a little weirder can make us all a lot more creative.
There is a science to weirdness that comes in the form of “cognitive disinhibition”, as opposed to “latent inhibition”.
Most people have a good dose of latent inhibition. Their brain filters out information that’s not immediately relevant to a particular situation and enables them to focus on a single person or situation. Latent inhibition is useful (sometimes vital) for a lot of things, but not creativity.
Weird people, on the other hand, have what’s called “cognitive disinhibition”. Shelley Carson, who coined the term, says it is “the failure to ignore information that is irrelevant to current goals or to survival.” People who exhibit high levels of cognitive disinhibition generally have multiple, often trivial things playing on their mind all at once.
In her 2003 study, Carson found that creative people are roughly seven times more likely to have a low level of latent intelligence, and a higher level of cognitive disinhibition, than non-creative people.
Carson says that the ability of a person to tune in to everything around them is key to their creativity — the ability to let everything they experience, see, hear, smell, and touch mix within their mind until something new and original can be made of it all. She says that the less time the mind spends on arranging information or acknowledging it, the better chance it has of creating original connections and associations.
According to psychologist Nancy C. Andreasen, the average person will “quickly respond to situations based on what they have been told by people in authority.” A weird person, however, is less likely to either listen to authority or to understand social rules. “Creatives,” she says, “live in a more vague, fluid, nebulous world,” and although “a highly original person may seem odd or strange to others… [and] may have to confront criticism or rejection for being too questioning, or too unconventional”, this kind of social weirdness is exactly what leads people to creative breakthroughs.
Openness to new experiences and the ability to question the status quo allow people to perceive what’s around them in new ways. The businessman, Masaru Ibuka, who founded Sony once said, “Creativity comes from looking for the unexpected and stepping outside your own experience.” Being weird is just that: being open to different experiences and ideas.
It’s long been debated whether creativity can be learned, but what is widely accepted is that openness to new experiences is a trait of creativity, which can be learned. If all you need to be more creative is to step out of your comfort zone then there’s no excuse!
Go to an ethnic restaurant you haven’t experienced, learn a new language, give the Sunday crossword a spin, read a challenging novel — any experience, so long as it’s new and outside your comfort zone, will open your mind, and, in turn, will make you more creative. Some people might brand you a weirdo, but truly creative people know that being open to new experiences and trying different things is one of the best ways to find new, original connections and build creative ideas.
We all have a unique set of experiences that have helped to mold us into who we are. That being said, people with particularly weird backgrounds tend to be the most creative because it gives them a unique perspective of the world.
“Highly creative individuals often experience a disproportionate number of unusual and unexpected events,”
according to one study.
These types of unexpected events and unique experiences include all sorts of things, from living abroad to experiencing a death in the family, and they all afford “cognitive flexibility,” which enhances your creativity. As the study author also noted, “A diversifying experience — defined as the active (but not vicarious) involvement in an unusual event — increased cognitive flexibility more than active (or vicarious) involvement in normal experiences.”
But, in a way, we all have weird backgrounds. No one was raised exactly like we were. And no one has the exact same perception of the world as we do. Although it might seem intimidating to realize how much some people have experienced, everyone has experienced, done, thought, or felt something entirely original — something that no one else has ever experienced. That’s pretty amazing. Therefore, it’s the ability to channel your background and the unique perception it has afforded you that allows certain people to be successfully creative.
Reflecting and getting to the heart of what makes you you is the key to getting at your deepest creativity. Finding out what makes you unique is often incredibly difficult, but once you’ve done it you have a direct path to creativity because all you have to do is see the world through your unique perspective, which is as easy as being yourself.
So how then do you find out what makes you unique? Try asking yourself defining questions like, “What am I particularly good at?” “What are the things I like most?” “What am I attracted to?” “What am I repelled by?” “How would my friends describe me?” “How would I describe myself?” “What would I do if I had a spare hour? A spare day? A spare month? A spare year?” These kinds of questions get to the heart of what makes you tick and what your priorities are.
By better understanding yourself, you can better understand what particular brand of weirdness it is that you can contribute either in a group or an individual setting. Although some people have more peculiar backgrounds than others, we all have a specific string of experiences that no one else has. We all have a unique understanding of the world and we all have the ability to express that. Being weird, therefore, is relative. We’re all weird, the difference in our creative potential is just how much were able to take advantage of our particular brand of weirdness.
According to a recent study, which looked at the difference in creativity between American and Chinese doctoral students, cultures that advocate for individualism tend to have a more creative population than cultures that advocate for collectivism.
The study saw that American students, who are awarded for their individualistic endeavors, tended to be better suited for creative and original thinking than Chinese students, who are awarded for their ability to fit into socio-cultural groups, and who tended to be weaker at creative and original thinking but slightly stronger analytical thinkers.
This complements the “cultural-psychological approach,” which shows that the way individuals interact with their culture and society is often indicative of how creative they are: the less attached to their culture, the more creative they tend to be (and vice versa)
All of this could help explain why people who define themselves as weird tend to be more creative because weird people operate outside the borders of socio-cultural expectations. It also helps explain why people who feel socially rejected (whether or not they actually are doesn’t matter) also tend to be more creative.
The idea is that being individualistic is useful to creativity. However, groups have the potential to be even more creative than weird individuals if the groups are comprised of weird people who are directed to be more creative.
“Given that collectivistic groups are more responsive to norms, they might be more creative than individualistic groups when given explicit instructions to be creative,” noted a study. So, if you’re running a company and you want some serious creative firepower, it appears your best bet is to hire a bunch of weirdos, put them in a room, and tell them to be creative.
Part of understanding what it means to be weird is to understand that we all have the potential for weirdness. And while this might not always be a compliment, when it comes to creativity, it most definitely is. Weird people are trailblazers. The brain of a weird person doesn’t weed ideas out just because they don’t seem absolutely necessary at the time. If Steve Jobs did that, I might not have been able to write this article.
Everything we experience — no matter how normal or weird our lives seem to be — is fodder for future creativity and thus should be saved, unpacked, and tinkered with until all of these thoughts coalesce into original, creative ideas. Staying open to new experiences is a great way to add to this creative fodder. Understanding your unique perspective on the world is another way. And as much as group thinking can be harmful to creativity, the ability to seek out other weird individuals is one of the very best ways to produce creative ideas. So get out there and wear your weirdo badge with honor. Besides, why would you want to be normal when it’s the weird people who can change the world?