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Nobody is Born to Blend In
by John P. Weiss
In 2015 the German automaker Volkswagen was found to be rigging diesel-powered vehicles to cheat on government emissions tests.
Volkswagen engineers secretly installed defeat devices because their diesel models couldn’t pass US emissions tests. Specifically, the engineers programmed the diesel engines to activate their emissions controls only during laboratory emissions testing, thus allowing the engines to meet US standards during regulatory testing.
A past Wall Street Journal article reported the following:
"Michael Horn, head of Volkswagen Group of America, said during a congressional hearing on Thursday that he believed “a couple of software engineers” were responsible for software that allowed nearly a half million diesel-powered cars sold in the U.S. since 2008 to dupe emissions tests."
“ A couple of software engineers.”
A Harvard Business Review article back then noted:
“Seriously? Only a couple? As of 2014, Volkswagen employed 583,000 people. Surely more than two people knew about this deception. Why didn’t anybody say anything?”
The entire Volkswagen emissions scandal, dubbed “Dieselgate,” cost the car company its reputation and billions of dollars. All because nobody at Volkswagen said anything.
Because conformity is easier than standing apart. Conformity is easier than doing the right thing.
Conformity doesn’t require courage.
The enemy of growth
Years ago, I subscribed to a variety of art magazines. I enjoyed studying what other painters were doing. But over time, I noticed a disturbing trend.
All the artwork looked increasingly similar.
There were little nuances here and there. But mostly, it was all little red barns, academic figure paintings, and the use of garish color. Artists seemed to be doing the same thing, more or less.
Fast forward to the advent of social media, and this trend of conformity seems to be strong as ever. Everybody is copying everybody else, no doubt trying to replicate whatever is popular or gets the most likes.
Don’t believe me?
Check out Insta Repeat on Instagram. The profile curates a lot of the duplicative content out there.
Drawing inspiration from the creative work of others is fine, but who wants to be a cheap knockoff?
Derivative work can be well done, gain some followers, and even make a few bucks. But deep down, it’s never satisfying to the creative soul.
“Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.”-John F. Kennedy
Imagine if painters like Claude Monet, Alfred Sisley, and Pierre-Auguste Renoir never painted outside in the 1860s? If they remained indoors and continued to embrace the academic method, Impressionism may never have come to be.
Consider the Dutch Post-Impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh, who posthumously became one of the most famous and influential artists in Western art history.
Vincent van Gogh may have suffered from depression and mental challenges, but he remained true to his unique artistic vision. His work didn’t sell well during his lifetime, but now he is considered one of the greats.
Vincent van Gogh didn’t try to blend in and conform with his artwork. The same can be said for the famous abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollock, who is famous for his innovative drip technique canvases.
If you want to stand out, embrace your individuality and uniqueness.
Better to be a nerd than one of the herd
A lot of people seek approval from others to feel valued.
Perhaps they struggle with shyness or low self-esteem. So they copy what the popular people are doing. They comply, emulate, follow trends & fashions, and try to fit in.
And, a lot of people desperately want to be liked. To belong.
So they parrot whatever the thought leaders of their chosen political party or favorite cable news anchors say. They copy their favorite social media stars. They go along with their work culture, even if the culture might be corrupt.
Perhaps this is why none of the engineers at Volkswagen spoke up about the rigged emissions software?
“So you’re a little weird? Work it! A little different? OWN it! Better to be a nerd than one of the herd!”-Mandy Hale
The point is, you were not born to blend in and be one of the herd.
You are one of a kind, with unique talents, quirks, and gifts. The hard part is learning how to recognize and use them.
There are many positive ways to stand out from everyone else. Arrive at work before your colleagues, and leave a little later, for example. Pursue excellence in your professional or creative work, and you’ll rise above the mediocrity.
But, if you truly want to stand out, you have to leverage and hone your uniqueness. And uniqueness is found in your quirks, your particular aesthetic vision, your unorthodox approach, your talents, etc.
Honing your uniqueness requires effort.
You can dress to shock or act weird for attention, but you’ll only be a novelty. The goal should be to nurture and develop your uniqueness into something worthwhile, elegant, and of value.
There’s plenty of conformity out there. Plenty of blending in. Do yourself and the world a favor.
Show us the real you.
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This article was republished with permission from John P. Weiss. To get John’s latest essays, artwork, and photography, signup below for The Saturday Letters.