The Comfort Zone of Conformity

The words “conform” and “comfort” are disturbingly similar. You can’t even tell them apart at a quick glance. Psychologically, “conformity” has a strong link to “comfort zone” as well. Neither word goes well with “creativity”.

The Asch experiment, one of the most famous and popular in psychology, is a big eye opener. It simply exposes our group-confirming nature in an undeniable way. Humans are very prone to agreeing with what everybody else thinks, to go with the flow, to drop their own opinion in favor of the others’, to conform. That’s known as the “Asch Paradigm“.

It’s worth having a look at the video below – and think that you’re not any different from the people being tested. By the looks of the video, you can tell this knowledge has been around for a while, but still to this date too many people change their opinions for the wrong reasons.

To me, conformity seems to be a way of hiding, of not calling attention to ourselves for whatever reason. Advertising is the business of standing out. By design, it must go the other way to find success.

This is the #1 rule in creative advertising: Do Not Conform.

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Everyone in the business knows this either in these words or a similar version of it. Some people have it as a mantra. Like I do. If I had a tattoo on my right hand, that’s what it would say.

Nevertheless, both in our work and outside of it, it’s easy let ourselves conform. Sometimes because it takes too much energy to go against the flow, sometimes because we think non-conformity should stop at the work we produce, sometimes because we want to hide.

Here’s another mind-shattering conformity experiment in an elevator (which is actually a piece from Candid Camera back in 1962):

Since the first time I saw that, every time I get into the elevator in the morning I am reminded not to conform. It’s a good start for a day of creativity.

That’s the secret: the “Do Not Conform” rule doesn’t only apply to the 30 seconds of our TV spot, it must apply to our attitudes at work and life.

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Conformity is easy to beat, though. I keep saying creativity is deliberate. The same applies to non-conformity: by default we will conform to the status quo without even noticing – so we need to make a conscious effort to recognize the moments when we feel compelled to conform. That way we can make an educated decision about our actions rather than be herded like cattle.

Creativity is non-conforming by definition. It comes from questioning what we might otherwise mindlessly accept. Find a way to remind yourself of our conforming nature, so you can choose to change your opinion or not.

The Creativity Hack:

To beat conformism every day, you can use my elevator trick (specially useful if you work in an office building): every time you step in, remember the Candid Camera experiment from the fifties. And just face whatever direction you wish.