Summary of “Originals” by Adam Grant: Drawing on numerous studies and real-life examples from a wide range of fields, this book teaches us how to recognize, develop, and express new ideas all while demonstrating originality and innovation on a personal and professional level.
By Adam Grant, 2016, 272 pages (French version)
Review and Summary of “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World” by Adam Grant
Note: Throughout his book Adam Grant lays out his ideas, which are based on the analysis of a wide range of real-life events, and the conclusions he draws from a wide variety of studies. The book is then filled with stories told in detail, interspersed throughout the chapters, leading the reader to come across them again and again as a backdrop to his or her reading. We cannot, in this summary, mention all these stories and their overlap. We can only summarize what is said. Indeed, this summary fails to highlight Adam Grant’s distinctive style of interwoven and deconstructed storytelling (not unlike that of Malcolm Gladwell), which is a large part of the book’s uniqueness.
Chapter 1 – Creative Destruction – The Risky Business of Going Against the Grain
Adam Grant begins this first chapter of “Originals” with the story of four students who succeeded in revolutionizing the optical market by creating the Warby Parker company in 2008. With their company, these four students paved the way for online eyewear sales and made millions of dollars in just a few years, when nobody believed in it.
The author confesses that he didn’t believe in the students’ project at all. In 2009, when one of the founders asked him to invest, Adam Grant was not at all convinced and refused. At the time, he admits to having made “the worst investment decision” of his life. This fact had a profound effect on the author. So much so that he was determined to understand how he had missed out on the potential of this business. As he analyzed the situation, he realized that there were, in fact, two ways to succeed:
- Conformity ⇒ which consists in following the majority, on conventional paths, without questioning the status quo.
- Originality ⇒ which leads us to take little-traveled paths, to be creative , and to champion new ideas, against the grain, but ultimately useful.
“Originals” is therefore a book, writes the author, that [explains how we can all move towards greater originality.]
1.1 – Default settings
Adam Grant develops three main ideas:
[The majority of us accept the default settings of our lives.]
Here, the author describes a study carried out among customer services that showed that employees who use their computer’s pre-installed browser (around 2/3 of agents) stay with their company for less time than those who have taken the initiative to install a better browser.
Adam Grant explains this correlation as follows:
[Agents who accept the default solution of Internet Explorer or Safari view their jobs in the same way. They do what they’re told and follow standard procedures for dealing with customer complaints. For them, their job description is fixed for good; and when they’re unhappy, they first miss work and then eventually end up leaving.]
[Employees who have taken the initiative to switch browsers to Firefox or Chrome are looking at their work in a different way. They look for new ways of selling to their customers and new ways of dealing with their problems. When they see room for improvement, they fix it. Having taken the initiative to solve their problems, they have fewer reasons to leave. They shape the job to suit them.]
As a result, they are less likely to leave their job for another.
[People seek to prove the legitimacy of the status quo, even if it goes exactly against their interests.]
In a series of research studies, John Jost, a specialist in political psychology; and his team found that [the people who suffered most from a certain state of affairs were paradoxically those least likely to question, reject, or change it.
To explain this phenomenon, John Jost developed the theory of system justification. This states that people seek to prove the legitimacy of the status quo; whatever happens, because there’s something appealing about doing so. It is, he says, an “emotional tranquilizer.”
Originality means rejecting the default setting in search of better solutions.
Here, the author looks back at the story of Warby Parker’s founding team; who challenged the established idea that glasses are expensive. According to Adam Grant, the key is curiosity.
The founders of Warby Parker were indeed very curious. They asked questions. They really delved into the question of what could make glasses so expensive. Until they finally realized that this high cost was in no way justified by the cost of manufacturing; that it had been determined by a group of people in a given company; and that all they had to do was make a different choice to make eyewear as affordable as any other product.
Adam Grant then recalls that:
[When you start looking at the unsatisfactory states of affairs in the world, you realize that most of them have social origins: rules and systems are made by men. This realization empowers us to consider how they can be changed.]
1.2 – The two faces of ambition
- Where does the lack of originality come from?
The author of “Originals” shares the findings of several studies carried out with child prodigies to explain that what prevents them from moving the world forward is, in fact, their lack of originality.
These child prodigies, who grow up to be adults; are highly talented and ambitious, but at the same time, they are not so original.
For Adam Grant, there are three reasons for this:
- As children, they are not taught originality: creativity is not encouraged; research shows that creative children are the least liked by teachers, and non-conformists are stigmatized as troublemakers.
- As adults, originality tends to fade: the more expert we become in a field, the more originality we lack. Some gifted children become “revolutionary creators,” but the vast majority become experts in one field, and thus lose originality.
- The obsessive quest for success sweeps away originality and creativity: for Adam Grant, [the more we value success, the more we come to dread failure. Instead of aiming for the exceptional, the intense desire for success drives us to seek out that which is guaranteed.]
- We must push for originality.
For Adam Grant, it is essential to encourage those with innovative ideas to follow and champion them.
To illustrate his point, the author cites the examples of numerous personalities who would never have dared to express their originality without being pushed or even forced to do so: George Washington, Martin Luther King, Michelangelo, Steve Wozniak, etc.
[If it weren’t for a few people with original ideas, America wouldn’t exist, the civil rights movement would still be a pipe dream, the walls of the Sistine Chapel would still be bare, and the personal computer would never been so successful … How many Wozniaks, Michelangelos, and Kings didn’t follow through or champion their innovative ideas because they weren’t thrust into the spotlight?]
Even if we don’t necessarily want to start our own business, create a masterpiece; transform Western thought, or defend citizens’ rights; we all have ideas for improving our workplace, our school, or our community, says the author. We are often reluctant to make our voices heard because we’re afraid of rocking the boat. So:
[We find ways to be original on the surface – we put on a bow tie or wear red shoes – without taking the risk of actually being original. When it comes to our key ideas and our core values, we censor ourselves.]
1.3 – The stuff of heroes
- Demonstrating originality doesn’t necessarily involve taking risks.
As we’ve seen, many originators are afraid to express their originality. However, by studying a number of trailblazers who succeeded in being original not just in their appearance; but in their actions (Neil Armstrong, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates); Adam Grant understands that to be innovative, you don‘t have to take extreme risks – quite the opposite.
The author returns to the story of Warby Parker: he realizes that the students who founded Warby Parker didn’t, in fact, convince him, because their attitude didn’t match what he imagined successful entrepreneurs to be like.
By covering their bases (for a long time, they didn’t want to take the risk of quitting their secondary activities before launching their company):
[Neil and his crew didn’t have the guts to go all out, so I questioned their conviction and commitment … They weren’t risking their neck enough. In my opinion, they were going to fail because they were playing it too safe instead of risking everything. But in fact, that’s exactly why they succeeded. I want to debunk the myth that originality requires extreme risk-taking and persuade you that innovators are actually far more ordinary than we think.]
Innovative minds are not “intrepid risk-takers.”
Those we imagine to be rebellious, revolutionary, troublemakers, independent, always going against the grain, impervious to fear, rejection, and ridicule, burning with an inner fire, are often pushed, even forced, by others. [And even if they seem to like risk, in reality, they prefer to avoid it.]
By way of illustration, the author describes studies that have shown that most successful innovative minds have continued to work or study after launching their business or art, sometimes for a very long time. Such is the case, says the author, of Phil Knight, Steve Wozniak, Steve Jobs, Larry Page, Sergey Brin, Ava DuVernay, Brian May, John Legend, and Stephen King. Conclusion:
[If you don’t like risk and have doubts about the viability of your project, chances are your business will be built to last. If you like to take gambles, your start-up will be much more precarious.]
1.4 – Manage risk like a stock portfolio
- The right distribution of risks.
