Standing Out and Fitting In at the Same Time

A photo of a bunch of brown penguins huddled together. There is a single grey one standing in the midst of them.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

It’s commonly received wisdom that in order to get ahead, you have to stand out. But it is also widely known that if you stand out too much, you’re bound to fail. So what’s the correct answer? According to a Stanford Business School study, it’s a little of both.

The study found that people who either fit in with company culture, but don’t fit into one or another operational clique therein, or are the opposite, have the best opportunities for advancement. So an employee might be nonconformist with company culture, but be a strong part of a specific department, or have weak connections to any specific department but conform to company culture, and they manage to both fit in and stand out. The same study found that people who fit in too much actually have a much higher chance of being fired, presumably because it’s hard for them to have their voices heard, and likely seem less valuable as employees.

How is any of this useful to companies or employees? Whether or not somebody fits in with company culture or clicks with the rest of their department is more often than not the result of a lot of different factors, some which can be accounted for and others that cannot. If you’re reading this and you can honestly look at your current workplace experience and see whether you fit in along either axis, perhaps you can work to stand out more (or less) along one of them. On the flip side, if you’re looking for somebody to promote, it may be worth looking at how that person fits into the culture and how they work.

The study is the first of it’s kind, meaning there is still a lot of research that needs to be done on the subject. However, it certainly provides an interesting discussion topic.


About DevonJ140
I am currently an Accounting Director living in New York City. I love reading and learning more about business, finance, tech, and current events.

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