ITHACA, N.Y. — Social misfits, rejoice. You might be more like Steve Jobs, Lady Gaga and Albert Einstein than you realize, if rejection boosts your creativity, reports a new Cornell study.
Being an outcast can lead to heightened creativity — even commercial success, according to research by Lynne Vincent, an ILR visiting lecturer; Sharon Kim, an assistant professor at Johns Hopkins University; and Jack Goncalo, ILR associate professor.
“We show that’s possible … if you have the right way of managing rejection,” Goncalo said. “Feeling different can help you reach creative solutions.”
Unlike people who have a strong need to belong, some socially rejected people shrug off rejection with an attitude of ‘normal people don’t get me and I am meant for something better,’” he said. “Our paper is the first to show how that works.”
The three reached their conclusions after a series of experiments in which rejection was manipulated; participants were told that everyone in the study could choose whom they would work with on a team project and later told “nobody picked them,” Goncalo said.
That kind of exclusion — in the workplace or elsewhere — stimulated creativity for people with an independent sense of self. Goncalo and his colleagues don’t dismiss the negative consequences rejection has on many individuals. But, for some, it has a golden lining, researchers said.
In short, “For the socially rejected, creativity may be the best revenge.”