One of my favourite stories of last year was of someone complaining of their photo (from a stock gallery) being used in an article about hipsters. The claim was that their photo being used portrayed them in a negative light. The article was on group conformity and on how, whilst trying to show they don’t conform, all hipsters end up looking alike.
The kicker was that it transpired that the person complaining proved that point by mistakenly thinking it was an image of them – when in fact it was just another hipster. You can read a thread about it here. The overall contention of the article (based on a paper here with maths I don’t pretend to understand) is that “people who oppose mainstream culture all end up looking the same”.
It is rare to find people who don’t seek out a tribe/group identity – even if sometimes that is joining forces with other people who boldly say they don’t want to be part of a group. The kids at school who agree that everything sucks except people who agree that everything sucks – and the same people who turn up in organisations. I think we see the same in HR and it’s interesting to witness. Jane Watson has written this excellent piece on normative vs descriptive theories of HR and – over time – you can almost see multiple camps form, disband and reform.
There’s a group ‘doing the do’ – and a group saying ‘this is how the do should be done’. And they have their own languages and signifiers and champions. And it’s really, really interesting to watch. Of course the real win lies in the best of both. It lies in the desire for better being married with ways of delivering that. It lies in endeavouring for a higher standard whilst understanding the constraints that prevent things from being perfect. It lies in people bringing energy into shared ambtion, not just revelling in points of difference. Most of the goals are shared – we shouldn’t define ourselves simply by degrees of fanaticism. We should solve together.
One of the most fascinating things I’ve seen in my role is the constant desire of groups to define their boundaries exclusively to then claim a space as an out group. ‘Nobody gets us, that’s all your fault’. If you take a step back and just observe it’s intriguing, it’s understandable but arguably ultimately unproductive. Don’t be the hipster not wanting to be a hipster. Or the hipster saying everyone else is wrong.
Be whatever you want to be and find others happy enough to be what they want to be too. Find your learning and challenge wherever you can. It’s too precious not to take everything available.
Please note: the author has absolutely nothing against hipsters. I just liked the story.