Optimal distinctiveness theory

Optimal distinctiveness is a social psychological theory seeking to understand ingroup–outgroup differences. It asserts that individuals desire to attain an optimal balance of inclusion and distinctiveness within and between social groups and situations.

These two motives are in constant opposition with each other; when there is too much of one motive, the other must increase in order to counterbalance it and vice versa.

Wikipedia

I like this idea that we naturally want to balance fitting in and standing out.

Adam Grant talked about that on this podcast episode at about minute 38. He says the sweet spot is to fit into a small group which itself stands out for being unique in some way. That way you can have both – you fit into the group, but you stand out because you’re in that group.

That explains why flat earthers exist, for example.

But my mind went in the direction of psychological safety. Saying the hard thing makes me stand out, so I need to be able to balance that with a strong sense of fitting in. Maybe psych safety is a sign of optimal distinctiveness?

Anyways, neat concept. The whole Wikipedia page is worth a read if you’re into group dynamics.


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