In today’s Academic Minute, Dr. Sharon Kim of the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School explains the psychological response that often turns social outsiders into successful entrepreneurs.
Sharon Kim is an assistant professor of business at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. Her expertise is in the areas of individual and group creativity in organizations. He holds a Ph.D. in organizational behavior from Cornell University.
Dr. Sharon Kim – Social Outsiders and Entrepreneurship
Over the years academic research has consistently demonstrated the negative consequences of social rejection. Rejection inhibits people’s cognitive ability, especially for those who value being part of a group.
But I -- along with my colleagues Lynne Vincent and Jack Goncalo of Cornell University -- wondered whether, under certain circumstances, social rejection could actually increase creativity. There seemed to be plenty of anecdotal support for this theory. Everyone from Steve Jobs to Lady Gaga has spoken of rejection as fuel for their creative endeavors. Our hypothesis was that for people who have a strong sense of their own independence, social rejection might spark imaginative thinking.
In a series of three experiments, we measured people's creative abilities using two different, standardized tasks after they had been rejected by a group. What we found is that participants who were more independently-minded, performed more creatively compared to their counterparts who had been included in the group and/or were more interdependent.
Our results show that social rejection can be a form of validation for people who already feel separate from the crowd. Rejection confirms for these individuals what they tend to feel about themselves – that they’re not like others. Our theory is that this distinction disinhibits people from worrying about what others think, therefore allowing them to produce more creative outcomes.
Our study has practical implications for business, given the strong desire expressed by many leaders to employ imaginative thinkers who can maximize creativity. Rather than reject the job candidate who doesn't appear to fit the traditional mold, a company might want to take a second look at someone whose unconventional traits or experiences could make him or her a valuable asset to the organization.
In the long term, the independent person might even be said to thrive on rejection. While repeated snubs would discourage someone who longs for inclusion, such slights could continually recharge the creativity of an independent person. The latter type could see a successful career trajectory, in contrast to the person who is inhibited by social rejection.
By determining that social rejection can indeed inspire imaginative thinking, we found that it’s not just in movies where nerds get their revenge.