A number of items in the last few days highlighted hot topics that probably fit in the category of “how different we all are.”
They help us understand how differently people can view situations and help us appreciate the value of having different personalities on teams and in our organizations. They also suggest how people can be helped or can learn to get along.
In no particular order I was struck by a press release for a new John Hopkins study on Social Rejection and Creativity under the title “Don’t Get Mad, Get Creative.” The release adds an interesting comment: “We’re seeing in society a growing concern about the negative consequences of social rejection, thanks largely to media reports about bullying that occurs at school, in the workplace, and online..” This rings true, but the work adds a different sidelight.
Bullying emerges in many forms, but one clearly is that the victim feels rejected and others are encouraged to reject them further. Yet the Hopkins study points out that many highly creative individuals uncorked their creativity exactly because they felt rejected in one way or another by all or parts of society, family or their fellows.
Some people, as the study says, actually come to thrive on rejection. For them it is a confirmation of how different they are than others (and often, in their minds, better).They value being different and build on it to produce unusual ideas and products. You might even put Steve Jobs in this category. The study thankfully is careful to say this doesn’t make bullying a good thing, but then we don’t have to worry that it will ever completely disappear given that surveys repeatedly show far more than 50% of workers, students, everyone, has at one time or another been subjected to attempts at bullying and that it can take so many forms that it’s difficult to imagine we could stamp them all out. So – no fear we’ll end up less creative as a result of efforts to stop bullies.
Frankly I can identify with the study since I’ve always felt different from a very early age, yet I was never really bothered by being called ‘four eyes’ (for being the first in grade school with hefty glasses) or ‘skinny’ (today almost hard to believe that was ever an insult). I positively enjoyed being ‘the brain’ while those calling me that apparently thought it meant a bad thing (long before ‘geek’ was popular or appreciated). I’m hugely pleased to see my fellow geeks have come a long way toward being accepted, at least enough to joke about the term themselves even though it still implies social ineptness and being somewhat shunned by the all-important opposite sex. Actually once I used my brain to manage my painful shyness, I didn’t do too badly, perhaps showing some creativity in overcoming those hurdles.
All this answered the subject line of another email: Does it pay to be too shy? It goes on: Is it possible to get what you want if you’re too shy to ask? Well, looking back, I’d say yes and no. Being shy meant I grew to know what I really wanted (which isn’t always as easy to figure out as it sounds). When I began cursing myself for being too shy, I knew I wanted to change and to learn how to change, which set me on a career path I couldn’t imagine then. I started working out creative solutions that eventually helped me over the shyness much more than I’d ever dreamed. Oddly this arrived in an email ad for learning public speaking, which is still my on-going hobby.
The other item that caught my eye pointed to an HR Reporter article about a Right Management survey showing the most important factor employees look for in a new job is to avoid bad leaders (51% – it should be 100%). By itself perhaps this is not news since we often remind ourselves people leave jobs because of bad bosses more than any other single factor, so of course they’d look for good ones next time around. I tell job search audiences they should interview their prospective bosses as intensely as the company interviews them because a boss who supports and encourages you is worth his or her weight in gold. directly in your future pay cheques.
What also stood out to me, but buried further on was the fact that ‘avoiding greater work stress’ was very much further down the list of employee wants (16%). Given that surveys abound showing employees complain of stress usually at the rate of 30% to 50% and that it almost always turns up in the top 3 factors employees look for in job or feel made them leave, I have to wonder if this is just an anomaly. But perhaps we aren’t quite so prone to worry about stress itself as we are about bad leaders who make stress unbearable, who show no understanding, respect or concern for it in their teams.
Maybe, just maybe, like bullying, it isn’t always the factors and words in the particular situations themselves, but the lack of caring and understanding that means the situations will continue to be intolerable for the foreseeable future. Perhaps there’s hope that if we can get bullies to see the effects they create and, dare we say, apologize, the situations aren’t so hopeless after all. People are resilient as well as creative. They find alternate ways to explain situations and they can deal with things if the future seems likely to be better.