Considering the Unconventional


“It is especially important to encourage unorthodox thinking when the situation is critical: At such moments every new word and fresh thought is more precious than gold. Indeed, people must not be deprived the right to think their own thoughts.” ~ Boris Yeltsin

Last week I attended a diverse professional group meeting. Being my first visit, I was invited to rise and tell a bit about myself to this relatively small (>40) group, some of whom I casually knew. I acknowledged that I am a practitioner of the unconventional; a fan, if you will, of unorthodox… defined by as “not conforming to rules, traditions, or modes of conduct, as of doctrine, religion, or philosophy.”

I suggested they consider me not a rebel, but as someone who challenges stagnation in people and society by looking at areas in our lives most in need of repair or rejuvenation and then, deliberately, not doing what the conformist majority is doing. I am simply someone who encourages the use of information, imagination, and interpersonal skills to pursue life in creative ways — that defends choice yet, defies the herd.

Then there was silence. Followed by warm, welcoming applause. πŸ™‚


It has been said that the more often you do something the same way, the more difficult it is to think about doing it any other way. Roger von Oech says “We can break out of this ‘prison of familiarity’ by disrupting our habitual thought patterns. He suggests writing a love poem in the middle of the night. Eat ice cream for breakfast. Visit a junk yard. Take the slow way home. Such jolts to our routines will lead to new ideas.”

Learning happens in unconventional ways. Some of us prefer more traditional systems and methods, while others are open to exploring unorthodox ways in which to play, interact, learn, and grow. Rarely is there only one right or wrong way to do things — unless one is a staunch conformist.


If you’re looking for unconventional ways of viewing what you’ve always been doing, simply use your imagination. Or you can consider any of these three ideas as starters:

  1. Work in the dark. If you’re feeling stifled, try working in a dimmer environment. A study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology has shown that darkness and dim illumination promote creativity. Other experiments discovered that you can gain insight by simply priming yourself with the idea of darkness – even just describing an experience of being in the dark.
  2. Generate provocative statements and then use them to build new ideas. This allows people to explore the nature of perception and how it limits creativity and possibilities. Provocation challenges limitations and can serve as an alternative to judgment. It allows us to develop a provocative idea into somethingΒ viable and realistic.
  3. Re-educate.Β Our future can be seen in the quality of our youngest generation yet the current models of building quality people seem to be falling short. New modalities such as green schooling, homeschooling and even un-schooling children offer hope for something different. With access to unlimited educational resources via the Internet, almost anyone can educate themselves in myriad fields, and so the re-education of individuals is an act of considerable non-conformity.


62 thoughts on “Considering the Unconventional

  1. Great post Eric. Changing it up is an excellent method for generating creativity, I would also suggest that people take more risks and explore new activities that they feel drawn to, If you allow yourself to feel initial awkwardness and infuse your life with people and situations that evoke your curiosity, you are more likely to grow and evolve significantly.

    • Thank you, Linda. I appreciate and concur with your views and suggestions. The actions and interactions you cite certainly contribute to our growth and evolving. So why not simply get comfortable with the “awkwardness?” πŸ™‚

  2. “I suggested they consider me not a rebel, but as someone who combats stagnation in people and society by looking at areas in our lives most in need of repair or rejuvenation and then, deliberately, not doing what the conformist majority is doing.” Wow, what an impactful statement this is! You have an amazing outlook, and I’m going to work on incorporating this into my way of thinking. Best, Karen

  3. Oh, it’s okay if they see the rebel in you, Eric.
    You can bring them to somewhere new, somewhere different, and into something beyond that which they might have done in the old way.
    Keep doing what you’re doing.

    • What you see is what you get. I’ve been practicing this for years, Vincent. And few are going to change this old dog and teach him new tricks/ways. I fully intend to do what I’m doing and appreciate your kind encouragement.

