In this age, the mere example of non-conformity, the mere refusal to bend the knee to custom, is itself a service. Precisely because the tyranny of opinion is such as to make eccentricity a reproach, it is desirable, in order to break through that tyranny, that people should be eccentric. Eccentricity has always abounded when and where strength of character has abounded; and the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigour, and moral courage which it contained. That so few now dare to be eccentric, marks the chief danger of the time.
Sorry about that. I imagine a lot of you didn’t get past that first paragraph. Don’t blame me. Blame philosopher, political theorist and proto-feminist John Stuart Mill for those are his words. For those of you prefer the 21st century tl:dr to the 19th century prose I’ll highlight the bit that stands out for me - the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mental vigour, and moral courage which it contained.
We live in a time when it is easier than ever to be unique yet at the same time we are constrained by that liberty. Twitter, TikTok, Instagram… so many ways to express your individuality, but each one comes with its own levels of judgement and is subjected to the tyranny of opinion. Nothing, it seems, can be said without the comments becoming a battleground of polarised views.
In a business context there are plenty of examples of organisations trying to foster a culture of imaginative thinking, but, in so many cases, this encouragement to be unorthodox extends only to the point where actually unorthodoxy begins.
To be eccentric, to have a stance that goes against the prevailing currents, is at best a quirk and at worst something that will ostracise you from the mainstream prevailing beliefs. This attitude is frequently seen when organisations plan events or conferences. There is a recurring theme that we have encountered many times when people state that they want something different for their company away day, but, within that desire for something unusual they still want the 50-minute presentation by the CEO, the corporate strategy overview, and, like an afterthought, “a fun team-building exercise in the afternoon”.
We are firmly of the belief that even though most people know that their planned day is going to be spirit-crushingly boring it will provide the comfort of predictability in its boringness. You know what you’re going to get. In that respect it’s like a margarita pizza. You’re not going to talk about it afterwards but at least you won’t polarise opinion as you would if it had pineapple on it.
Talking about things is always more engaging than being told about things, but, if you allow people complete freedom of thought and opinion you run the risk of dangerous ideas being voiced. Lots of organisations don’t like that, even if their (often worthless) company values claim that they do.
Del Close, improv pioneer said “if we treat each other as if we are geniuses, poets and artists we have a better chance of becoming that on stage”.
We suggest that if you want a truly imaginative, collaborative, innovative culture you have to make space for, and not be quick to judge eccentricity wherever and whenever it appears. Be brave, be open and see where you go.
Oh, and if you need any help with that...we'd love to be there on your journey. Just drop us a message.
Colour; Noun (Vicky Holding and Howard Karloff)