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Are You Unconventional Enough in Your Thinking?

Unconventional thinking from unconventional individuals is the lifeblood of innovation. They are the people who see things in a new way, and because of this, they often come up with truly unconventional ideas. Ideas that conventional thinkers would never think of. And while it’s true that many uncon

Phil McKinney
Phil McKinney
7 min read
A picture of fish being an unconventional thinker
Unconventional thinkers are willing to go against the norm.

Unconventional thinking from unconventional individuals is the lifeblood of innovation.

They are the people who see things in a new way, and because of this, they often come up with truly unconventional ideas. Ideas that conventional thinkers would never think of. And while it's true that many unconventional individuals do not have formal training in science or engineering, that doesn't mean they can't be just as successful as those who do. In fact, unconventional thinkers created some of the most profound unconventional ideas of all time.

So what makes someone an unconventional thinker? In a nutshell, it's their ability to see the world differently with what I call an investigative lens. They're not afraid to challenge the status quo, and they're always looking for new and innovative ways to find creative solutions. Unconventional individuals are very passionate about their work, and they're not afraid to take significant risk.

Some may view them as rebels who are shaking up the status quo. Others may view them as a disruptive force that can be difficult to work with. However, most people would likely agree that unconventional thinkers are highly valuable in today's fast-paced, constantly changing world.

Unconventional Ideas Beyond Science and Engineering

Unconventional thinking is not just unconventional science or unconventional engineering. It can be unconventional business practice, unconventional political activity, unconventional teaching techniques, unconventional management styles, unconventional art-making techniques, or anything else that is outside conventional thinking. To be unconventional is to go against what most people consider the mainstream or established way of doing things.

While individuals are unconventional in certain areas, they may not be unconventional in others. For example, they might be unconventional about their political views. However, they may only think conventionally when it comes to making art or teaching students. Unconventional individuals are not necessarily unconventional across all areas of their life.

Albert Einstein as an unconventional thinker

For example, Einstein was unconventional in his thinking about what he thought the universe looked like and how it worked. But he was very conventional in terms of his ordinary day-to-day behavior. His unconventional ideas showed him thought unconventionally. Yet, when it came to his political views and how he dressed, Einstein was really quite conventional.

Innovation From Unexpected Conclusions

The ability to see beyond what most people see is one of the primary reasons unconventional thinkers are so successful. They see things that other people don't notice and then draw unexpected conclusions and ideas from them. They succeed by readily transforming any sort of knowledge, information, or data into their unique thinking style.

Unconventional thinkers such as Henry Ford could mix an unconventional view of people with unusual thinking to innovate ideas for items, services, procedures, and business models. For example, his nonconventional understanding of people led him to realize that the hard work of pulling heavy wagons injured or killed most horses. This unconventional observation inspired him to develop the automobile.

Unconventional Thinking and Society

Most people in society are conformists. They do what we expect of them and they behave in the same way as everyone else. This is not surprising, since most people want to fit in and feel accepted by their peers. But there are rebels who do not conform to societal norms, and these are the people who change the world for the better.

Unconventional thinkers see society as a whole and they think about what is best for everyone. They do not consider only themselves. Unconventional thinkers don't follow an ideology that creates its own set of rules.

They do what they want, but they will often obey the laws that society has developed to keep people safe and to maintain order. Unconventional thinkers are aware of societal norms, but they may choose to ignore them or develop new ones if they feel these norms are no longer beneficial.

Unconventional thinkers will challenge societal rules to solve social problems. One example is the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa during the 1950s and 1960s, which challenged a series of laws designed to separate black Africans from white Africans. The unconventional thinkers, like Nelson Mandela and Albert Lutuli, successfully changed society so that people of all races could live together.

Recruiting Unconventional Thinkers

We find unconventional thinkers in every profession and at every level of society. However, conventional science or engineering backgrounds may not always provide enough unconventional thought because these fields emphasize traditional thinking over uniqueness. As a result, it is important to know where to find unconventional thinkers that will bring creative ideas from which you can benefit from their unique perspectives on life and work.

But how do you identify them?

Unconventional attitudes and unconventional actions can be used to identify unconventional thinkers.

Unconventional Attitude

An unconventional way of thinking, behaving, or acting goes against society's conventional expectations. It may include unconventional dress, unconventional leisure activities, or unconventional thinking patterns.