Here, the author describes the risk theory developed by Clyde Coombs, a psychologist at the University of Michigan. In a nutshell, this theory states that successful people balance the risks in their lives as they would in a stock portfolio:
[When we put ourselves at risk on one side, we balance our overall risk-taking by being more careful elsewhere … This distribution of risk explains why people are often trailblazers in one area of their lives while remaining conventional in others.]
This balanced risk portfolio has several advantages summed up in this sentence from Adam Grant:
[Being secure on the one hand makes you free to be original on the other. By securing your financial footing, you avoid the pressure of publishing half-finished books, selling inferior works of art, or embarking on ill-prepared business ventures.] In the end, this way of taking risks “is not to take any,” continues the author, quoting Linda Rottenberg, CEO and co-founder of Endeavor.
Adam Grant goes on to recount the stories of great risk managers who are known to have taken considerable risks in one area and then canceled them out by being extremely cautious elsewhere: Sara Blakely, Henry Ford, Bill Gates, and Warby Parker.
The risks taken by successful entrepreneurs are “calculated risks.”
Adam Grant cites three studies showing that successful entrepreneurs do, in fact, take what are known as “calculated risks“:
[Those who become successful entrepreneurs are more likely to have defied their parents, not come home on time, skipped school, shoplifted trivial items, gambled, drank alcohol, or smoked marijuana. On the other hand, they were no more likely than the average to have engaged in truly dangerous activities such as drunk driving, buying drugs, or stealing valuables. And this was true regardless of their parents’ socioeconomic class or family income.]
According to the author, to be original, you have to try something new. This inevitably involves a certain amount of risk. However, the most successful innovators are not daredevils rushing headlong into the dark. They are, in fact, those who [stare into the abyss, calculate the speed of the fall, triple-check their parachute, and set up a net at the bottom, just in case.]
Chapter 2 – Blind Inventor and One-Eyed Investors – The Art and Science of Recognizing Original Ideas
In this second chapter of “Originals,“ two ever-present anecdotes are used to support the author’s two main points: “the blindness of inventors” and “the myopia of investors.”
These two examples are:
- The invention of the Segway: this self-balancing mode of individual transport was to transform the lives of city dwellers and their city. Everyone believed in it. Everyone believed in it. The biggest investors, highly enthusiastic, invested millions in what they described as a “revolutionary” product. In the end, it was one of the ten greatest technological failures of its decade.
- The Seinfeld series on American television: the creators of Seinfeld faced rejection, misunderstanding, and criticism from professionals and the public alike. No one believed in it. Thanks to the perseverance and unwavering support of an NBC executive who believed in the show, Seinfeld became the most popular series on American TV.
2.1 – The greatest obstacle to originality is not the production of ideas, but the selection of ideas
Our companies, our communities, our countries do not suffer from a lack of new ideas. The problem lies in the selection of ideas.
The author examines the obstacles and best practices at this selection stage in this section. To do so, he explores the methods of two investors who anticipated the failure of the Segway. He then analyzes what enabled NBC executives to grasp the potential of the Seinfeld series, at a time when the network’s managers and test audiences were highly critical.
2.2 – Managers and representative samples are poor judges of new ideas: the best assessment is that of our peers
Tracing the history of the Segway’s creation, the career of its inventor Dean Kamen, who was behind many great inventions, the history of the Seinfeld series, and drawing on several scientific studies, Adam Grant comes up with four conclusions:
Creators cannot judge their own ideas objectively.
Creators are very poor prognosticators when it comes to their creations. Like the rest of us, they tend to overestimate their own performance. This is linked to what psychologists call “confirmation bias,” which means they focus on the strengths of their ideas while ignoring their weaknesses.
Managers tend to focus on the costs of investing in bad ideas, rather than the benefits of encouraging good ones.
This tendency leads to hasty judgments. We see this regularly in the entertainment world – as when studio executives passed over blockbusters like “Star Wars,” “E.T.” and “Pulp Fiction” – and in publishing – when managers turned down “The World of Narnia,” “The Diary of Anne Frank,” “ Gone with the Wind,” “ Lord of the Flies,” and “Harry Potter.”
The more expert you are in a field, the more you become a prisoner of stereotypes.
Experience and expertise lock us into a way of seeing the world. That’s why, according to Adam Grant, test audiences are no better at predicting the success of new ideas. Because of these stereotypes, they too, like managers, are quick to make up their minds.
It would seem that the best judges are creators, but only when it comes to making predictions about the work of others.
Although over-indulgent with their own creations, creators are, on the other hand, perfect prognosticators when it comes to judging the work of others. Studies show that when artists evaluate each other, they are twice as good as managers and test audiences at predicting the success of something. That’s why the author recommends calling on your colleagues for a valuable opinion. Since nothing is at stake for them (they’re not directly involved and don’t take any risks); our peers have sufficient distance and objectivity for a sincere assessment.
2.3 – The impact of experience and intuition on our predictions
- The “double-edged sword” of experience.
In analyzing what convinced Rick Ludwin of the potential of the Steinfeld series (the only man who initially backed the project), Adam Grant understands that having expertise in a field isn’t always an asset when it comes to spotting good ideas. In the case of Rick Ludwin, the author recounts that he knew absolutely nothing about writing and producing sitcoms. His specialty was variety shows. And yet he was responsible for the series’ success. According to Adam Grant, the fact that he knew nothing about the rules of sitcom format; yet was experienced in television; was probably what gave him the detachment he needed to be able to imagine something different.
The “hazards of intuition.”
The author of “Originals” takes a look at those who made the mistake of seeing the Segway as a revolutionary machine. Steve Jobs, renowned for his intuition, is one of them. Adam Grant lays out three reasons why he was wrong:
- Lack of experience in the field: the author shares several studies showing that our intuitions are only right in areas where we are highly experienced. [To accurately predict the success of a new idea, it’s best to be an innovator in the field in question,] states Adam Grant, recalling that Steve Jobs’ intuition was often very accurate in computing, but not with the Segway. In short, when you don’t know anything, intuition is useless. In this case, hindsight and analysis make for much better judgment.
- Arrogance and enthusiasm: success is often a source of arrogance and overconfidence, which makes us less inclined to seek out opposing viewpoints. This is surely why Steve Jobs, with his history of success, [didn’t even bother to check his intuition with more competent inventors.]
2.4 – The dangers of passion
The author develops three ideas on the subject of passion when it comes to betting on the potential of an idea.
- A passionate entrepreneur is more likely to convince an investor who trusts his intuition.
Adam Grant reports on a study that showed that the more an investor relied on his intuition; the more likely he was to be convinced by an entrepreneur’s passion. This was the case with Kamen, who, in addition to being technically proficient and experienced; presented his Segway with great passion. This made him fascinating.
- It’s better to respond to market demand than to impose a new technology.
In his other successful inventions, Kamen had drawn on complaints from medical staff and real-life problems in the field to design his machines. In the case of the Segway, which was a failure, he based his design on a solution rather than a problem.
- Take note of the entrepreneur’s desire to realize his idea, rather than just his enthusiasm for it.
The author writes:
[To find out whether people with a fresh idea are capable of making it a success, we need to look beyond the enthusiasm they put into presenting it and focus on the enthusiasm they put into executing it, which is revealed through their actions.]
2.5 – What makes Warby Parker successful?
To conclude this chapter of “Originals,” the author recapitulates the ideas behind the story of Warby Parker. The success of Warby Parker confirms the hypotheses set out in this chapter.
The founders of Warby Parker:
- had, at the time of the creation of their company, very diverse profiles that spared them from stereotypes or a critical mindset (which managers or test audiences might have had).
- sought the reaction of other founders, and then of potential customers, before thinking their idea was a good one and [going into enthusiastic sales mode, like Kamen had done.]
