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From the beginning of life society shapes people to be normal or, in other words, to be just like everyone else. Toby Melville / Reuters
From the beginning of life society shapes people to be normal or, in other words, to be just like everyone else. Toby Melville / Reuters

Don't just follow the pack

The Life: Being "normal" may not be all that it's cracked up to be. Tommy Weir makes a case for being unique in the business world to achieve success.

Being normal may not be all that it is hyped up to be. Although the world conditions us to strive and even be possessed with being normal, this is not the pathway to success, just acceptance.

Businesses and society love the idea of normality because it is the route to minimising market movement and characteristics to the common denominator and forming the concept of mass. Then they can create any kind of mass product, service or solution and increase their profits as normal habits make it easier to plan for, control, understand and respond to.

From the beginning of life society shapes people to be normal or, in other words, to be just like everyone else. The conditioning is ingrained in our daily life. Driving habits are conditioned; we are told to stop at the red light, drive in the lanes. Queue habits are conditioned; we are expected to stand behind the yellow line and wait our turn. Even lift etiquette is conditioned; we are encouraged not to talk while waiting to reach our floor.

Standardised tests are designed to find out who is fit for admission. But, in reality, they discover who does the best on the "normal" score, as the tests feature a particular type of student. For example, in China the state standardised test called "gaokao" rewards very strong memory, logic and analytical ability. Yet where is the focus on imagination, willingness to challenge an idea or the other traits needed for innovation?

Workplace psychometrics are used to find employees who are like the company's desired profile: to find more so-called normal people. Organisations are filled with people who are assessed, recruited and developed to fit with the profile. While there are benefits to this, I wonder how many success stories are passed over, how many better ways of doing something stay on the shelf and how many employees keep their creative and genius ideas inside their mind as the ideas are outside of normal.

Even scientific approaches to gathering information, like focus groups, result in better understanding of normal. Organisations bring together a group of normal people and look for the common views among then. Most times the results from a focus group show what is normal - not what is exceptional.

Should we rely on mass standardisation as the sole route to success?

If you desire to be like everyone else and be accepted then pursue normality. There are benefits of being normal: safety, acceptance and ease of life. But greatness and success are not among them. If you want to be a winner and succeed then you need to break from the pack.

Success, by definition, means not being normal. Winners are outliers from the normal pack. They are in their own separate category, distinct from ordinary people. We immediately identify a champion as someone who is great or who succeeds at being different from the rank and file. We note the distinctions, the rare characteristics of people who are different. There even seems to be a secret admiration for their willingness to break from the pack.

Tommy Weir is an authority on fast-growth and emerging market leadership, author of The CEO Shift and the managing director of the Emerging Markets Leadership Center

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