Why every team needs a CD – a Creative Deviant that is…

The start of the New Year and inevitable talk of goal setting. Maybe you’re looking to up the ante on your personal creativity, chase down that Cannes Lion or innovate in your sector.

But in terms of this year’s appraisal you’re probably expected to conform to the company rules and standards, perhaps adhere to ‘best practice’, and not go around upsetting the apple cart.

And there’s the rub if you want to be creative. The desire to change the status quo and taking the risks to make it happen are two characteristics common to innovators according to LSE researchers. But when was the last time you were rewarded for doing either of these things? These behaviours have negative (potentially even career-limiting) connotations but are essential to get comfortable with if creativity is to thrive.

Successful creative people often go against the grain; they question everything and have no problem arguing a different point of view. The creative deviants’ role it is to deliberately ask the difficult, provocative and challenging questions. I’m not talking about dissing ideas for the sake of it or kyboshing a situation out of malice but practicing openness to ideas, which is a prerequisite for creativity.

Much has been written recently about the ‘echo chamber’ and confirmation bias and it does take effort to seek out new information. But it’s worth it: both your personal and organizational creativity will improve if you widen the frame of reference.

So-called ‘comfortable clone syndrome’ is creativity’s foe; where we hire people who like us and think like us because we dislike conflict. But the price is a sea of mediocrity. A little deliberate creative deviancy provides diversity of thought and will mix things up. It’ll stop your ideas from becoming safe and obvious. It’ll make others in the team fight harder to defend their best (and worst) ideas.

I know from experience that (publicly) disagreeing with the boss can be difficult (I left a job when the butting of heads became just too exhausting for both of us) but at least I know that I wasn’t simply a yes-woman. And just occasionally it influenced creative decisions that were made for the better. But creative deviants don’t fare well if fear is part of the culture.

You don’t have to be a troublemaker or look to hire a hard-to-manage maverick. Just add a little deliberate dissent into your creative process. It doesn’t have to be the same person – just make sure that someone’s job in your next brainstorm is to pick the exact opposite point of view, particularly when everyone has really rallied around an idea. Adding deviant thinking to this year’s PDP might just help your ideas to deviate from the norm.

This article first appeared in PR Week in January 2017.

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