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Are You A Non-Conformist?

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often capitalizeda person who does not conform to an established church especiallyone who does not conform to the Church of England

2a person who does not conform to a generally accepted pattern of thought or action

It is really hard to be a non-conformist.  One of the hard things in spotting a non-conformist is sometimes people just don’t conform in order to draw attention to themselves.  That’s not non-conformity. It’s also more than leading life with George Costanza ethos of thinking one thing and doing the opposite.

Successful entrepreneurs are non-conformists.  By definition.  Successful traders and investors are often non-conformists.  They go against the herd.  People think their ideas, thoughts, and actions are dumb or a waste of time.  Non-conformists aren’t afraid of an argument, or to be disagreeable.  They have rough edges.  They can, and offering spaces to be non-conforming can be very uncomfortable.
I remember a friend I had growing up.  His family was large, and his parents created a culture where non-conformity was embraced.  There were a lot of personalities in the group and I am sure plenty of arguments.  But, if you are going to have a large family you are probably pretty tolerant and the culture of this house was most certainly that.
Conformist societies aren’t tolerant.
Non-conformists open themselves up to ridicule and more importantly, failure.  Not doing what everyone thinks you should be doing is taking a risk.  It’s hard to do.  We love to read and retell the story of the Emporer and his lack of clothing but very few people practice it in daily life.
Of course, if they become successful, everyone wonders why they didn’t think of it first.  If they fail, the same people are the first to ridicule.
Peer pressure and just getting through daily life often makes you conform.  I was emailing with a friend and he noticed differences between the people who lived behind the Iron Curtain for 50 years and others that didn’t.  As he said, let’s just say the ones that did wouldn’t feel comfortable at Burning Man.  Non-conformity can make relationships uncomfortable.
Conformity is often brittle.
I am drawn to non-conformists.  I think that’s why I appreciate people like Economist Thomas Sowell so much.  Watch his videos.  He is non-conforming to any line you draw on the graph.
Being a non-conformist doesn’t mean you are anti-social.  There are simple cultural norms that everyone follows to get through life.  Great non-conformists spot the ones that don’t mean anything and break them.  Intuitively, they just know.
I was reading an article, How Science Lost The Public Trust, in the WSJ about the way science and other institutions have totally lost credibility with the public over the past several years.  It is because they have become so politicized.  I love this quote from the article,
“Conformity,” Mr. Ridley says, “is the enemy of scientific progress, which depends on disagreement and challenge. Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts, as [the physicist Richard] Feynman put it.”
As the article states when you apply feminist principles to glaciers you are in some territory that is not scientific at all.  We have abandoned science in a lot of things these days.  When you are watching the Olympics over the next couple of weeks, check out the male weightlifters competing as females.  That’s not a miracle of science.  It’s a bastardization of science and honest competition.
One of the good things that I took from the University of Chicago was the culture the place has.  It’s non-conformist.  I was a non-conformist before I went there.  Floor traders are decidedly non-conformist.  As John Lothian says, “It was 5000 people in one place who couldn’t be employed by anyone.”Seeing it in action reinforced it for me.  University of Chicago people can be totally weird.  Just a little off the regular orbit.  But, that’s how great ideas get formed.  You don’t get the research of the Chicago Boys without the culture of the university supporting them.  (By the way, internet searches have bastardized the Chicago Boys)
Free market economies thrive on non-conformity.  America allows for non-conformity.  Some might call it individualism or individual rights.  But, non-conformity allows people to create and bring higher standards of living to society.  Of course, this facet of free-market economies also comes with an opportunity cost which is failure.  Failure is never fun.
You can’t “control” non-conformity.  You can’t regulate it.  You can’t put a safety net under it.  Should regulations tell the artist what colors to use or subjects to use when they create?  The funny thing I see today is that the people who think they are non-conformists actually are conformists.  They are in lockstep and totally willing to participate in suppression and end any dissent.
I try to practice non-conformity when I invest but sometimes I screw up and fail.

The post Are You A Non-Conformist? first appeared on Points and Figures.


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