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Does conformity stifles creativity ?

· 3 min read
Palash Shrivastava

The extend to which conformity stifles creativity depends upon the nature of the job being executed, the temperament of each individual and the final goal to be achieved. I am in full agreement that conformity stifles creativity; indeed they both are mutually exclusive.

Some people are conformist by nature. Whether conformity stifles individual energy depends on the individual person. Where teamwork is key, they function best in an environment where their role is well defined. For conformists , they share a common goal, purpose or mission with a group that must work together as cogs in a machine to achieve that mission. In the military or any sports, each individual is responsible to play and conform to group’s common mission or goal. And rather than quelling energy, this conformity breeds camaraderie, as well as fervor and enthusiasm for winning a battle or the game. Besides, non-conformity in these situations only serves to undermine success; if game-plan or battle strategies were left to each individuals or participants, the results would be disastrous.

Conformist find enhanced energy in certain corners of the business world as well, particularly in traditional services like finance, retail, sales, accounting, insurance, legal-services and healthcare. In these business, iconoclasts find no place to revel and thrive but rather those individual who can work most effectively within the constraints of established practices, policies and regulations. Of course a clever idea or tactic might help turn tides during a meeting for structuring a deal, or a creative legal maneuver, might play a simple role in winning smaller battles along the way. But such tactics are of those conformists who are playing by the same ground rules as their peers.

In sharp contrast, other people are non-conformist by nature. These people are motivated by the personal satisfaction that comes with creativity, innovation and invention of novel ideas. For these individual, a highly structured and sophisticated bureaucratic environment only serves to quell motivation and energy. Artists and musicians even find these type of environments stifling and even noxious. Entrepreneurial business people who thrive on this innovation and differentiation often driven to self-employment because they feel stifled and frustrated, even offended, by the bureaucracy which requires conformity.

As for conformity stifling individual creativity, we need to look at another example. Our most creative people are highly eccentric in their personal appearance, lifestyle and so forth. In fact they seem to eschew any form of conformity, established norms and mores. Lady Gaga known for her eccentric appearance at the renowned music award functions. Michael Jackson, most creative force in popular music culture is nothing if not non-conforming in every way. Besides, by definition creativity begs non-conformity. In other words, any creative act is necessary to be in non-conformance with what already exists.

To sum up, conformists find their energy by conforming and non-conformists by not conforming. And creativity is the exclusive domain of non-conformists.