The cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman says there’s research that seems to indicate that social rejection fuels creativity.
I’ve always thought so. (Also that it works the other way too. Dreamy imaginative kids probably aren’t great at social skills, so they get social rejection, so they do even more fantasizing and pretending and nerding out. Loop loopy loop.)
By definition, creative solutions are unusual, involving the recombination of ideas. Unusual, divergent ideas and access to distant, remote associations are hallmarks of creative thinking. Perhaps those who like to distance themselves from others are more likely to also recruit associations from unusual places and think beyond conventional ideas.
Plus they have more time alone, plus they have brain space freed up from worrying about what Polly said to Sally about Molly and how to respond when all three bring it up at the lunch table.
Research supports this idea. The need to be seen as separate from others within a group enhances both nonconformity and creativity. In contrast, an interdependent mindset has been shown to extinguish the spirit of independence that is optimal for producing creative solutions. What’s more, those who report a high need for uniqueness make more unconventional word associations, show a greater preference for complex visual figures, and produce more creative drawings and creative stories.
Which raises an intriguing idea: maybe those with a high need for uniqueness are less sensitive to social rejection. Maybe social rejection even fuels their creativity! Indeed, some of the most creative minds of all time have faced very high levels of social rejection and isolation. Of course, it’s also possible that the unconventionality of creative people causes them to be social outsiders. The direction of causality is not clear.
My research-free guess (or opinion extrapolated from experience) is it’s both.