Are you a Contrarian?

“Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them…”

No doubt those words brought to mind Apple’s Think Different campaign. While many people believe that Steve Jobs was the mastermind behind one of the most memorable commercials of our time, Rob Siltanen says otherwise. Siltanen was the creative director who worked on the Apple pitch alongside CEO and Chief Creative Officer Lee Clow. According to him, “Jobs was blatantly harsh on the commercial that would eventually play a pivotal role in helping Apple achieve one of the greatest corporate turnarounds in business history.” Jobs initially called the script “shit.” You can read what Siltanen calls revisionist history about Jobs’ role in the creation of the spot here.

But, one of the reasons that commercial is so powerful is that it juxtaposes the rebels, misfits, and troublemakers with people who change with world. The contrarians who are ultimately hailed as genius. In fact, the very premise that underpins contrarian thinking have served as a catalyst for the evolution of our society.

There’s a wide spectrum of contrarian thinkers, ranging from the nonconformist who’s irritated by consensus, to the maverick who thinks rules are made to be broken, and the genius who has the unique ability to think differently from everyone else. Being a contrarian thinker doesn’t necessarily mean being argumentative. Many times, it's a gift that provides a completely different perspective. Often, a different perspective is just what we need.

One research study applied the construct of contrarian thinking to the impact of gratitude. The researchers hypothesized that thinking of the absence of a positive event from one’s life would have a greater influence on one’s mental state than  thinking about the presence of a positive event. For example, instead of reflecting on how grateful you are to have ice cold water on a hot day, imagine what life would be like if you did not have access to clean drinking water at all.  

The results were striking. People who compared themselves to the “life could always be worse”  version of their current-self reported more positive states. It turns out that the subtraction of positive events counteracts our tendency to take them for granted. Researchers have coined this psychological dynamic the George Bailey effect, in homage to the classic movie, It’s a Wonderful Life.  

So, my gratitude challenge for you: Be a contrarian thinker with gratitude. Instead of counting your blessings, reflect on what life would be like without them.  


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