“I hope I’m becoming more eccentric. More room in the brain.”
Musician Tom Waits
Being eccentric – choosing not to be more safely mundane – can help our creative thinking and courage.
As psychologist Robert Ornstein, PhD has noted, “If you spend too much time being like everybody else, you decrease your chances of coming up with something different.”
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Karl Lagerfeld, the prominent fashion designer, photographer, publisher, and artistic director of Chanel, has eclectic and unusual tastes in clothing – so I would consider him one example of an eccentric.
A profile article notes that in his home there is “a narrow room lined with shelves. On the top of a bureau were perhaps two hundred pairs of fingerless gloves, arranged in neat piles according to color (he explained that he chose the gray pair he’s wearing because of the overcast sky).
“There are also dozens of pairs of jeans, and belts laid out by the hundred. Next door was a windowless room containing a dozen garment racks on wheels, each one stuffed with suits—perhaps five hundred in all—in black or gray hues.”
Lagerfeld admits, “I have suits here I’ve never worn. To normal people it may look sick, huh?” He shrugged. “I don’t know what ‘normal’ means, anyway.”
[From In the Now – Where Karl Lagerfeld lives. By John Colapinto, New Yorker, March 19, 2007.]
[Photo: he is apparently also a book collector.]
Probably a number of people, including perhaps mental health professionals, would consider some of this behavior “sick” or neurotic.
Some of what he said reminds me of the A&E TV program Hoarders, which “looks inside the lives whose inability to part with their belongings is so out of control that they are on the verge of a personal crisis.”
Another example of a creative leader is mentioned by historian Daniel J. Boorstin, who says Beethoven’s apartments numbered more than 60, as he kept moving on to a new one. That item is from Boorstin’s book Creators – a History of Heroes of the Imagination – and quoted in my article Eccentricity and Creativity.
British neuropsychologist David Weeks studied and interviewed a wide range of such “daring and different” people for his book Eccentrics: A Study of Sanity and Strangeness, and concluded “One of the principal reasons eccentrics continually challenge the established order is because they want to experiment, to try out new ways of doing things.”
And that may be one of the key benefits of being eccentric (which, of course, is often “in the eye of the beholder”) – that it can open up your thinking to try out new and different approaches to creative challenges.
His films are almost always satisfying and exciting to me on multiple levels. What are some of the aspects of Tim Burton’s life and way of working that help him be so creative?
Costume designer Colleen Atwood also admires Burton as an artist, and explains: “He is able to open himself up to the world, through his own world, which is very unusual. His work has a very separate and personal voice and it comes from a very true place. At the same time it’s incredibly entertaining.”
Burton has commented on the importance of inner drive: “The tricky thing about being in the entertainment industry is that basically no matter how much money is involved, how good the life is, the thing that still compels you is that thing inside.”
Entrepreneur Dean Kamen
In her Scientific American magazine article The Unleashed Mind: Why Creative People Are Eccentric, creativity researcher Shelley Carson notes “People who are highly creative often have odd thoughts and behaviors—and vice versa.
“Both creativity and eccentricity may be the result of genetic variations that increase cognitive disinhibition — the brain’s failure to filter out extraneous information.”
She explains, “When unfiltered information reaches conscious awareness in the brains of people who are highly intelligent and can process this information without being overwhelmed, it may lead to exceptional insights and sensations.”
Carson writes about “one of the world’s best known and most successful entrepreneurs, with hundreds of patents to his name—including the Segway scooter. But you will never see Dean Kamen in a suit and tie: the eccentric inventor dresses almost exclusively in denim.”
She also mentions other unusual behaviors: “He spent five years in college before dropping out, does not take vacations and has never married.
“Kamen presides (along with his Ministers of Ice Cream, Brunch and Nepotism) over the Connecticut island kingdom of North Dumpling, which has ‘seceded’ from the U.S. and dispenses its own currency in units of pi. Visitors are issued a visa form that includes spaces on which to note identifying marks on both their face and buttocks.”
Sounds like a great work environment for eccentrics.
[Photo of Kamen also used on my High Ability site page Multipotentiality Resources.]
Dr. Carson has a number of perspectives on developing creative talents. Listen to my podcast interview with her: Shelley Carson on enhancing our creative brain.
Also see her book Your Creative Brain: Seven Steps to Maximize Imagination, Productivity, and Innovation in Your Life.
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Above text is from much longer section in my book – see About the book.
Photos added for this site – not included in book.
Photo of Tim Burton from article: Madness and creativity: do we need to be crazy?
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Related material – not in book:
“Stay weird, stay different”
Graham Moore won an Academy Award for his adapted screenplay for “The Imitation Game,” the story of Alan Turing, the mathematician and cryptanalyst who led a team in England that developed one of the first computers, which enabled decoding of the “unbreakable” Nazi Enigma code machine.
In his acceptance speech Feb 22, 2015, Moore said:
“Alan Turing never got to stand on a stage like this and look out at all of these disconcertingly attractive faces. And I do, and that’s the most unfair thing I think I’ve ever heard. So in this brief time here, what I want to use it to do is to say this: When I was 16 years old, I tried to kill myself. Because I felt weird and I felt different and I felt like I did not belong. And now I’m standing here.
“And so I would like for this moment to be for that kid out there who feels like she’s weird or she’s different or she doesn’t fit in anywhere. Yes, you do. I promise you do, you do. Stay weird, stay different, and when it’s your turn and you are standing on this stage, please pass the same message to the next person who comes along.”
Photo and quotes from Oscars 2015: Some speeches hit political and personal notes by Michael Ordoña, Los Angeles Times, Feb 23 2015.
“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music” – Nietzsche
Nonconformity and the Creative Life – video from Shots of Awe YouTube channel by Jason Silva
Jason Silva comments: “We are all free to create our own reality. But it’s only when we are bold enough to decondition our thinking — to transcend what Robert Anton Wilson calls the reality tunnel — this linguistic, and conceptual, and symbolic framework that constructs your realities, and a matrix pulled in front of your eyes, blinding you from ecstatic visions of what might be behind those walls…”
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Stony Brook University press release:
“Building on previous brain imaging research that revealed cultural influences play a role in neural activation during perception, Arthur Aron, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at Stony Brook University, and colleagues, completed a study that suggests individuals who are highly sensitive have cognitive responses that appear to not be influenced by culture at all.”