  4. Hi Eric,

    I have been unconventional in many ways, the one suggested by you has been tried by me – giving provocative statements. Though I did so out of immaturity and learnt important lessons but that didn’t dissuade me from repeating, whenever I felt the need! It made me stand out, people noticed my approach but there were many brickbats too, which have never bothered me but I have never thought that being unconventional can make us creative too.

    Most of the times the unconventional thoughts, ideas and actions are scoffed at, discouraged and criticised, that could have probably deterred more people from being unconventional…bringing stagnation in some ways.

    • Brickbats with a grain of salt. πŸ™‚ Having unconventional ideas, actions and thoughts scoffed at is exactly why I do what I do. I often use the expression, “I’m just here to stir your soul.” Provocation is met uncomfortably by some and is welcomed by others. It’s in the receptivity of others that I create awareness and encourage people to reconsider and realign. If people choose to continue to stagnate, that is their choice. Thank you, as always, for sharing your perspectives and experiences.

  5. an art school memory
    notes from
    creative conceptualization class
    plenty of garbage
    single sheet of paper
    fill 34 lines
    repeat 2 more times
    you’ll produce
    2 original ideas

  6. The non-conformists will lead us back to ourselves. I honor your courage to be you, unapologetically. I’m among friends here. Thank you. 😊

    • Thanks, Carrie. While I often use the word honor with clients and their work, I hadn’t thought of honoring my own courage. In fact, I hadn’t previously viewed how I ‘put things out there’ as being courageous. It’s simply me. Perhaps if I started thinking about what I do and how I present/share it, I might turn into a Cowardly Lion. πŸ™‚ Appreciate your adding the “among friends” sentiment.

  7. Right on, brother! I’m with you. Ironically an old song I used to listen to a lot back when I was into punk rock was on the radio yesterday. “I don’t want to waste my time, become another casualty of society. I’ll never fall in line, become another victim of conformity.” Your points here are well received as someone who makes it a point to not just do what everyone else is doing. Have a great weekend!

    • I believe how we educate, especially our younger generation, has to change. Current methods (and subject matter) seem, to me, woefully dated. Any time we have opportunities to expand horizons beyond the mainstream and traditional, we ought to seriously consider how and what benefit it will yield. Glad the post opened an eye or two for you.

  8. Darkness triggering creativity…. interesting. I also have discovered that creativity and inspirations happen more often in the morning… after the body and mind have rested, which makes perfect sense. I get more inspired to write and draw early in the morning. Thanks for sharing. (by the way, Eric, I finished that post you were asking me about, :-))

    • I suspect that creativity and inspiration come to each of us at different times; in different ways. Our muses are not clones. πŸ™‚ Thanks, Noel, for advising that your latest post is up. πŸ™‚

  9. One of the things that irritates me the most is when I hear, “But we always done it this way.” Too me, that absolutely kills moving forward. Sometimes I am a little stagnant, but I try very hard not to be.

    • Some people are creatures of habit and comfort, right Lulu? And for some, that works just fine. But I am aware of many individuals who are open to and ripe for change. It stimulates. It motivates. And it yields new and interesting perspectives. Here’s to your acknowledging your periodic stagnation, but more importantly, your willingness to work to not be! All the best with that effort.

  10. It seems, even in my earliest memories, if I saw a group of people doing something then I wanted to do something different. Of course this didn’t go over well in school where we were expected to be the same and think the same, but it was the 70s and change was in the air. I didn’t want to be someone else’s idea of who I should be-I wanted to be me.
    Non conformity can be a hard row to hoe at times, but the freedom in it makes it worth the effort.