- have set up a peer review system in their company: this program, called “Warbles”, enables all staff to suggest ideas and requests at any time. These are freely accessible and can be commented on by any employee.
Chapter 3 – Out on a Limb – Speaking Truth to Power
The third chapter of the book “Originals” begins with the story of Carmen Medina, who campaigned for years to set up a “continuous, real-time, online interagency reporting system” within the CIA.
The author recounts how Carmen Medina initially failed to get her idea across. He then describes how, ten years later, she succeeded in convincing the CIA to create this system. Today, the system takes the form of a platform called Intellipedia, a kind of “internal Wikipedia for intelligence agencies to share information.” It now boasts over a million pages of content and hundreds of thousands of registered agents.
Admittedly, society has changed over the last ten years (Internet use has become widespread, and events such as the September 11th attacks in New York have encouraged coordination between CIA services). However, for Adam Grant, what led Carmen Medina’s idea to be considered was that in the 10 years between her failure and success, the young woman learned to communicate
And that’s what Adam Grant proposes to explore in this chapter. Specifically: when is the right time to speak up, and how can you make sure your voice is heard? Because [once you’ve spotted a promising idea, the next step is to convey it effectively.]
3.1 – Power without prestige is poorly perceived
In this section, the author draws on experience to put forward the idea that [to seek to exert influence when you lack respectability is to expose yourself to being perceived as difficult, authoritarian, and self-interested.]
In other words, it’s very difficult for others to accept your power (= control, authority over them) if you have no status (= respect, admiration from others). Put simply, people tend to reject anyone who gives them advice if they haven’t already earned their respect.
For the author, this is what happened with Carmen Medina at the start of her career. She then changed the way she expressed herself, gaining prestige/status and power in the process.
3.2 – Putting your worst foot forward: a winning strategy for new projects
Here, Adam Grant presents the counter-intuitive approach of an entrepreneur who came to present his project to investors. This entrepreneur, by the name of Griscom, actually listed to investors all the reasons not to invest in his company. And it worked; this method enabled him to raise millions of dollars in financing and sell his company to Disney a few years later for $40 million.
The author explains that this way of communicating, which consists in emphasizing one’s negative aspects rather than one’s strengths, can be very effective in “selling” innovative ideas, as we are then addressing a receptive audience.
More specifically, it works for four reasons. Starting by mentioning weaknesses:
Just the realization that someone is trying to convince us naturally raises mental barriers. By doing the opposite, the audience lowers its guard. They relax because [it’s sincere, it doesn’t taste or smell like selling.] The listener is no longer afraid of [being taken in.]
“Makes you look smart”
Judging our weaknesses shows that we’re not fooled by our limitations, and neither is the audience. It also proves that we’re competent enough to anticipate problems.
Inspires greater confidence
Describing the difficulties investors may encounter demonstrates a certain honesty and modesty. Sooner or later, investors will become aware of these difficulties. Exposing them from the outset means doing part of the analysis for them and establishing trust. In addition, this transparency makes the project more credible when it comes to talking about its strengths: [If I’m prepared to tell them upfront what’s going wrong, investors figure there must be a lot going right.]
Leaves the audience with a better overall impression of the project
Because of a bias in the way we digest information, the author explains that when we share serious problems; investors find it harder to find other problems; leading them to think that the difficulties stated are not so serious after all.
3.3 – Regularly presenting your ideas to gain acceptance
The author develops in this section the idea that to get others to accept our original ideas, [we have to talk about them, then rinse and repeat.]
However, we tend to do the opposite, to under-communicate our ideas. Why do we do this? Because our idea is so familiar to us, we’ve mastered our subject so well that it’s no longer possible for us to imagine what it would be like for someone hearing our idea for the first time. We then underestimate [the way an audience needs to be exposed to it in order to understand it and buy into it.]
This is what psychologist Robert Zajonc calls the “mere exposure effect“: [the more you encounter something, the more you like it.] In other words, the more we come across an idea, the less threatening it becomes.
3.4 – Quitting before leaving
In this part of “Originals,” Adam Grant observes that conformity is much more prevalent among those of intermediate status. He explains this by noting that:
- When we’re at the top, people expect us to be different: so, we can stray further off the beaten path.
- At the bottom of the hierarchy, we feel freer to be original because we ultimately don’t have much to lose.
Between these two segments of the hierarchy, i.e., where the majority of people are, insecurity dominates: [You’ve earned a bit of respect, you value that status, and you don’t want to risk losing it. To preserve your status, you play the game, and you demonstrate conformity to prove your value as a member of the group.]
3.5 – Gender and race influence speech
The author denounces the fact that even today, it’s very difficult for women to express themselves. By speaking out and taking a leadership role, women run the risk of being perceived as “aggressive” or even “authoritarian.”
Adam Grant highlights the gender stereotype of men as directive and women as conciliatory. He links this to the story of Carmen Medina; a woman in a male-dominated CIA who was doubly in the minority because she was Puerto Rican.
Through this example, the author underlines how this minority status can amplify difficulties and benefits, and how, [for members of a minority, it is particularly important to have acquired a certain status before exercising power.]
3.6 – Leaving or expressing oneself rather than setting oneself up as an opponent
To conclude the third chapter of his book “Originals,” Adam Grant tells the story of Donna Dubinsky; head of distribution and sales at Apple in 1985; who dared to question a decision made by Steve Jobs, three rungs above her. Dubinsky won her case by stating her position emphatically.
The author uses this story and that of Carmen Medina, who left the CIA only to return a few years later, to illustrate a key point about how to deal with dissatisfaction: in the long run, persisting or giving up on original proposals doesn’t advance the situation; to bring an original idea to fruition, it seems far more appropriate, depending on the context, either to leave or to speak out. The author explains:
[In certain circumstances, leaving a stifling company can be a better route to originality. The best you can do is express your opinions, balance the risks involved, and prepare to leave if necessary. If the leadership changes … it may be worth staying and insisting. Otherwise, if your audience isn’t receptive to new directions, you may very well find better opportunities elsewhere.]
Medina chose to leave, Dubinsky to express herself. But in the end, their choices are similar in this way: they chose to express themselves rather than remain silent. And in the long run, concludes Adam Grant, [research shows that the mistakes we regret are not the ones we made, but the ones we didn’t make. If we could do it all over again, most of us would censor ourselves less and express ourselves more.]
Chapter 4 – Fools Rush In – Timing, Strategic Procrastination, and the First-Mover Disadvantage
The fourth chapter of “Originals” begins with the story of how Martin Luther King went about writing his world-famous “I Have a Dream” speech. We learn that King didn’t actually start writing his speech until 10 p.m. on the eve of the protest.
Adam Grant goes on to use this story to illustrate his point about the central theme of this chapter: the dilemma of timing.
4.1 – There are more disadvantages than advantages to acting fast and being first
While we’re constantly told that the key to success is to act early, Adam Grant goes against conventional wisdom by arguing that acting early carries more risks than acting late. In fact, he points out that the greatest creative and innovative minds are the greatest procrastinators.
Here are two thoughts to support his point.
Procrastination allows time for new ideas to germinate.
For Grant, procrastination may be the enemy of productivity, but it is above all a source of creativity and can lead to originality. And why? Because by delaying the process, we spend [more time considering other strategies, rather than settling on the first idea that comes along.]
On this subject, the author points out that creative and scientific geniuses (Leonardo da Vinci is a perfect example) often reveal themselves in their tendency to “procrastinate.” In fact, they use procrastination as a form of incubation. The time that passes is actually used to perfect their inventions. Ideas need time to mature, and [procrastination is a way of resisting the urge to respond prematurely.]
Procrastination offers freedom to improvise.
