Pen in hand, a blank page in front of you, a mind plagued by a lack of ideas. As the teacher stands in the front of the classroom, encouraging you to dig deep into your imagination and create a story worth reading, you hear the words: “Think differently. Think out of the box.”
You’ve heard these words, but what do they mean?
Thinking differently is confused with thinking outrageously. It's viewed as the search for absurd ideas. There is a degree of thinking differently when adopting this approach, but this is not what thinking differently entails.
A conversation with an autistic child allowed me to appreciate what thinking differently actually means. People on the autism spectrum are the ultimate alternative thinkers, and this encounter made me appreciate the art of thinking differently. A simple conversation was enough to realise that he sees the world differently to everyone else. This unique perspective is the source of his unique thoughts and creativity.
Communication is often troublesome for people on the spectrum, yet their ability to think differently is the reason that they’re often so adept at communicating through creativity. It appears as if they see the world through a different set of lenses. These lenses unlock a new range of beauty, insights and thoughts.
Thinking differently is about having a unique outlook on life, one that doesn't have to make sense to anybody, but you.
The Silicon Valley Phenomenon
”There’s a strange phenomenon in Silicon Valley where large levels of successful founders seem to have Asperger’s. You can turn that around as an indictment of society. What is it about society where if you don’t have Asperger’s, you’re talked out of ideas before they’re fully formed?” — Peter Thiel, Co-Founder of PayPal.
Society encourages people who have a unique perspective to conform. Conform to a set of conventional beliefs and ideas that are adopted by the majority. Conform, or risk being ridiculed. There's an enormous problem with this.
Conformity does not breed greatness. It does not inspire people and it doesn’t improve the world. Conformity is a ceiling which seeks to limit the unique ideas and creativity of individuals. Thinking differently, combined with the conviction to stick to your ideas, breaks the shackles of conformity and results in people realising their potential. More importantly, it provides a platform for others to do the same.
The world would be a very different place if everybody fell into the trap of conformity. You wouldn't have sipped on your coffee this morning, after various schools of thought tried to prohibit the making of coffee in the 1500s, claiming it induced drunkenness and caused common diseases. You also wouldn't be able to get into your car and drive wherever you want, after Henry Ford was told on multiple occasions that there is no place in this world for affordable motor vehicles. If you're a 'Harry Potter' fan, be grateful that J.K Rowling was able to stick to her ideas, even after the 'Harry Potter' manuscript was rejected 12 times.
These people were continuously encouraged to conform. Continuously encouraged to forget about what they were doing and fit into the mould that society had set aside for them. Thankfully, they did not. Imagine the state of the world were there more creators and inventors with the conviction to follow through with their different ideas.
The Bottom Line
Thinking differently is not rare. People with the conviction to follow through on their unique ideas are rare. They’re the ones who create, inspire and drive progress. The world does not need more people to think differently, it needs more people to stop trying to force others into conformity.