Are you comfortable being disruptive, participating in the evolution a new norm?

In business we desire to be disruptive, to find new and better ways to meet market demands. To break with the norm. To create a new norm. It is encouraged and rewarded. Business norms seem to evolve at warp speed, and the business community has an ability to adapt with impressive agility.

Not so with cultural norms. Society largely dictates that we function within the norm. Creating disruptive, new norms is not encouraged or rewarded, and the evolution of new norms is slow and much more uncomfortable. Standard models dominate.

According to an article by Saul McLeod entitled Social Roles, human beings need norms to guide and direct their behavior, to provide order and predictability and to create understanding of other’s actions. There is considerable pressure to conform to social roles, and most of us, most of the time, conform to the guidelines provided by the roles we perform. 

But cultural norms do change and evolve. It has become normal in the last 50 years for women to seek college degrees, for example. So when is it beneficial to conform and when is it better to break with the norm? And why can it be so difficult to break with a cultural norm? These are loaded questions that keep experts engaged and often stumped. Women in particular struggle with the pros and cons of breaking with cultural norms and struggle to have confidence in the benefit of creating new norms.  And yet we yearn for new norms in many areas, and we talk about it a lot.

As a woman in business, a mother, and a wife for over 25 years, the journey to integrate these critical life components successfully has been dominated by problem solving outside our cultural norms. Often uncharted territory. Most of the time there was no proven model, no example to follow, no expert in the field – in work or home life. If we felt that the benefits to all involved outweighed the risks of breaking with the norm, than outside the norm we went. Although these choices definitely did not feel normal, they didn’t feel abnormal either. I learned that if I was comfortable then the unproven path was also the right path. How many women sit at these crossroads as they build lives that integrate career and family, paralyzed with stress and guilt over breaking with the norm? Most of us.

Over the years, I also learned that it often requires less energy to disrupt a norm than to conform to it when greater benefit and fulfillment can be achieved. As women, we waste a lot of energy stressing over being outside the norm; energy that could be making a huge difference in creating new and comfortable norms. I know I did.

Are you comfortable with your norm?