Adam Grant returns to Martin Luther King’s famous speech. He also evokes Abraham Lincoln‘s Gettysburg Address of 1863.
Both Lincoln and King waited until the last moment to write their speeches: the night before and even the morning of to finalize them. Yet both speeches have remained etched in the collective memory.
According to the author, it was precisely because they procrastinated that Lincoln and King made their speeches iconic. Facing the crowd, they suddenly felt free to improvise. It was these improvised parts that were the most vibrant and defining in their speeches. According to the author, if their speeches had been too well prepared in advance, they wouldn’t have made such an impact. [When we organize ourselves well in advance, we often remain fixated on the structure we’ve built, closing the door on other creative avenues that might emerge,] says the author.
4.2 – Pioneers and settlers
- Waiting before taking the plunge.
Here, Adam Grant explains why being a pioneer means fighting uphill battles, and why, contrary to popular belief, it’s better to wait before embarking on a project.
To do so, he draws on the work of Bill Gross, founder of Idealab. The results of this work show that the most decisive factor in a successful launch is not [the uniqueness of the idea, the capabilities of the team in charge, the quality of the business model, or access to financing.] No, the determining factor is timing.
Another famous study by marketing researchers compared pioneer companies – the first to develop or sell a product – with companies that enter the market a little later as settlers. Four findings emerge from this study:
- The failure rate is significantly higher among pioneers (47%) than among settlers (8%).
- Pioneers capture a greater share of the market but ultimately have fewer chances of survival and lower margins than settlers.
- Contrary to popular belief, settlers are not copycats but often offer something new.
- Being original doesn’t mean being the first, but rather being different and better.
- Those who choose to arrive later on the market are more likely to succeed than those who arrive first.
According to the author, there are at least four reasons behind this. Pioneers:
- Arrive in a fallow market and struggle to establish their legitimacy: when the settlers arrive, the market is better defined. They can then focus all their energy on the quality of their product, by examining what the pioneers have done “to do better.”
- Take the risks, while the latter, who have been observing, follow with a good knowledge of these risks: in this way, [they wait for the right moment and spread out the risks before taking the plunge.]
- Make mistakes, while those who follow note and learn from the mistakes of their predecessors: [by not rushing in headfirst, settlers can improve their competitors’ technology and produce better products.]
- Tend to lock themselves into their initial offering, settlers can observe market trends and consumer tastes and adapt accordingly.
Adam Grant cites several examples:
- Warby Parker’s launch: this took place when people had already become accustomed to buying many types of products online. Had they launched earlier, Warby Parker would certainly not have been successful.
- Carmen Medina’s failure: the first time Carmen Medina proposed online information sharing, the agency was not ready for the concept. Medina was ahead of her time. It wasn’t until electronic communications became more secure and commonplace that people became receptive to her project.
Finally, the author points out that there’s not necessarily a correlation between being the first and being an accomplished original, on the contrary: [the most successful original minds are not always punctual. They arrive at the party late but with deliberation.]
Lastly, Adam Grant concludes:
[The advantages of being first can be decisive when it comes to patents or when there is a strong network effect … But in most cases, the chances of success are no greater … In the same way that procrastination leads to flexibility, delaying time-to-market can allow for learning and adaptation, and thus reduce the risks associated with innovation.]
4.3 – The two cycles of creativity: young geniuses and old masters
Originality is not just a trait of the young. We’re more likely to remember them, but in reality [lots of old masters are revealed late in life.]
In this part of “Originals,” Adam Grant asks the question: why do some originals stand out early and others late?
To answer this question, the author refers to the work of researcher and university professor Galenson, who differentiates between two types of creators:
- Conceptual innovators: these are sprinters ⇒ they express a great idea and then implement it.
- Experimental innovators: these are marathon runners ⇒ they [solve problems through a cycle of trial and error, learning and evolving as they go.]
The differences between conceptual innovators and experimental innovators determine, according to Adam Grant, when the latter will break through. In fact, Galenson’s work has shown that conceptual innovation concerns the vast majority of people under the age of thirty, whereas experimental innovation is more prevalent among those over 45. This finding is easily explained, since conceptual innovation requires only a few years of research, whereas experimental innovation often requires decades to master the knowledge involved.
In the end, both strategies are equally valid. One or other of these strategies will prevail in one innovator or another, depending on one’s way of thinking:
[Going for it head-on is a strategy that suits precocious geniuses, but to become an old master, you need the patience of a marathon runner of experimentation. Both roads lead to creation.]
Chapter 5: Goldilocks and the Trojan Horse – Creating and Maintaining Coalitions
Adam Grant kicks off the fifth chapter of “Originals” with the story of Lucy Stone, the first American activist to fight for women’s right to vote in 1855. In her struggle, she mobilized many female supporters and had to convince her opponents to join her feminist movement. However, after some fifteen years, different perspectives within the movement meant that her greatest rivals, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton, became her greatest allies.
Through the conflict of these three innovative women deeply committed to the same cause, as well as numerous other examples recounted throughout the chapter, the author explores the difficulty of building effective alliances to achieve one’s goals.
5.1 – Allying with those who have the same means of action, rather than with those who share the same values
Adam Grant begins by challenging the belief that groups coalesce around common goals. Rather, he argues, it’s what separates them.
To support his argument, the author recalls the concept of horizontal hostility developed by Dartmouth psychologist Judith White, which states that [the more we identify with a radical group, the more we seek to differentiate ourselves from the more moderate groups that threaten our identity.]
It was this kind of horizontal hostility that led Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to break with the more conciliatory Lucy Stone.
Adam Grant goes on to explain that we often seek to create alliances with those who defend the same causes as we do, but that we’d be much better off aligning ourselves with those who act along the same lines (e.g., coalitions between ecologists and homosexual advocates, between feminists and pacifists, or between a military base and a Native American tribe). In fact, studies show that these unusual alliances work thanks to [the similarity of the means of action]:
[Even when defending different causes, groups enter into affinity when they act in the same ways. When you’ve just spent ten years protesting, it’s easy to feel a sense of identity and community for an organization that has done the same thing.]
5.2 – Temper your message to convince allies to join your cause
Adam Grant shares the story of student Meredith Perry, who in 2011 had to find a way to convince potential skeptical partners to create what everyone said was impossible: wireless energy.
The idea that you have to start by stating your motivations and your vision behind your ideas, in order to persuade others (Simon Sinek’s famous “why”) works very well in normal times, but not when you’re challenging the status quo or championing a moral cause. According to the author, [innovative non-conformists will challenge the notion of impossible.]
Findings show that it’s better to temper your radicalism, to present your projects in a measured way, concealing their extremity and shock value, or start with a modest request to obtain an initial commitment and then unveil a greater objective (Robert Cialdini’s famous “foot-in-the-door technique”). This is the principle that Meredith Perry followed: [when she couldn’t convince the specialists to get in on the act, she convinced them to simply take a few steps with her, without telling them where she was going], says the author: [where she used to say ‘I’m trying to make a transmitter that propels energy through the air’, she would switch to saying, ‘I’m looking for someone to design a transmitter with the following parameters. Can you make this component?’]
5.3 – Allying with enemies rather than ‘frenemies’
- Negative relationships are preferable to ambivalent ones.
The author of “Originals” expounds the following idea here:
[While we can have relationships that are purely benevolent or only hostile, we can also have relationships that are both benevolent and hostile. Psychologists call these “ambivalent relationships.” Perhaps you call them ‘frenemies‘ – they’re people who are sometimes on your side, sometimes against you.]
Adam Grant revisits the story of Lucy Stone, a figure of feminist activism in the United States, and analyzes in particular her deeply ambivalent relationship with Susan B. to illustrate his remarks. He then shares the findings of several studies on ambivalent relationships. From these two illustrations, he emphasizes two major points:
- Hostile relationships are not pleasant, but they do have the merit of being predictable: [when a colleague systematically harms you, you are warned and can keep your distance. However, in an ambivalent relationship, you’re constantly on your guard and never know when to trust.]