    • Interesting reflection. Growing up, I sought little more than to follow and fit in with the crowd. Thinking back, I cannot pinpoint when or where I became who I am today. Maybe it was years of parochial schooling, social expectations, and work-related conditioning that awakened me to ‘another way.’ When I consider this, I’m fairly certain that my purpose has much to do with being a non-conformist, as challenging as that row may be to hoe – at times. To your comment, it’s worth the effort. πŸ™‚ Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  11. Great post Eric! I’ll mull on the idea of creating something new and viable from a provocative statement…interesting. I already know from experience that working in a dim environment helps the creative flow. I’m a night owl πŸ™‚

    • When I initially share the word ‘provocative’ with people, I find (oddly) that they often associate it with stunning or offensive. It need not be at all. Simply inviting thought in a different way is another form of creativity. Predictable, in some settings, can be stale. I’m encouraged that you will mull the idea of a provocative statement to stimulate thought and/or conversation. πŸ™‚ Oh, night owl here, too.

  12. Yell Rebel Yell! I love seeing the rebel in you Eric, as I have commented previously! Your post reminded me of ideas of “Crazy Wisdom” or those tactics that help us get out of our own way. Any “symmetry break” can give us that fresh perspective you speak to so beautifully here. And I always love the practicality of your lists, thank you. I always like a little physical exercise to clear the brain and generate new ideas when I get stuck. πŸ˜‰

    • I’m wondering if there’s a David Bowie song in your opening sentence? πŸ™‚ I’d not previously thought of some of my messages as “Crazy Wisdom” but I’m going to accept the reference as a compliment. And maybe even use the apt term going forward. Thanks much for creating time to read and comment. I value the depth of you and your thoughtful perspectives/comments. Thanks, Amanda.

  13. Eric, this is a great post and the implications affect almost every sphere of human activity. At a very fundamental level, those of us who learn to adapt, either personally or institutionally, to unexpected changes and the natural disorder of the universe, will survive longer than those of us who are rigid and remain locked into accustomed ways of doing things. We have to learn to thrive on change and disorder and what better way of doing this than by inviting it into our lives.

    • Agreed, Malcolm, though there are many people who are hesitant (if not outright opposed) to extending the practical invitation you reference. Thanks for acknowledging the post as we are of like mind. Adaptation… isn’t that somewhat of a marker for our species? Change need not be chaotic to be effective and meaningful. It need only be comfortably, even incrementally, embraced. Here’s to we who thrive and others who are interested in joining us.

  14. Love it Eric if we are not challenging ourselves life can get a little dull. I like to think I will be still learning new skills way into my sixties, seventies if I get the chance. I read somewhere that we should use the skill and talent that we acquire through life but also whatever inspires us to learn new skills the things that scare us a little.

    • So if we posed the question: “Who wants dull?” to a mixed group, I’m thinking there’d be few who would raise their hands in the affirmative. So much of life *is* about learning and experiencing. I’m right there with you, Kath, desiring to hone my knowledge, skills, and awareness well in life’s Third Act. Here’s to our inspiring others as we are inspired by them!

  15. Very good advice, Eric, as always. Thank you so much for sharing with us.
    No, I was never a rebellious person. But not I liked the spirit of the flock.
    I made my own way through the crowd and ” I gathered only flowers of everywhere ” .
    Have a wonderful day, Eric and happiness! πŸ™‚

    • It’s my pleasure to share these perspectives, Stefania. Thank you for reading and commenting. I like the image of you making your own way while gathering flowers. That seems very “you.” πŸ™‚ Much happiness returned your way.

  16. I am a non-conformist, although I have joined and led groups. In my professional life, I did better at some schools than others. I ‘fit’ into the staff better when I was in an elementary building or my last 9 years of preschool special ed., than the few years I was a sixth grade teacher within a middle school. The multiple grades in elementary embraced me, but somehow, maybe I cannot ‘blame’ middle school or the staff, per se, but I just enjoyed my sixth graders while they were the ‘top’ of the elementary and not the bottom of the middle school. I think it is important not to let our minds get stagnant, Eric, and was so glad you were greeted with a positive response, warm and welcoming to your comments to the small group. I like that you encourage ‘free thought’ and hope I do not offend you, when I respond frankly back… smiles!

