While this may seem obvious, I sometimes marvel at the sheer prevalence of conventional thinking in communities, organisations, and businesses. Conventional is at the surface, a safe bet. It rarely offends, but great things are almost never squeezed out of conventional thinking. Conventional thinking is like ordering a vanilla ice cream. It’s predictable; you can’t really go wrong with vanilla.
With an unconventional mindset, you’re more likely to order a chocolate chilli ice cream (which is amazing, by the way). Or study two majors at once. Or quit your day job to re-orient your focus on what really matters to you.
There’s a certain risk when it comes to thinking unconventionally, but that’s exactly why it’s unconventional. Unconventional thinking was how Casey Neistat decided to turn the camera around all those years ago, despite people telling him he was too ugly for it. Unconventional thinking was how Gabrielle Chanel ended up tinkering with hats when the fashion scene was obsessed with blouses and skirts. The world of course rewarded them handsomely for this. Legendary ideas come from outside the box.
As of this year, we are a planet of 7.8 billion people. By 2050, it is projected that the world population will reach 9.9 billion. If you haven’t already noticed, the world is full. It is saturated with brilliant minds, creative talent, and proficient orators. Although the pool of talent is getting larger, competition is only getting fiercer and stiffer. Let’s not forget that software and A.I are getting smarter by the day, and they have been replacing human jobs since the advent of the digital revolution. And yet it seems like our conventional thinking roots are only growing deeper.
Humans can be quite creative beings. Do you notice how crazy ideas tend to come when you’re in solitude, having a stroll in nature, or treating yourself into a good warm bath? As individuals, we are equipped to think unconventionally and synthesise novel ideas. But once groupthink sets in, we tend to lose confidence in those ideas, overthink our proposition, and then get sucked back in to the status quo.
Aspiring debutants are essentially given two options before entering an industry’s war zone, to fight their way through the noise — the conventional way — or to escape the mainstream route and try to make their own music. In the real world, this distinguishes the mainstream corporate climbing 9–5 job to the more unshackling dynamics of a flexible, passive-income generating work week.
I’m not saying the mainstream pathway is always bad. Instead, I’m encouraging people to explore all possible avenues before deciding on their vocational dynamics. The conventional 9–5, although is the easier default, is not the only option. One rarely become a millionaire by living life in autopilot. If you’re happy where you are currently in life, then by all means don’t change a thing. The problem is that a lot of people set unrealistic strategies for their goals.
Going unconventional is how new jobs are invented every year. The creators who quit their jobs and decided to pour their resources in the early Youtube days were brushed off as crazy by their friends and families. So were travel bloggers, Indie artists, and garage-started entrepreneurs. It is exactly through the unconventional madness that they were able to make themselves stand out from the crowd and carve a unique and personal niche.
If all this seems overwhelming, a useful place to start is by practising productive downtime. Author of the book $100 Startup Chris Guillebeau wrote a fantastic piece of advice in one of his blog posts.
“If you’re only working 10 productive hours a week but technically have to be on a job site for another 30 hours, why not spend 5–10 hours of the extra time doing something useful instead of just surfing the internet? Ideas: learn a language, write a novel, plan your retirement, whatever.
The practice of productive downtime can lead to the discovery of previously hidden passion and talent. J.K Rowling discovered her passion for writing quite late into her life, after a disastrous marriage and a short career stint as a secretary, translator, and English teacher. She lived off government welfare as she wrote the manuscript for the first Harry Potter book. Of course, that’s how she eventually found her lifelong passion for the craft.
Donald Miller, author of the book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, similarly wrote an inspiring piece of advice that has stuck with me ever since I read it.
“The truth is, if what we choose to do with our lives won’t make a story meaningful, it won’t make a life meaningful either.”
Miller argues in his book that the way to make life meaningful is to write your life like a story. A story needs character development, conflict, and a resolution. No story would work if it were written like a conventional life plan — flat. When we live our lives intentionally, by breaking ourselves free from the shackles of life’s status quo, we begin to write more eloquent stories and in the process live more meaningfully.
Break the rules. Think unconventionally. Disrupt your industry. Break free from the cuffs of conventionalism and discriminate yourself from the crowded sea of talent. Write the book you want to read. Live the story you wish to tell.