On Being A Creative Outlier

First, let’s begin with what does it mean to be an outlier, and before that, what is an outlier?  There are billions of individuals on this planet, and surely we are not all the same. Some are tall, and some are short. Some are rich, and some are poor. And some are creative, and some are less so.  And perhaps everyone is born creative, but society beats it out of most of us. We can not blame society and its institutions for this, as decision-makers have a primary responsibility to accommodate the majority. 

A brief, extremely lightweight statistical digression. 

We have all heard of the concept of a bell curve (or normal distribution of standard deviation).

This perfectly symmetrical statistical distribution represents the amount of variation in a set of values.

68% of humanity lives with one standard deviation of variation (also called one sigma).  95% within two and 99.7% live within three standard deviations.

Decision-makers are fairly happy if they can successfully serve 68% of humanity, and they are extremely happy if they can serve 95%. No one ever expects to satisfy the three standard deviation crowd of 99.7%.

Probably the majority of you are in the 5% beyond 2 standard deviations when it comes to curiosity and creativity, and this can get you in trouble because you are among the roughly 1 in 20 who are outliers who do not see the world from the same point of view as those firmly ensconced in the middle of the bell curve.

If you are three standard deviations away from the mean (or average), then you are roughly 3 out of a thousand people, and you have bigger problems because there is a pretty chance that many of the things and ideas that excite you may not even be visible or noticeable or understood by the mainstream.

This means every time you attempt to communicate what you are excited about, there is a reasonable chance you will be misunderstood. 

Welcome to the world of the creative outlier. These people may live more in possibilities than in probabilities which tends to get one in trouble with decision-makers whose responsibility may be to take care of the 68% majority in the center of the bell curve.

Assuming you still like being creative and would like to monetize this double-sided attribute sustainably, then it is time to become an innovator.  I define innovation as applied insight.  If a creative insight is never applied, then it is not an innovation. If you apply something that is not an insight, that too is not innovation. 

Being an innovator probably places you three standard deviations out of the mean, which means you have a couple of chances out of a thousand to be average, and with this comes both danger and opportunity, the two sides of crisis.  

Of course, almost every incredible success story has to do with getting on the opportunity side of a crisis. There is, however, risk involved, and this is something that decision-makers do not usually respond to favorably. This is why creativity is usually not a predictor of a smooth, simple, or routine life.

There are many ways to navigate the path of a creative outlier toward becoming an innovator, and some are decidedly more likely to yield better outcomes. This is a large part of the reason SVII was founded in Silicon Valley on June 16, 2005, where there were and still are an unusual number of three sigma people. And it is also why SVIII, the new international and virtual version of SVII, is in the process of coming into being now seventeen years later.