Studies have found something fascinating about the human brain: it likes shortcuts. From assumptions we place on people, places, and things based on past experience, to a propensity for defaulting to what has always been done or what everyone else is doing – our tendency is to choose the path of least resistance. The problem with this though is innovation, discovery, and improvement requires that we challenge what has always been done or what everyone else is doing.
If you find yourself challenging the prescribed or established way of doing things, if you have a desire to find a better way, and want to create a plan for change, you are likely an iconoclast. These individuals’ thoughts and actions are a product of three fused factors: creative thinking, engineering, and the discipline to make things better.
An iconoclast is a unique individual and bold thinker—they don’t prioritize what tradition calls for and instead look to challenge it. They see options that other people can’t or won’t see. They break old paradigms and create new ones. Sometimes they can come off as rebels. However, a true iconoclast is still trying to achieve the same desired outcome as the old way of operating: success. They are not trying to derail the traditional way maliciously or for entertainment. Rather, they are typically attempting to solve the problem in an unorthodox way that somehow supersedes the manner in which things have always been done. Most iconoclasts are curious people. The most successful iconoclasts are ones who follow up on their curiosity and do some research to vet their means to an end—reading, watching, and talking to people about why things are the way they are and their ideas for change.
It doesn’t matter what your background or belief system is; an iconoclast can be of any age, race, gender, or religious background. They can work in any industry and hold any job function. They are simply seeking something better.
Still unsure of whether you could classify yourself as an iconoclast? Consider the three-step process I’ve developed that I call the iconoclast formula for beginning to think and act independently. As you look at each of these three steps, think about if/how you incorporate these steps into your problem-solving processes in each area of your life:
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Ask why. Identify the prescribed or established way. Recognize the historical underlying dynamics supporting it, if they have changed, and if there are opportunities to do something different—and better.
Make a plan. Create a plan for change with a vision of the outcome and set a “go live” date.
Execute it. Execute the plan.
Being an iconoclast means you adhere to each of these steps – with planning and execution being a critical part of this way of approaching life. However, thinking outside of the box or differently than everyone around you can be difficult, even if it is beneficial. While there is always value in iconoclastic thinking, it’s likely you won’t always act on promising ideas you come up with. That’s ok – share them anyway; don’t hesitate to make those ideas an active part of the discussions you are a part of. You just may run into another iconoclast who is willing to do what is necessary to bring them to life.