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The Creative Potential of Eccentricity

“Several people warned me about Tim Burton. He is decidedly eccentric, they whispered, totally wrapped up in his wild imagination.”

Journalist Michael Dwyer went on to say, “Perhaps they were confusing the man with his movies, because they got it all wrong. Burton proved to be delightful, very talkative and bubbling with enthusiasm.” (The Irish Times, Dec.10, 1994.)

Many of the most creative people are eccentric – with innovative, divergent thinking along with their non-conforming behavior.

Albert Einstein said, “Few people are capable of expressing with equanimity opinions which differ from the prejudices of their social environment.

“Most people are even incapable of forming such opinions.”

And it is precisely those kinds of opinions that may be creative ideas.

In his Wired magazine article “The World Needs More Rebels Like Einstein,” Walter Isaacson (author of the biography Einstein: His Life and Universe) notes that Einstein’s concept that “time is relative depending on your state of motion” had been explored by other scientists, who “had come close to his insight, but they were too confined by the dogmas of the day.

“Einstein alone was impertinent enough to discard the notion of absolute time, one of the sacred tenets of classical physics since Newton.”

Psychologist Robert Ornstein, PhD, author of The Psychology of Consciousness, commented, “If you spend too much time being like everybody else, you decrease your chances of coming up with something different.”

Neuropsychologist David Weeks, in his book Eccentrics: A Study of Sanity and Strangeness, lists many creative eccentrics including William Blake, Alexander Graham Bell, Emily Dickinson, Charlie Chaplin, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Howard Hughes.

Weeks writes that one of Einstein’s characteristics, shared with many other eccentrics, was his “childlike propensity of the creative mind.” Another example was artist William Blake, who was “often described by his contemporaries as being childlike.”

Weeks notes that a “good proportion of computer hackers are eccentric… Because of their innate ability to innovate and their penchant for the unorthodox, many young science jocks are are able to live a solitary, nocturnal life…”

Some of those aspects help support being creative, but can also fuel the ethical distortions and criminal destruction perpetrated by some hackers.

Keeping an identity and staying comfortably eccentric as an adult can be a challenge, with so much social pressure to conform.

The book Gifted Grownups: the Mixed Blessings of Extraordinary Potential quotes researcher J.M.Tolliver, who has studied gifted and creative people, about the danger of not allowing non-conformity: “Of all the disservice we do our students, perhaps the most critical is demanding that they ‘fit’… we are intolerant of deviant discretions, expelling those who do not learn their (conformity) lessons well… A cynicism develops concerning the generation of ideas.”

Cecil Beaton [1904-80; a fashion and portrait photographer, and stage and costume designer] encouraged actively being non-comforming:

“Be daring, be different, be impractical; be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.”


Also see my article Eccentricity and Creativity.

Photo from post: Tim Burton on nurturing his unique creative vision.

The Creative Potential of Eccentricity

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2010). The Creative Potential of Eccentricity. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 17, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/creative-mind/2010/07/the-creative-potential-of-eccentricity/


Last updated: 19 Jul 2010
Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 19 Jul 2010
Published on PsychCentral.com. All rights reserved.