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Sign stating "Danger: Conformity Hazard."
Spy Key One
To thine own self be true.
JUST SAY NO TO STATUS QUO

The career benefits of being a nonconformist

By Ephrat Livni

Be a rebel with a cause. It will boost your career and enrich you personally, says Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino. Cultivate constructive nonconformity to become a more valuable asset to your employer and to make your work more meaningful.

According to a survey Gino conducted of  more than 1,000 employees in various fields, less than 10% reported working at companies that encouraged challenging the status quo. When this happens “Workers and their organizations both pay a price: decreased engagement, productivity, and innovation,” Gino writes in the Harvard Business Review.

The pressure to conform also increases as people advance in their careers; sheep are easier and more efficient to manage than wolves, and we prefer to follow the herd. A study on peer pressure by psychologist Solomon Asch from the 1950’s found that 75% of people will pick an answer they know is wrong just to fit in.

Our perception of what is acceptable to others influences how we dress, what we say, what feelings we express, whose views we agree with, and even how we process information. This desire to conform, Gino says, compels us to go along to get along; it seems easiest, wisest and most polite.

But you’ll be more successful and fulfilled if you adopt constructive nonconformism and be true to yourself. That will in turn, benefit the organization that you work for. Authenticity is every individual’s responsibility, according to Gino. Her research found that workers actually feel impure and immoral when they are inauthentic.

Additionally others respond positively to the few who dare to be genuine. In an assessment of entrepreneurs at pitch contests, she concluded that those whose pitches seemed sincere—showing individuality, vulnerability, and admitting mistakes—were three times more likely to win than inauthentic contestants.

Thus, you must summon the courage to be true and add value. Begin with three small steps that will work anywhere, Gino says.

  1. Challenge your own assumptions first: If you’re agreeing because you don’t want to seem like a troublemaker, the first process to fix is that of your own thinking. Don’t assume that speaking up in meetings or disagreeing is problematic, confusing combativeness with nonconformity. “Rebel talents,” Gino says, “aren’t combative but thoughtful about questioning the status quo.”
  2. Master the past: Don’t wake up tomorrow, storm into the boss’s office and demand change. Do become intimately acquainted with processes before pointing out perceived flaws. “Knowledge of the past allows for innovation,” according to Gino.
  3. Start small: Begin making suggestions, keeping in mind that message delivery is key. Politely offer alternatives and raise concerns and considerations. Be thoughtful and confident. Companies prize efficiency but benefit from reflection, Gino says, so manage strong opinions with expressions that open discussion, and see what sticks.

Remember, however, not even rebels can break all the rules or create chaos on the job. Be flexible and agile, and rebellion will speed up processes and be appreciated, the professor promises. You’ll stand out, feel better about your work, and be more successful in your career as your true self emerges and your value becomes apparent.