How can you find them?

If you want someone with an unconventional attitude on your team, it's up to you to search them out and make sure that they know about the opportunity before another company beats you to it!

Unconventional Actions

There is a fine line between being an unconventional thinker and being labeled as a rebel or outcast. Here are four unconventional actions that can help you recognize an unconventional thinker.

Think outside the box.

Unconventional thinking is the ability to imagine new possibilities and solve complex problems that have eluded other people. Being unconventional is an essential element in doing original work or creating original ideas. This is the critical resource every organization is in search of. 

  1. Do something that scares conventional thinkers.

Taking risks and being nonconventional can be scary, but it's also how an unconventional thinker grows. Some examples of this include wearing unconventional clothes, taking unconventional pictures, or eating unconventional food. Where could you go to observe unconventional thinkers?

  1. Seek unconventional mentors.

Just as conventional wisdom guides conventional thinkers, unconventional wisdom guides unconventional thinkers. This is why unconventional thinkers seek out and have unconventional mentors who can give them advice and encouragement, and share with them the skills they've learned along the unconventional path.

Find unconventional mentors to identify the unconventional thinkers for your organization.

  1. Pursue unconventional passions and activities.

Following unconventional passions and pursuing unconventional activities is a great way to learn unconventional lessons and gain unconventional wisdom, which can then be applied to unconventional problems! While it might be unconventional, they are not afraid to try new things or walk their own path. This is what makes them unconventional thinkers.

The unconventional wisdom you gain by following unconventional passions and working on unconventional activities can lead to even more unconventional ideas.

Go where unconventional thinkers go to have unconventional experiences.

How to become an unconventional thinker yourself

Few people are actually unconventional thinkers because there are bad habits they learn as they grow up which crush the creative pathways in the brain. Like all bad habits, you can break them if you're willing to work at it.

Here are eight of those very worst bad habits that could hold you back every day.

Assuming the worst.

Unconventional thinkers perceive reality as it actually is, not as others would have them believe. Most people who delude themselves into thinking that the world owes them something and that if nothing goes their way today, life itself must be horribly unjust.

  1. Being indecisive.

An unconventional thinker is always making decisions because they are always taking action. The unconventional thinker knows that what they do not do is as powerful a decision to make as what they actually decide to do.

  1. Being afraid of failure.

Of all the bad habits unconventional thinkers have, this is probably the worst one of all. It makes us hide our unconventional thinking from the world of conventional thinking. They rationalize it by convincing them that it's all right because why should unconventional thinkers care about what regular people think, anyway?

  1. Being a follower.

Unconventional thinkers follow no one, ever.

  1. Worrying about being judged by others.

Unconventional thinkers do not worry about what other people think of them or what they are doing. Unconventional thinkers worry about making a difference in the world and if some people don't get it today, then unconventional thinkers know there will be plenty who will tomorrow.

  1. Being too afraid to fail.

  2. Taking themselves too seriously.

Unconventional thinkers don't take themselves seriously. They know that their unconventional thoughts won't change the world overnight and if unconventional thinkers want to make a difference, then unconventional thinking is not enough; you also need an unconventional idea or disruptive product which brings unconventional thinking into the realm of unconventional possibilities.

  1. Being too serious to take risks.

Unconventional thinkers know that making mistakes, failing, and losing along the way are all part of their special recipe for unconventional success, because it is through that experience they find out what works and what doesn't.

Avoid Conventional Thinking

When everyone conforms to the norm — creativity and innovation die. Society becomes stagnant and people become unhappy. When conventional thinking dominates, society cannot make the progress it needs to make. Society needs unconventional individuals to try new ideas and come up with ways of doing things that nobody has ever thought of before.

Becoming an unconventional thinker is possible for anyone who is willing to work on it! We have outlined eight bad habits that are common among people who do not think creatively. If you can break these bad habits, you will be well on your way to becoming an unconventional thinker.

Remember, unconventional thinkers see reality for what it really is, and they take action. So don't be afraid to try new things and challenge the status quo—you may be surprised by what you can accomplish.

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Phil McKinney Twitter

Phil McKinney is an innovator, podcaster, author, and speaker. He is the retired CTO of HP. Phil's book, Beyond The Obvious, shares his expertise and lessons learned on innovation and creativity.


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