- [Ambivalent relationships are less healthy than negative ones]: studies show that the more ambivalent our relationships, the higher our stress, dissatisfaction, and depression levels.
[Instinctively, we try to get rid of bad relationships and save ambivalent ones. However, experience suggests that we should do the opposite: separate ourselves from our frenemies and try to flip our enemies.]
Adam Grant comes to the conclusion that, in the end, our best allies are not those who are on our side, but rather those who are at first against us but later side with us.
There are therefore major advantages to convincing our adversaries, those who are resistant to our arguments, for three reasons:
- [We find hostility gradually transformed into affinity more gratifying than unchanging benevolence]: in other words, we regard a person who has consistently supported us as being won over to our cause, whereas a [former opponent turned enthusiastic supporter] will be regarded as [a true supporter.]
- To appreciate us, our opponents have made a special effort: they have gone beyond their hostile feelings to the point of accepting that they must have been mistaken about us. It’s unlikely, then, that they’ll change sides again. And they will certainly strive to maintain a positive relationship with us.
- Our ex-enemies are by far the best persuaders of others to join us: [their arguments are more convincing because they better understand the doubts and apprehensions of the hesitant. They are also more credible since they have demonstrated a capacity for criticism.]
5.4 – Providing common references rather than focusing on absolute originality
Adam Grant tells the story of how Disney created “The Lion King“ in the early 1990s, the first animated film based on an original idea, i.e., an entirely new story rather than one taken from existing tales. Although no one believed in it, “The Lion King” was a huge success, earning Disney over a billion dollars.
Adam Grant describes how Maureen Donley managed to persuade skeptical Disney executives to give her the go-ahead for this new script. To persuade them, Maureen Donley actually had to bring a “dose of familiarity” to the project. She referred to a classic story: that of Hamlet (in which the uncle kills the father, and the son must avenge the father’s death).
For Adam Grant, the idea that emerges from this story is this: giving the same reference to a large group of people is crucial to the success of an original idea. Because [in absolute originality, you can lose people,] concludes the author.
5.5 – Balancing idealism and pragmatism, the new and the old
To sow the seeds of an original objective, radical thinking is often necessary. Once this idea has taken root, however, a more measured approach is needed to reach a wider audience. According to the author, moderate radicalism opens the door to potential unions.
The author advises, through various stories, to:
- Present your values as a means of establishing those of others: instead of trying to change the ideals of others, it’s easier to seek to [attach our own ideas to the customary values in which others already believe.]
- Reformulate your ideas to make them attractive: for this, transparency is not always the best option. When recruiting new staff, for example, you need to strike a balance between idealism and pragmatism, and blend the new with the old. The author quotes Rob Minkoff here:
[Everyone aspires to originality, but you have to find the right mix … If it’s not new enough, it’s boring or banal. If it’s too original, the audience may find it hard to understand. The aim is to push the boundaries, not to break them.]
5.6 – Temper, appease, pacify
The innovative spirits at the start of a movement usually become its most radical members. Their ideas and ideals will often be too lofty: they are not best placed to form alliances with opposing groups. [Sending in the ‘hawks’ rarely works], says the author of “Originals.” It’s wiser to [temper the ardor of the cause.] To paraphrase him:
[It’s the more pacifist of the two sides who need to sit around the table, listen to each other’s opinions, identify common goals and ways of achieving them, and engage in joint problem-solving.]
Chapter 6: Rebel with a Cause – How Siblings, Parents, and Mentors Nurture Originality
In this chapter of “Originals,” Adam Grant tells the story of Jackie Robinson, the first black player in Major League Baseball, whose journey was fraught with hateful outbursts and death threats from racist players. His perseverance led him to become the first black vice-president of a major American corporation and the first black baseball commentator in the United States.
The author actually uses this story to understand the correlation between originality and sibling/birth order.
6.1 – The youngest siblings are more original and rebellious
Despite the controversy surrounding this subject, the author acknowledges that sibling birth order remains an interesting [personality and behavioral marker,] particularly in the rebellious side of individuals. Of course, biological and social factors come into play, but [hundreds of studies come to the same conclusion.] They state that:
[While older people tend to be more dominant, conscientious, and ambitious, younger people are more open to risks and original ideas. Older siblings tend to preserve the status quo, whereas younger siblings tend to challenge it.]
Adam Grant shares many of these studies, which reveal, for example, the tendency of younger siblings to choose a more dangerous sport than their elder siblings (or to practice it at greater risk), or the greater representation of younger siblings in major scientific discoveries.
According to Adam Grant, the propensity of younger siblings to take more risks than their elder siblings, and to be more original, can be explained in two ways. It is related to:
How sibling competition is managed:
Older siblings identify with their parents (as only children at the start, they display their authority over new arrivals to avoid being dethroned); this encourages rebellion by younger siblings, who also seek to differentiate themselves.
The different upbringing parents provide to their youngest children:
According to Adam Grant, upbringing is generally less strict among younger siblings (fewer, more flexible rules). They are more likely to imitate other children rather than the measured, cautious choices of older children. They are also more autonomous and protected.
6.2 – Parental influence
Discipline-based freedom and understanding is a source of constructive and creative rebellion.
Adam Grant begins by referring to a study carried out by two researchers in sociology and education. It focuses on non-Jewish people who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust. The study compares these heroes with some of their neighbors who did not help Jews.
They found that the individuals studied were similar in every respect (education, profession, family environment, neighborhood, political and religious convictions). What’s more, all had a comparable degree of rebelliousness in their youth: they had [disobeyed, stolen, lied, cheated, assaulted someone, or been remiss in their duties.] However, the researchers’ work reveals an undeniable point of difference: their parents’ reaction to their actions.
Those who rescued Holocaust victims report that, during their childhood, the most important thing about the discipline imposed by their parents was understanding. Reasoning, explanations, persuasion, and suggestions on how to remedy the harm caused, were all paramount. As children, their parents didn’t scold or punish them. They sought to [make them understand what they had done wrong] and the effects of their actions on others.
[By emphasizing these consequences, we direct attention to the distress of the person who is at risk of being hurt, and nurture empathy for him or her,] says the author. Rationally explained rules are integrated; those imposed in an authoritarian manner (by shouting and punishing) are not as well applied. Studies show the same for creativity.
Lastly, the author underlines the paradox of the situation: these children respect the rules more, but at the same time, rebel more. But beware: their rebellious side will generally express itself in moral or creative gestures, not in deviant behavior.
Praise a personality trait rather than a behavior.
The author of “Originals” explains here that originality is also linked to the way parents react when their children behave well.
In short, if complimenting a child’s good behavior reinforces good behavior, it’s even more effective to compliment their character trait. For example: the compliment [It was good of you to give some of your marbles to those poor children. Yes, it was really nice of you to do that] can be replaced by [I imagine you’re the kind of person who likes to help others when you get the chance. Yes, you’re a really good person.]
And it’s the same adult thing in a professional setting. It’s the way we integrate compliments into our identity. For example, [thank you for not cheating] can be replaced by [don’t be a cheater, thank you.]
The author mentions a number of studies that show that paying more attention to personality rather than behavior forges our moral values: because [instead of seeing ourselves through a series of morally isolated acts, we begin to see ourselves more globally as a moral person,] says the author.
6.3 – Why parents are not the best examples
To stimulate originality and raise aspirations in children, the author advises introducing them to inspiring people who will serve as examples (as many different role models as possible). These mentors can be found in history, which is full of great precursors and fictional characters. Many heroes, for example, embody originality, achieve great feats, and make the impossible possible for children.
