British neuropsychologist David Weeks studied and interviewed a wide range of “daring and different” people for his book Eccentrics: A Study of Sanity and Strangeness, and concluded that “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.”
How does being unusual or eccentric in our viewpoints, thinking, personal style and other choices help us be more creative and innovative?
“I don’t know what ‘normal’ means, anyway.”
Karl Lagerfeld, the prominent fashion designer, photographer, publisher, and artistic director of Chanel, has very eclectic and unusual tastes in clothing – so I would consider him one example of an eccentric creator.
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.]
Neurotic or just eccentric
Probably a number of people, including mental health professionals, would consider some of this behavior 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 The Creators – a History of Heroes of the Imagination.]
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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.”
Artists may be more willing to embrace that inner ‘thing’ that drives creative expression, even though it may be seen by others as weird.
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.