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts and your relevant, personal experiences Robin. I think each of us “fits” differently. The same would, to me, be boring. We agree on the need to not allow our minds to become stagnant. To me, how we choose to keep our minds stimulated is less important than the fact that we are making conscious, constructive efforts to change.

      I find nothing “offensive” in your kind comments. And even if I did, Robin, this is a community in which we express and invite others perspectives and opinions. πŸ™‚ Frank is good.

  17. Another fabulous post… It seems sometimes I can get lost in contradiction ~ as for me, and I think for every person on earth, there has to be routine; some familiarity that creates comfort in a day/week/month/year. However, getting too settled into a routine is almost a death sentence, as getting into a rut suffocates and starves the mind of a life that requires change (and evolution so to speak)…without anything new life can become simply a depressing series of routine.

    There have been so many studies reflecting the necessity of change, yet it also being one of the greatest fears people have. Your insight here makes it clear (at least to me) that by inviting the unconventional creates new thoughts, habits and acts as a force moving us ahead… It is dipping your toe in the water, and then next time the feet and before you know it ~ you’re swimming in change, yet still holding onto routines that bring us security (e.g., family, friends, work, etc…). Excellent writing & ideas.

    • “…before you know it ~ you’re swimming in change,…” I like your induction to change process, Randall. There is a mix of routine and change that is uniquely comfortable for each of us. The challenge is in consciously and intentionally initiating change. To your apt perspective, we grow to easily comfortable with routine. Change *can* be accompanied by fear yet once people realize that fears rarely materialize, they’re left with either more routine or little excuse to not pursue change — and the possibilities that change manifests. You’ve summed the essence nicely. Thanks and enjoy your swim!

  18. Very interesting Eric. I have recently “given myself permission” to not have to do things like I have always done them. It’s not that I’m a conformist as much as I am a creature of habit. I have noticed the change in mood just by driving home a different way, or stopping to do something I don’t normally do. It is uplifting and freeing. And there’s nothing dramatic in the doing of it. Very interesting!!!

    • Glad you highlighted the distinction between a conformist and a creature of habit, Colleen. They are, indeed, different. The fact that you’ve experienced change in moods by doing things unconventionally and that the accompanying feeling is uplifting and freeing, is testimony to the fact that it “doesn’t bite” and it works. πŸ™‚ The less drama the better off we and our desired outcomes will be.

  19. Thanks Eric. Love the idea of eating ice cream for breakfast, visiting a junk yard, taking the long way home – I can do ALL of these as well as the three suggestions you make. As you said it’s just a mind shift, think I’ll try some of these (although I’m trying to limit my sugar) πŸ™‚

    • Our minds are amazing beyond our comprehension, Jer. Simple shifts can and do yield all kinds of change, including perspecitves. Here’s to your ice cream sandwich for breakfast. πŸ™‚ (It would likely be more nutritious than a McDonald’s breakfast sandwich).

  20. I was suffering through a bad case of writer’s block last week that had been going on for months and then I did the silliest thing… I went somewhere else to write and the words all came to fruition. You are so right. Thanks Eric for the additional tips. πŸ™‚

  21. Love the little kid at the end of your post. He’s got the right idea!
    When we first moved here to our new home and region three years ago, I tried as many new ways to get anywhere as I could. A road became attractive by virtue of my never having driven down it before.
    I don’t do that anymore, because – — well, because after all, I live here now, and I know how to get most everywhere. Familiarity has bred ease. And convenience. I think maybe it’s time to shake things up again! Thanks for the post.

    • You are welcome.
      That’s how I learned to use hashi. πŸ™‚
      Ahhh, the “familiarity bred ease” recognition. Coupled with convenience. You’ve caught yourself!
      Here’s to your again shaking things up. πŸ™‚

    • You’re back. πŸ™‚ I’ll have to toggle over to see what’s new in your (blog) world. Thank you for sharing the post with your readers. And more importantly, have a wonder filled Thanksgiving!

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