This approach encourages innovation:
[Studies show that when children’s books feature original exploits, the next generation is more innovative … When plots focus on original feats, patent applications tend to take off twenty or forty years later.]
Chapter 7: Rethinking Groupthink – The Myths of Strong Cultures, Cults, and Devil’s Advocates
Adam Grant begins the seventh chapter of his book “Originals” by recounting the story of Edwin Land, founder of Polaroid, who is credited with several major inventions (over 535 patents, including the instant camera and the light-polarizing filter used in many products today).
Edwin Land is known for his visionary creativity, his passion for blending art and science, his taste for design, his commitment to quality, and his encouragement to think differently. However, this great trailblazer serves here as an example for Adam Grant to analyze the mistakes that led Polaroid to failure.
7.1 – Groupthink
Grant begins by examining the model that was applied at Polaroid: groupthink. According to him, [this tendency to seek consensus rather than cultivate differences] is [the enemy of originality.] He adds that [we feel obliged to conform to the dominant, pre-established ideas, rather than contribute to diversity.]
According to a famous study by Yale psychologist Irving Janis, groupthink occurs when there is a high degree of cohesion within an organization. According to Janis, if the members of an organization get along really well, then, out of a concern to achieve unanimity, they would no longer be able to seek alternative strategies. In this sense, the cohesion and strong culture of an organization would become detrimental. In her view, original and divergent opinions are indispensable within a group to ensure effective decision-making and problem-solving.
Adam Grant goes beyond Janis’ study to share the “real causes” of groupthink in the remainder of this chapter. He also suggests ways of avoiding groupthink.
7.2 – Three more or less effective organizational models
The author refers to a study conducted by James Baron to highlight that there are, broadly speaking, three models of recruitment in organizations:
- Professional ⇒ recruitment is based on candidates’ specific skills.
- Star ⇒ candidates are selected for their potential, considering that they have the intellectual capacity to acquire the skills required for the job at hand.
- Committed ⇒ the most important thing in this model is candidates’ affinity with the company’s culture (approach, motivation, etc.), their alignment with the company’s values; what comes first are the strong relationships between employees and organization (sense of belonging and cohesion, a bit like being part of a big family).
In the rest of this chapter, the author explains why, according to Baron’s study, the model that works best is “by far” the committed model.
7.3 – The downside of the long-term committed model
The committed model was the one implemented by Edwin Land at Polaroid. But if this is the most effective model, how can we explain Polaroid’s decline? Why did this great company fail to thrive over time?
According to Adam Grant, it’s because, [however beneficial it may be at the outset, the committed model tends to degrade over time.]
And the main reason for this is that making people who are ultimately very similar work together doesn’t encourage diversity of ideas and values. In a predictable environment, this works, but in a fast-changing sector (technology, IT, aerospace, aeronautics, etc.), [the advantages of a strong corporate culture disappear] as companies fail to adapt.
7.4 – The “think differently” culture
The author of “Originals” describes another corporate culture: that of Bridgewater Associates. This company manages hundreds of billions of dollars in investments for governments, pension funds, universities, charities, etc. Its founder, Ray Dalio, has written 200 principles to define the non-conformist philosophy in place within his company. These are maxims on how to think and act in both professional and personal situations.
At Bridgewater Associates, employees are recruited on the basis of their ability to apply these principles to their work. They are trained [in an intensive military-style boot camp, where they reflect on and discuss the principles, before being placed in emotionally challenging situations to put them into practice.]
As at Polaroid, Bridgewater’s corporate culture is one of strong commitment (members consider themselves part of the same family and stay there for decades), enabling great cohesion, in a context that is also highly changeable (that of finance). So how has this company remained so successful over time?
The difference, says Adam Grant, is that Bridgewater encourages the expression of new ideas, criticism, and problems. Everything is done to encourage contradiction and diversity. Employees are even graded on their ability to challenge the status quo, sometimes to the point of being fired if they fail to do so. For the author, it’s this core value of diversity that differentiates a strong culture from a cult. People think for themselves. At Bridgewater, for example, people are not subject to any dogma: principles can be questioned, and if an employee disagrees with them, they have to fight to change or improve them.
7.5 – The culture of dissent
Adam Grant examines the concept of the devil’s advocate. This practice, which dates back to the 16tth century, consists of identifying one person to oppose the majority. The aim is to bring out the contradiction.
Based on the findings of various studies, the author of “Originals” realizes that having someone play the role of devil’s advocate isn’t really effective: he or she won‘t be as convincing or credible as a “real” devil’s advocate who embodies his or her ideas, and who, instead of being in stimulated, pretend opposition, sincerely believes in the position he or she is defending. That’s why Adam Grant recommends not appointing anyone to play this role but finding actual devil’s advocates.
Grant states that this principle – encouraging each other to disagree and complain – is applied at Bridgewater. As a telling example, the author describes an experiment conducted by Ray Dalio when, one day, he forced each of his employees to express their opinions in a survey, and then organized a balanced intellectual debate between the disagreeing groups (pro and con) until common ground was reached.
7.6 – Setting up good communication channels
Adam Grant recounts an anecdote he heard at Google about annual appraisals to highlight the importance of listening to teams, but also of ensuring that the various opinions of an organization reach the decision-makers early enough.
Grant goes on to cite a number of existing ways of doing this:
- At Google: a group of trusted engineers, known as the Canaries, spread throughout the company, collect the different points of view and reactions of everyone as soon as there’s a change to be implemented, and pass them on to personnel management.
- At Bridgewater:
- A grievance book, open to all, enables employees to report any problems.
- Performance cards for each employee, comprising 77 criteria as diverse as they are varied, which can be consulted by everyone in the company, enable employees to get to know their colleagues (managers or subordinates) better. These cards operate on a peer-to-peer basis: employees rate each other on various attributes and can react in real-time, openly, with feedback.
Adam Grant sums up the penultimate chapter of “Originals” by arguing that, to arm himself against common thinking, an organization’s manager must:
- Nurture contradiction through authentic devil’s advocates.
- Be open to criticism and encourage others to be as well.
- Think for themselves and invite others to think independently too.
- Be inquisitive, non-conformist, rebellious, [an advocate of brutal frankness, with no respect for hierarchies.]
Chapter 8: Rocking the Boat and Keeping It Steady – Managing Anxiety, Apathy, Ambivalence, and Anger
In this last chapter of “Originals,” Adam Grant reflects on the emotions experienced by those who go against the grain. He examines how fear, apathy, ambivalence, and anger can get in the way of originality.
Throughout this chapter, we find the story of Lewis Pugh, known as “the human polar bear”, who became the first man to swim a long distance to the North Pole. Adam Grant tells the suspenseful story of how, paralyzed by doubts and fear of death, Lewis Pugh almost gave up but eventually went for it and did brilliantly.
There are 5 key points to remember from this story.
8.1 – Being pessimistic can be positive
[Reforming the way things are is an uphill battle, fraught with failures, obstacles, and setbacks.]
Contrary to popular belief, many pioneers have experienced uncertainty and doubt. The author describes two ways of dealing with such difficulties:
- Optimistic strategy: optimists set high goals and expect the best outcome all while remaining calm.
- Defensive pessimism: pessimists imagine the worst-case scenario and worry.
According to psychologist Julie Norem, both strategies work. It all depends on the situation: [defensive pessimism is useful when investment in a task is constant.] You will try to avoid anything that could go wrong. In this way, you feel in control. In fact, [confidence springs not from ignorance of difficulties or from delusion, but from a realistic assessment and a detailed strategy.]
However, [when commitment wanes, anxiety and doubt can have the opposite effect.]
