Doing Things Differently - The Practical Non-Conformist
17 August 2009
“You’re only given a little spark of madness. You mustn’t lose it.” – Robin Williams
As children, almost everyone learns how to tie their shoes using the “Standard Knot,” which is pictured above on the left.
If you want to keep your shoes tied, the Standard Knot is absolutely horrible. Growing up, I remember re-tying my shoes at least every 10 minutes. Playground minutes were precious, and this knot squandered them mercilessly. Even double-knotting didn’t help.
Believe it or not, there’s a better way to tie your shoes. After years of study and experimentation, Ian Fieggen created Ian’s Secure Shoelace Knot, (pictured above) a knot that is designed to be both secure and easy to tie. In the five years I’ve been tying my shoes with Ian’s Secure Knot, my shoes have never come untied. Not once.
I don’t know of anyone who likes the Standard Knot – the problems are well known. If that’s the case, why do so many people still tie their shoes this way if there’s a better alternative, and why is it the standard knot being taught to the next generation of young shoe-tying children?
There are two reasons: social proof and inertia.
Being a Non-Conformist is Difficult
Social proof is a powerful force – it’s easiest to do what everyone else is doing. Think of how uncomfortable it is to go to a business or social event and realize that you’re underdressed for the occasion, or how hard it is to remain waiting on the sidewalk at a crosswalk when everyone else starts walking, even if the light hasn’t changed. No one wants to be the weird one, even if doing things differently is demonstrably better.
Inertia is the effort it takes to learn something new and stop doing things the old way. Typing using a Dvorak keyboard layout may be more efficient than the standard QWERTY layout (which was created with the specific intent of slowing typists down so the typewriter keys wouldn’t jam), but how many of us have taken the time to remap our keyboard keys and suffer through a few weeks of re-mapping our brain? Not many, including me.
Social proof and inertia are powerful forces that prevent us from changing things, even if the new way is better. The reason more people haven’t adopted Ian’s Secure Knot is that it’s easier to complain about the old way than to learn how to do it differently.
How to Buck the System
Here’s a summary of a few common societal expectations:
- Graduate from high school.
- Go to college.
- Get a job working for someone else.
- Get married / buy a house / have kids.
- Work 40+ hours a week, 50-weeks a year.
- Climb the corporate ladder as high as you can.
- Retire when you’re 60-ish and don’t work at all.
Each of these items carries the weight of decades of social proof and inertia. Even if you don’t want to do them or know a better way, you’ll feel implicit and explicit pressure from other people to conform to the standard. How, then, do you muster the strength to “take the road less travelled?”
Simple: you practice. Think of it like non-conformist strength training. The purpose is to build up your non-conforming “escape velocity” to the point that you’re capable of breaking free of social gravity.
Start with the small things, like tying your shoelaces. Move up to something bigger, like learning Dvorak or working at a standing desk instead of sitting down. By the time you’re ready to quit your job and backpack around Asia for a year, it’ll be easier to resist the social proof and inertia you’ll inevitably experience.
Walking With Frog Feet
In a previous post, I mentioned running around New York City in barefoot shoes. They look funny, and people notice and talk.
Some people think the shoes are weird, and they tell me so. Others think they’re cool, and they tell me so. What others think about them doesn’t really concern me – all I know is that wearing them has helped me learn that doing things differently is not only possible… it’s downright fun.
What do you want to do differently? What’s holding you back?
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