8.2 – Transforming fear into an exciting emotion helps to overcome fear
To combat fear, the author suggests converting it into another equally intense emotion: excitement. So, as in a car hurtling along at 130 km/h, instead of slamming on the brakes – in other words, calming down – it’s better to step on the gas pedal with determination. For Adam Grant, this means experiencing [the excitement of letting go and truly being yourself.]
The author uses several stories to illustrate this idea. The story of:
- Lewis Pugh, who faced icy waters, was lifted by the inspirational words of a friend. The friend reminded him that [the unknown is more frightening than the evil,] prompting him to continue on despite his fear.
- Srdja Popovic, head of Otpor!, the citizen activist group that brought down Serbian dictator Milosevic through its non-violent revolution. He inspired young people with a symbol: a closed black fist.
- Josh Silverman took over Skype when it was on the decline, convinced that full-screen video calling was the future of the company, which employees were initially resistant to. Instead of trying to calm employees down, Silverman impressed them. He did this by communicating his inspiring vision of the impact video could have on people’s lives. He gave this vision an emotional charge by having users tell touching stories, such as the soldier separated from his children who, thanks to Skype, was able to open their Christmas presents with them. Employees realized that they could change the world. In this way, Silverman was able to turn employee anxiety into excitement. And Skype was a huge success.
8.3 – To encourage a non-conformist, you have to show him/her that he/she is not alone
- The power of a single ally
Grant goes on to describe at length a famous experiment conducted by psychologist Solomon Asch. This study in fact highlights how the majority influences our conformity.
To summarize, when all the members of a group give the wrong answer to a question, even if we know the right answer and are sure it’s correct, we‘ll follow the majority by giving a deliberately incorrect answer, just because we‘re afraid of being ridiculed. In this way, we go along with other people’s opinions to the point of accepting that we’re deliberately wrong because we’re acting under the influence of fear.
[We don’t need the violence of a dictator to paralyze us with fear. The mere fact of being alone in holding an opinion can be frightening enough to make even the most original fall in with the majority.]
However, Solomon Asch’s study also shows that it only takes one other person with the same answer as ours to lower the rate of conformity. He concludes that [a single ally causes the majority to lose its lobbying power.] Derek Sivers expresses this same idea when he asserts that it’s the first disciple who [turns a lunatic into a leader.] In short:
[The simple fact of knowing you’re not alone in your resistance makes it much easier to oppose the majority.]
- The power of knowing you’re not alone
According to Adam Grant, to encourage a person to take the risk of non-conformity, you have to:
- Show them they’re not alone.
- Encourage them to carry out safe acts of protest: it’s much easier for people to rebel [when it looks like an act of conformity.]
These two parameters have given rise to many revolutions:
- When the Serbs saw the black clenched fist of the Otpor! revolutionary movement posted on the walls with slogans calling for resistance, they realized that there were many of them willing to get involved.
- The Chilean miners’ protest movement against the dictator Pinochet was affirmed when citizens were called upon to resist by turning their lights on and off and driving slowly: these actions were taken because they were not dangerous and therefore did not frighten people. They made Chileans realize that they were not alone and that many of them even despised the dictator.
- In Poland: in protest, people put their TVs in wheelbarrows and pushed them through the streets.
- In Syria, revolutionaries poured red food coloring into the fountains of Damascus as a reminder of the blood and threw ping-pong balls into the streets with inscriptions calling for rebellion.
Lastly, the author describes why humor, when we have no power, is [an effective way of converting strong negative emotions into positive ones.]
8.4 – Urgency and understanding the degree of commitment to behavior change
- Sense of urgency
Another decisive factor in convincing people to change is a sense of urgency.
Studies show that, to get people to change their behavior, it’s best to emphasize:
- The benefits of change when people think it’s safe.
- Losses rather than gains, in other words, the negative consequences of doing nothing when people think there’s a risk: because, in this case, the benefits of change are no longer attractive enough. [We’re more likely to take a risk when we know we’ll lose something by not taking it,] says the author.
Therefore, to get people to break out of the status quo, out of complacency, and out of their comfort zone, it’s more effective to highlight what’s wrong with their current situation than it is to present an inspiring vision of the future. This means describing what is, cultivating dissatisfaction, frustration, or anger with the current state of affairs, presenting it as a loss, and then comparing it to “what could be.”
This is what the greatest communicators do. As examples, the author analyzes the most famous speeches by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Martin Luther King.
- Our level of commitment tells us whether to look to the future or the past.
- When our commitment falters:
[The best reason to persevere is to look at the progress we’ve made so far. Considering how much we’ve invested and how far we’ve come, giving up is a waste, and that’s what boosts our confidence and commitment.]
- When our level of commitment is reinforced:
[Instead of looking in the rear-view mirror, it’s better to look to the future and consider what remains to be done … When you’re working towards a goal, it’s the gap between where you are and where you want to be that motivates you.]
8.5 – Being both calm and angry
The author concludes the eighth chapter of “Originals” by pointing out that anger is positive because it pushes us to express ourselves and to act, and thus to change. However, it must be combined with calm to make our action legitimate and viable. Martin Luther King understood this well: [King sought to make black citizens angry enough to start protesting, but with enough self-control not to resort to violence,] recounts the author.
Adam Grant then analyzes the various methods of managing anger. By examining real-life cases and various studies, he realizes that calming things down is not the best way to manage anger. Similarly, expressing repressed rage by kicking (a pillow, for example), screaming, exploding, or venting ends up backfiring: even if it feels good, in reality, [letting off steam doesn’t extinguish the fire of anger, but feeds it] as attention is focused on the wrongdoer.
To channel your anger constructively, you need to focus on the victims. In psychology, this is called empathic anger (or [the desire to right the wrongs that have been done to someone else]).
The difference between these two attitudes can be understood in the author’s words: [When you’re angry at someone, you seek revenge. However, when you’re angry for others, you’re seeking justice and a better system. We don’t just want to punish; we want to help.]
Chapter 9 – Actions for Impact
At the end of “Originals,” Adam Grant offers a kind of summary and synthesis of the ideas developed throughout the chapters. He proposes, in fact, an application of these ideas by listing very concrete actions to be carried out on an individual level, as a leader, or for educational purposes.
9.1 – Individual actions
- Generating and recognizing original ideas
- Question the default: ask why things are the way they are.
- Generate more ideas (three times as many).
- Regularly immerse yourself in something other than what you know: another culture, a new creative field, a new job, etc.
- Take a break to procrastinate: this allows ideas to incubate and different thoughts to emerge.
- Submit ideas to peers and ask their opinion: managers are often too critical of new ideas, and we ourselves are often too enthusiastic. The best feedback comes from our peers.
- Expressing and championing original ideas
- Balance your risk portfolio: offset the risk you take by being extremely cautious in another area of your life.
- Highlight the reasons not to support your project: by describing your project’s weaknesses (the 3 main ones, for example), it will be more difficult for others to find other flaws. People will be more aware of its qualities.
- Get others used to your ideas: presented often (10-20 times), briefly, successively (at intervals of a few days), in the midst of other ideas already assimilated by our audience, an original concept will be more attractive and more positively received.
- Speak to a different audience: instead of looking for “friendly ears” who share your values, it’s wiser to speak to people who adhere to your methods (a similar way of solving problems) but have opposing views.
- Adopt a tempered form of radicalism: when your idea is extreme, you can “fit it into a more conventional goal” and appeal to shared convictions to rally people to your cause. You can also “hide” our project, i.e., show only the objective that is important to others. Finally, in certain situations (when you have a reputation as an extremist, for example), it’s better to hand things over to more measured individuals.
Emotions and motivation
- Managing emotions
- Motivate yourself differently depending on whether you’re:
- Committed: if you’re “determined to act,” it’s best to focus on the progress still to be made (you’ll be motivated by the idea of bridging the gap).
- Hesitant: if you’re less sure about your project, it’s best to think about what you’ve already done (because it’s a real shame to give up at this stage).
- Don’t try to calm yourself down, but rather transform your anxiety into an intense positive emotion (interest, enthusiasm, etc.). It’s also a good idea to think about the positive impact of challenging the status quo.
- Pay attention to the victim of injustice, not the perpetrator: paying attention to the perpetrator feeds anger and aggression while thinking about the victim channels anger in a constructive and compassionate way.
- Realize that you are not alone: [a single ally is enough to considerably increase your willingness to act.]
- Speak up or exit because these are the only two ways out of the status quo; when we’re not satisfied, there are four possible reactions: leave, speak up, persist, or don’t care. [Speaking out is probably the best option when you have some control; otherwise, it may be time to explore other ways of extending your influence or exit,] concludes the author.
9.2 – Leader actions
- Sparking original ideas
- Organize an innovation tournament: this is an effective way of collecting lots of new ideas and identifying the best ones. More than just a toolbox, the innovation tournament involves giving your teams three weeks, for example, to solve a specific problem or meet a specific need. Employees make proposals. Then, they evaluate them (by inter-evaluation) to qualify the most original ideas for the next round. Then, [the winners receive a budget, a team, advisors, and qualified representatives to make their ideas a reality.]
- Take on the role of the enemy: ask employees to “brainstorm” for an hour [on ways to ruin the company – or bring down its flagship product, service, or technology.] This technique helps to move from the defensive to the offensive.
- Invite employees from different functions and levels to share ideas: this will make the job more interesting for employees and allow new ideas to emerge for the company.
- Organize a day of opposites: this involves reflecting on a particular belief and then questioning it by asking [when is the opposite true?].
Other leader actions
- Banish the words “love” and “hate”: to avoid knee-jerk reactions without analysis.
- Building a culture of originality and creating an environment conducive to productivity
- Recruit on the basis of the ability to make a contribution, rather than adherence to the existing corporate culture: recruiting people who all think the same way doesn’t promote originality.
- Conduct entry interviews when new employees arrive: asking for the opinions and ideas from new employees (what attracted them to the company, what would make them stay, what should be improved, stopped, kept, etc.) helps them feel important and brings new ideas to the company.
- Find problems rather than solutions: set up an open document in which everyone can share problems encountered, then meet monthly to discuss them and decide which problems to solve.
- Seek out actual “devil’s advocates” rather than appointing them: an information manager can recognize them and ask them to speak up. The latter will be able to bring out sincere, coherent, and therefore constructive criticism.
- Be open to criticism: accepting public criticism from employees encourages individuals to express themselves more openly, [even when their opinions are not popular.]
9.3 – Parent and teacher actions
- Asking children what their heroes would do
Grant suggests asking children what they would like to improve in their family and school. Then, he suggests asking them which real person or fictional character they particularly admire for their creativity and inventiveness, and what this person/character would do for the improvement they wish to achieve.
- Associating good behavior with moral character
Adam Grant encourages us to focus our observations on the child more than on his or her behavior. So, when a child does something good, we can say, “You’re a good person because you…” We can do the same to ask him or her for something: this works better because he/she will want to “prove his/her character.” So, for example, it will be more effective to say to him/her, “Don’t you want to be one of those people who share?”rather than “Don’t you want to share?“
– Explaining the consequences of bad behavior on others
When children realize the negative impact of their behavior on others, they feel empathy and guilt. As a result, they’re more eager to make amends for their shortcomings and less inclined to do it again. So, when a child acts badly, it’s a good idea to help him or her understand why he or she is harming others, for example by saying: “How do you think she felt?“
- Teaching values rather than imposing rules
Rules provide children with a rigid vision of the world, while values encourage them to [embrace these principles on their own.] That’s why it’s essential to explain to children the meaning of the proposed criteria, and why certain ideals matter so much. It’s also a good idea to ask children why these ideals are important.
- Helping children find their distinctive strengths
Here, the author proposes an exercise called “the jigsaw classroom.” This group exercise involves assigning each child in the group a unique role. In this way, the children learn to value each other’s specific talents. This exercise encourages new ideas and avoids groupthink.
Conclusion to Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant
“Originals” is a dynamic read, packed with well-researched ideas. Studies and stories are deconstructed and cross-referenced throughout the book. The author tackles the subject of originality in a wide range of fields: entrepreneurship and business, sport, leisure, politics, etc.
In concrete terms, the book teaches readers how to:
Generate and/or spark a good idea
To do this, you need to challenge the status quo, question conventional wisdom, and get out of your comfort zone.
- Recognize the potential of an original idea, by using the right methods and the right audience to obtain the fairest possible opinion
The author’s argument shows that feedback from other creators is ultimately the most valuable.
- Express and champion innovative ideas and contrarian concepts without being rejected or silenced
In particular, we learn how to choose the right moment (not necessarily the earliest) to share our ideas and boost the chances of getting others on board. We also understand the importance of managing our emotions, overcoming our fear of communicating, channeling our anger constructively, and making allies, especially among our enemies. Adam Grant shows that the best attitudes to adopt are often counter-intuitive and unexpected.
Nurture creativity, originality, and strong stances within our children as parents or teachers; promote innovation among our collaborators as managers; call out complacency as leaders
The author proposes a discussion around groupthink, which stifles new ideas and the culture of innovation. He suggests encouraging a culture of challenge and originality to foster innovative concepts. He also points out that making others realize that they are not alone in rejecting conformity can be very powerful in breaking them out of the status quo.
“Originals” is a book I’d recommend to anyone who seeks to get away from preconceived ideas and craves food for thought on what it means to be “truly” original. It will also inspire all those who have set out on a quest to live, act, and change the world in ways that break away from conformity.
Strengths and Weaknesses of Originals
- Excellent food for thought on how to be original.
- Stories that make for a dynamic reading experience.
- Compelling arguments.
- The recap at the end of the book summarizes all the book’s ideas in the form of concrete actions, lending weight to the theory.
- The ideas/concepts are well-documented, but some are “a little over-interpreted.”
My rating :
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The Handy Guide to Adam Grant’s Originals
Three main ideas of Originals
1. The majority of us accept the default settings of our lives
2. People seek to prove the legitimacy of the status quo, even if it goes exactly against their interests.
3. Originality means rejecting the default in search of better solutions.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) concerning Originals
1- How has Originals been received by the public?
As soon as it was published on November 9, 2016 by Editions DE BOECK; Originals was very well received by the public with several thousand copies sold on Amazon.
2- What has been the impact of Adam Grant’s Originals?
This book has inspired many people around the world, enabling them to stand out both personally and professionally.
3- Who is the target audience of Originals?
This marvelous book is intended for everyone in general, and especially for entrepreneurs, business leaders, journalists, parents, etc.
4- What reasons does the author give for children’s lack of originality?
According to Adam, three reasons account for children’s lack of originality:
They aren’t taught originality; originality tends to fade away; the obsessive quest for success overshadows originality and creativity.
5- How do we get others to accept our original ideas according to the author?
To answer this question, the author states that to get others to accept our original ideas,[we need to talk about them, then rinse and repeat.]
|Tips for generating original ideas||Tips for generating unoriginal ideas|
|Challenge the status quo||Live out the status quo|
|Question popular belief||Accept popular belief|
|Step outside your comfort zone||Stay within your comfort zone|
|Overcome communication fears||Be afraid of communication|
Who is Adam Grant?
An American national, Adam Grant was born on August 13, 1981. He is a professor of management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. He is a researcher and best-selling author, whose book Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to success is ranked among the best books by the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. His other books include Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know and Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success. Adam is the author of the book Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World; in which he provides practical advice for expressing and championing innovative ideas.